Monroe angler boats Bussey Brake trophy bass

Kade Hillestad of Monroe caught this 13.22-pound lunker at Bussey Brake Reservoir on April 16.

Quite literally, the third time was the charm for Kade Hillestad of Monroe, a member of Louisiana-Monroe’s college bass-fishing team.

Three times over 4 1/2 hours this past Sunday, April 16, Hillestad hooked a big bass on Bussey Brake Reservoir. He broke the fish off the first time it bit, then jumped it off the second time.

The third time, he got the fish in his boat: a 13.22-pound monster.

“I knew she was a big fish when she broke off the first time,” said Hillestad, 21. “I didn’t know she was that big until she came up and jumped and got off the second time. Then, I knew she was a giant.”

The fight played out between 2 p.m. when Hillestad found her, guarding a bed in the crotch of a buck bush, a couple of feet off the bottom in 8 feet of water, along with a 5-pound male fish.

“I caught the male bass right off the bat. I put him in the livewell so I could throw back in there without him biting again,” he said. “She was locked on. After about 30 minutes, I hooked her on a Texas-rigged craw-style creature bait, but she broke off.”

Hillestad gave her about 30 minutes and started working on her again, hooking her again on the same bait. This time, he had the fish out of the bush and headed to the boat when it jumped and threw the hook — about 15 feet from the boat.

Hoping for a third chance

This second victory by the big bass told Hillestad two things: the fish was huge — bigger than his 12.16-pound personal best from Bussey Brake three days earlier; and that the fish would probably bite again, if he played his cards right.

“I knew she would come back to the bed, and I knew she’d bite again,” he said. “With a 6 /0 hook in her face, she had bit 30 minutes later. After I hooked her and she threw the hook, I put the male back so he’d go back on the bed. That’s why she stayed right there. If I’d kept him in the livewell, she might have wandered off, looking for another male.”

Kade Hillestad holds his 12.16-pound Bussey Brake bass.

Hillestad could be confident because of so much recent success he’d had on Bussey Brake, a 2,200-acre lake that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries had drained and completely rebuilt over the past 10 years.

A hot streak

The previous Thursday, April 13, he broke through the double-digit mark not once, but twice, on the way to a 5-fish limit that weighed 44.46 pounds. He had a 12.16-pounder, a 10.6-, 9.1- and 8.4 — all on the same pattern.

“They were all in bushes in about 8 feet of water,” he said. “Bigger fish — not just on Bussey but on Caney, Lake Fork, a lot of other lakes — they’ll spawn in deeper water. I was sight-fishing with LiveScope, and I found them spawning where the bush forked a couple of feet off the bottom. The bed would be in the fork of the bush, and they’d be sitting on the bottom, watching the bed, coming up if anything came in there.

“Not all bushes are equal; it’s gotta be the right type of bush. Look for bushes with a fork a couple of feet off the bottom, maybe 5 or 6 feet deep. They’ve got to have sunlight on their eggs.”

Hillestad hooked this 10.6-pound bass on April 13.

When Hillestad first found the big fish and her big male partner, he saw them on LiveScope and recognized it was the right kind of bush. He said it was just a matter of pitching into the bush, letting his bait fall down around the fork in the bush’s trunk, and jiggle it around until the fish responded.

Third times the charm

Hillestad figured he’d better leave the big bass alone for a while, so he left for about 2 1/2 hours, coming back at 6:10 and immediately finding the big bass still in residence. This time, however, he replaced the creature bait with a big worm, but the same color — green pumpkin with blue flake as the creature baits.

“I went back around 6:10, and she bit at 6:30,” he said. “I just cast in there, kept it there and kept shaking it. She was angry at that point, with that 6/0 hook still in her face, and when she hit it, she meant it.”

Then, Hillestad got a good break: the big bass swam out of the bush.

“There was no way I’d have gotten that big a fish out of that bush unless she swam out. When she did, she headed out to deeper water.”

That was a mistake, and Hillestad made the fish pay, putting her in the boat after a short battle. When he got her in, he was even more amazed.

“She was full of eggs, and she was a very pretty fish. She had a little redness on her tail, but no scars,” he said. “The fish I had caught on Thursday, they were all beat up, but this one, she had just moved up out of deep water.”

Bussey is having a record year

Hillestad raced back to the lake office where he had the fish weighed on certified scales that read 13.22 pounds. The fish measured 28 1/4 inches long and 22 inches in girth.

“The past few days have been an awesome experience,” he said. “I’d never had a double-digit fish in my life until Thursday — just a couple of 9s — and then I get a 10 and a 12 on Thursday, then this one. This lake is unreal. I’ve fished a lot of lakes, but it’s one of a kind.”

Monroe’s Kade Hillestad with the 8.4-pound and 9.1-pound bass he caught at Bussey Brake Reservoir.

Hillestad’s huge fish is just one of many Bussey Brake fish caught in 2023 to break the 13-pound mark. Todd Herrington of Bastrop got things started on Feb. 14 with a lake-record 13.58-pound fish. Robert Rush of Crossett, Ark., broke that record on Feb. 26 with a 15.36-pound beast. Danny Diel of Bastrop checked in April 4 with a 13.84-pounder, and Hillestad’s April 16 fish will now be added to that list.

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