Most anglers with two good hands never catch a largemouth bass approaching anything close to 10 pounds, but Mike Laviolette accomplished the feat single-handedly Monday morning at a lagoon in New Orleans City Park.
The 57-year-old New Orleans resident, who lost his left hand four years ago in an accident rebuilding a fishing camp in Shell Beach, reeled in a 9-pound, 3 ¾-ounce lunker that might have been a new City Park record — if he had weighed it in on certified scales.
“I started to keep it, but I changed my mind,” said Laviolette, who was accompanied by his 4-year-old Jack Russell terrier, “Jockamo Roussell,” when he reeled in the big bass about 9:30. “After I contemplated it, I talked to my friend Ray Chagnard who owns Chag’s Sporting Goods, and he said, ‘Man, you’ve got the picture of the fish. You know what he is. Let him go.’
“Because if I got him certified, I kill the fish, and all I get is a piece of paper over at City Park — it’s not like I’m going to win a boat or something. So I decided to let the fish go so somebody else can catch him.”
Laviolette started fishing at daybreak Monday, but didn’t have a bite in two hours, so he decided to take a break.
“I went to get coffee and beignets,” he said. “The dog likes the beignets and I drink the coffee. After we finished that, I went back to a spot where I had caught a 6-pounder Friday afternoon.”
It was in that same spot that Laviolette believes he lost the monster fish he eventually caught on Monday morning after hooking up with it on Thursday afternoon before it escaped near the bank.
“It’s hard for me to situate the pole because I don’t have two hands,” he said. “When I went to put my hand down there to lip him on Thursday, he came off as soon as I put a little slack in the line.”
But after his coffee break Monday, it didn’t take long for things to get interesting.
“As soon as I went back, the first cast he picked it up and started running with it. I set the hook, and he just started screaming some drag,” Laviolette said. “I turned him and he was splashing all around. He made a deep dive, and as soon as he came up, I decided to flip him up on the bank instead of trying to lip him.
“As soon as he hit the bank, guess what? The hook came out again.”
But this time Laviolette was ready. He retrieved a 25-foot stringer from his car, and tied the big bass to a bush along the bank while he figured out a plan of action. The big bass had a hole in his lip which matched where he had hooked the fish last week.
“He’s pulling this bush over like a deer rubbing a tree — that’s what it looked like,” Laviolette said with a laugh. “Finally he got tired of doing that and he just calmed down. So I started calling some people I knew to see if they were in the area to bring a scale.”
One friend finally came by, and that scale pegged the fish at 9 pounds, 3 ¾ ounces. Someone else stopped by with a tape, and the bass measured 25 inches long with a 16-inch girth.
Laviolette estimates he’s caught more than 60 5-pounders in the lagoons. His previous best from City Park was a bass weighing 7-15, and he also has a 7-14, a 7-8 and a 7-6 to his credit there. With his lunker Monday, that makes five pretty impressive fish caught in the park over the last few years.
“That five-fish stringer would be almost 40 pounds,” he said. “But every fish I’ve caught since then I’ve been throwing back in.”
Laviolette caught the hawg with a Texas-rigged junebug sparkle Yum 5-inch straight worm on 15-pound Fins WindTamer braid, with a Daiwa Lexa spinning reel.
An avid saltwater angler before his accident, he caught a 10-pound-plus speckled trout in 1981 from Lake Pontchartrain that is on display at Chag’s.
“Now I have a little pipe connected to my prosthesis, and the pole fits in there like a rod holder,” he explained. “It’s like super-glueing your hand to a rod holder. I reel with my right, and set the hook with my left.
“But it’s hard for me to tie knots, so I don’t like to change baits. If I get excited, it’ll take me a long time to change a knot or retie. So if I use a worm, I never have to retie.”
The current City Park record bass was caught by Tim Zissis in 2013, and weighed in at 9.05 pounds.