When Pastor Lynn Clayton looked down at the lure that had just caught the largest bass of his life last week, he knew someone “up there” was looking out for him.

The DeRidder angler had chosen the oldest bait in his tackle box to throw: an orange-belly ½-ounce Rat-L-Trap with fully functional treble hooks — or so he thought. 

But after reeling in an 11.58-pound lunker near the Toledo Bend dam on March 15, he noticed the lure had two barbs missing off the front treble hook, and the one near the tail had one broken barb as well.

Clayton, the 75-year-old pastor of New Life Baptist Church in DeRidder, had started the morning fishing the dam area along points and mouths of creeks.

“I had fished an area on a point down its banks and caught four small fish,” he said.

Later that morning, Clayton backed off to the second ledge before the river channel and continued casting Senkos, catching an additional seven fish.

After the Senko bite waned, Clayton eyed the old Rat-L-Trap in his tacklebox and started casting it in deeper waters.

The lure was tied to 12-pound Berkley Big Game mono spooled to a H2O Express reel on a medium-heavy, 7-foot-6-inch Castaway rod.

At about 10, Clayton’s Rat-L-Trap came to a sudden halt.

“I felt a wiggle and knew it was a good fish,” he said.

The angler started reeling in by cranking slowly. He also loosened up the drag a bit due to the heavy resistance of the fish.

“She rolled and I kept my rod tip in the water,” he said. “When I saw her big mouth, I was thinking 7 or 8 pounds.”

Since Clayton was alone, he was holding the rod in his left hand, while scrambling with his right for the net.

“All this time the drag had been loosened and the fish was tiring out,” he said.

Eventually, he was able to net the lunker aboard.

“I was looking at a very big fish,” he said.

Clayton immediately made a call to his friend, Louisiana Sportsman field reporter Joe Joslin.

An hour later, the angler arrived at Joslin’s dock to obtain a weight on the lunker.

“Joe said, ‘My word, that’s a big fish,’” Clayton said.

On Joslin’s scale, the fish weighed 11.7 pounds.

Since one of Clayton’s boat batteries was weak, he put some crushed ice in the livewell with the fish, trailered his boat and began the drive north to Toledo Town and Tackle, an official weigh station for the Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program.

On T-town’s scales, Clayton’s lunker officially weighed 11.58 pounds. The fish was tagged and later released, and the angler will receive a replica courtesy of the Toledo Bend Lake Association in mid-May. 

Clayton’s bass was lunker No. 96 for the 2015-16 Toledo Bend Lunker Bass Program season.