Setting the hook is pretty much the moment of truth when you get a bite: Either you miss the opportunity and wind up empty-handed, or feel that exhilarating tug in response and know you have a fish on the line.

Micah McClain’s hookset Monday on the north end of Caney Lake was epic in lots of ways - and so was the fish he ultimately reeled in that afternoon around 2 p.m.

The 21-year old from West Monroe - and the 4-foot stepladder he had been standing on top of - both ended up in Caney’s clear 65 degree water when he loaded up and set the hook, but the 13-pound, 10-ounce bass he was targeting eventually ended up on the deck of his 18-foot G3.

“I was on the fourth step on top and fell straight forward,” said McClain, who works as a dump truck operator for SBC Landworks. “When I pulled, the ladder legs came up and went over the side of the boat. 

“I fell toward the fish.”

McClain was fishing with his buddy, Raley Hendry, and the two had arrived at the lake around noon. It didn’t take long before they encountered the monstrous bass. 

Hendry was at the front of the boat, and McClain was perched atop his ladder at the back with his Power-Pole down when he saw the fish swimming in the shallows along the bank. He was using 50-pound Suffix braid spooled onto a H2O Menace reel with a 7-foot, 6-inch Duckett Ghost rod.

“All of a sudden, I said, ‘Look at that fish!’ She wasn’t even on a bed. She was just kinda cruising around,” McClain said. “I said, ‘Either she’s not on a bed and she’s cruising looking for one, or her bed’s around here somewhere and I just can’t see it.’ Sure enough, she finally stopped for just a few seconds in between two stumps.”

McClain cast a white creature bait at the bed three times without a response. The fourth time, however, was a different story - and set the stage for a historic hookset a few minutes later that wound up with him taking a swim.

“I threw in there and let my bait sit right in the middle of the bed.  As soon as she swam past it, I twitched it to get her attention and she looked at it, came up to it, and sucked it up,” McClain said.  “But just as I went to set the hook, she spit it right back out. 

“I almost cried when she did that.”

The fish was spooked, and McClain thought his chances of landing the lunker were done. As he scanned the water from his ladder, he told Hendry what he planned on doing if the big female returned and he got another opportunity.

“I said, ‘If she bites again, I”m going to set the fire out of this hook,’” he said. “‘Because I got braid on and she’s not going to break it. She’ll break my rod before she breaks that braid.’ So that’s what I did.”

About 10 minutes after the bass spit the bait out, the fish returned to its bed, and McClain gave the white creature bait another try.

“This time, instead of just sucking the bait up, she came up and nosed down on it. She didn’t just try to eat the bait, she was trying to kill it,” he said. “She smashed it into the ground so hard dust and dirt made a big dirty spot in the middle of the bed - that’s how hard she bit it. 

“When I saw that, I loaded down on her and set the hook so hard that the ladder come out from under me, and the ladder fell in the water and I fell off on the side of the boat. Me and the ladder were in the water.”

As he was going over, McClain managed to reel in about three times and held on to the rod, and Hendry rushed to the back of the boat with the net when he saw what happened.

“When I set the hook, she came out of the water doing some head shakes that I had never seen before,” he said. “I was able to get her just close enough to the boat to where he got her in the net. She barely even fit in the net.

“When I got back in the boat and saw that fish laying there on my deck, I knew it was a big one, probably at least 12 pounds.”

Soaking wet, he put the fish in his livewell, and then immediately headed to the marina to weigh the giant bass. In fact, in the excitement of landing the fish and trying to get an official weight, McClain took off with his Power-Pole still down.

“I’m sitting there wondering why my boat was riding to the left, and my danged Power-Pole was down,” he said with a laugh. 

The big bass tipped the official scales at the marina at an incredible 13 pounds, 10 ounces.

“When I read that scale, my knees got week,” McClain said. “She was 27 1/2 inches long, with a 21-inch girth.”

The angler returned the big bass to the water and plans on getting a replica mount made to commemorate the catch of a lifetime and a memorable, wet day on Caney Lake.

“I probably will never even see another fish that big. That’s what’s so crazy,” said McClain, who’s fished at Caney for about the last six years and landed an 11-pounder there. “Seeing a 13-pounder in 2 feet of water -  that’s just crazy.”