Longtime Toledo Bend guide Stephen Johnston had just returned from the Houston Boat Show, and knew he had to get on the water soon to scout for bass for an upcoming trip with clients.

So this Tuesday (Jan. 19), the 45-year-old angler from Hemphill and his father teamed up and launched early from Fin and Feather Resort to search for locations holding fish.

“We worked the Six Mile area,  and caught several fish up to 5 pounds,” said Johnston, who was focusing in 14-foot depths along ledges.  “Altogether, the fish were found in eight different locations in the area.”

The angler was casting a Zoom Brush Hog on a Carolina rig weighted with ¾-ounce Strike King Tour Grade tungsten. The lure was tied to 20-pound Sunline fluorocarbon spooled on a Shimano Chronarch CI 4 reel on a 7-foot, 5-inch medium-heavy G Loomis rod.

At about 10 a.m.,  Johnston had a solid bite when dragging the C-rig.

“I had just taken a 3-pounder, and I cast again,” he said. “I felt a fish on, but over my shoulder I saw a boat nearby. So I didn’t set the hook because I was just scouting, and I didn’t want to give anyone attention to the fact we were on some fish.”

Nevertheless, the fish was hooked so the angler had to do some cranking.

“When I started winding, I knew then she was big - but not how big,” he said. “I told dad it was a big one, and he saw there was a good bow on my G Loomis rod.”

The fish came up, and then made a surge to the depths.

“Eventually I worked her back up and grabbed her,” Johnston said. “It was when I had my hands on her when I realized how huge she really was.”

Johnston immediately placed the lunker in his livewell, turned the aerator on and made the 10-minute run to Fin & Feather.

On Fin & Feather’s certified scales, the bass officially weighed 12.02 pounds, and was tagged and eventually released alive and healthy back into Toledo Bend waters.

Since Johnston’s bass weighed at least 10 pounds and was successfully released after tagging, he will receive a free replica courtesy of the Toledo Bend Lake Association in May.

This is Johnston’s second lunker entered into the program: he scored on a 10.62-pounder in January 2012. Over the years, he has taken more than 30 bass weighing at least 10 pounds from Toledo Bend. Johnston can be reached at 409-579-4213, or through his guide website by clicking here.

Johnston’s 12.02-pounder taken Tuesday is lunker No. 50 for the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program this season.