20 inch, 5lb large-mouth caught out of Wyman
by Keith Stewart
Nathan Riley is 12 years old. He’s been fishing for only a couple years. He is mostly self-trained too, having watched dozens of YouTube videos on the sport. And it was he who was by himself at little ol’ Wyman Lake when he supposedly caught a 20-inch, 5-pound., 7-ounce large mouth bass on a cold March morning.
Sounds a little fishy.
Perhaps some doubt could, in fact, be cast if there wasn’t a photo or two of the Sullivan middle schooler showing off his fresh catch. His friends at school can’t deny it–Riley has shown them photos on his cellphone. It’s the reel-deal.
Bad fishing puns aside, Riley’s catch is the biggest of his life so far and a young life at that.
“I saw a fishing pole and thought it might be fun,” he explained. Ever since then, Riley has regularly fished Wyman as well as Clinton Lake, private ponds, and a creek behind his grandfather’s house near La Place.
“He caught fish in places where you wouldn’t think there would be any, especially for as dry as it was last year,” said his Uncle Danny. “He was catching catfish left and right.”
“I thought he’d be wasting his time,” added his grandfather Larry Hodge. “He was pretty much showing us up.”
In the summer and when staying with his mother Jennifer, Riley spends each week fishing. He has about a five block walk or bike ride to Wyman when Mom is working. On weekends, while she is asleep, the 12 year old gets his fishing tackle and pole together and starts out. As long as he abides by Mom’s one rule, he can fish for as long as his hands can take it.
“She makes me text or call every 30 minutes,” said Nathan.
“As long as he stays in contact with me, he can be out there as long as he wants,” added Jennifer.
But while Riley may love to fish, he doesn’t exactly have patience for a motionless reel.
“I just want to catch fish,” he says.
“He doesn’t have much patience,” added his grandfather. “He’ll stick with it, but it’s all about catching fish. That’s why he doesn’t like going with me. I don’t care if I catch a fish. If I sit there without a hit, I don’t mind. I just put my pole down and enjoy the sun.”
But on this particular Saturday morning, Riley had to be patient.
Wyman Lake, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, covers five acres and is no deeper than seven feet. Trout are stocked each spring and channel catfish are stocked annually.
“I spent many a Saturday nights with my dad and stepmom as a kid,” said local fishing and outdoor enthusiast Travis Hughes, who’s been fishing all over the area for at least 30 years. “We used to go out there for catfish. I know I’ve since taken some kids out there, and that lake is loaded with Blue Gill. It just all depends on water temperature, barometric pressure…just a lot of factors.”
For the first time this fishing season, Riley got up early, 7:18 a.m. to be exact, wrote a note to his mom explaining that he was off fishing and instructing her to text him when she got up.
“The cat woke me up after jumping on my face,” he explained. “I grabbed my pole and went out the door to fish.”
With the exception of an older gentleman, Riley was the only one at Wyman that morning.
“I was just trying to catch a Blue Gill, but they didn’t like that; they hung me up. So I tied on a lure, a different lure, but stayed in the same location. That didn’t work either. So I called my mom because she called me, and I didn’t answer. I called her back and said I was getting ready to go to the other side of the pond.”
“I woke up around 8 and when I asked how the fishing was, he said, ‘Not doing well. Getting ready to go to the other side and try.’”
Thank goodness Riley was persistent.
“I went down to the bank and got right down to the end where it curves around directly across from the pier and got a bite,” he said. “I tossed it back in and got a bigger bite. So then I tossed it in a third time, and I got him.
“I thought I either had a really big stick or a really big fish,” he added.
It wouldn’t take long for Riley to decide which it was.
“Turns out it was a really big fish; when I saw its tail, this big (he said with his hands stretched wide), I set the drag really loose. Then it pulled a bunch of the drag.”
For nearly 10 minutes Riley toiled, doing his best to reel the bass in, all without breaking his Zepco ultralite pole or the four pound line he was using.
“I was expecting a tiny nine inch bass,” he admitted. “Typically the pole should have broken; it was bent way over. It was wacko looking. It looked like a half circle.”
Pole, line, and fish intact and in grasp, Riley was amazed.
“It was 32 minutes to the dot,” he recalls. “I didn’t even measure it.”
“So then he called me,” said his mom.
‘Mom! I just caught a huge fish!’
‘I didn’t measure it. Let me put the phone down.’
It was in fact a 20-incher.
‘Grab a bucket.’
‘The only bucket we have is a mop bucket.’
‘Well, bring it!’
“So I got down there, and he put the fish in it, but its head was sticking out because it was so big,” said Jennifer.
“We got it home and put it in a tote, and it was almost too big for that,” said Nathan. “It covered the whole bottom so I poured more water in.”
Riley’s mom called her father to see where they should take Nathan’s prized fish to be taxidermied. He in turn called pro fisherman Jim Crawley to find out his preferred place. That led Nathan, a prize money fish, and his mom on an hour-and-a-half car drive to Bob’s Taxidermy in Bloomington.
“We kept it alive till noon and then put it in a cooler and drove up to Bloomington,” said Jennifer. “It’s being mounted now.”
If asked, Nathan won’t reveal what lure he used to catch his monster fish, only that they’re no longer in stock.
“That’s the sign of a true fisherman,” said Hughes. “That’s one beautiful fish. Even on Lake Shelbyville, you don’t hear of too many bass over six pounds. That’s a money fish. A lot of guys would love to have that fish in a tournament. To him, that must have been like a 100 lb fish. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. He deserved a steak dinner after that one.”
“That would certainly be a rare bass to be that big and to come out of that pond,” said Mike Mounce, fisheries biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “That’s a great bass for that pond.”
Riley may not have gotten a steak dinner afterwards, but grandpa paid the tab for the taxidermy.
“I told him next time it’s going to have to be at least double that size,” said Hodge. “He’s set the bar. It’s going to have to be 10 pounds or bigger and in Illinois that’s hard; the record is 13.”
Not only will Riley be receiving his trophy in the coming weeks, but since his big catch, the pro fisherman Crawley has agreed to have Riley on his webcast program, and, all the better, on his 13th birthday come May 3.
“Weather pending, it’s scheduled,” said Jennifer. “We’ll drive up to Bloomington, and they’ll fish for half a day and see if they can’t get an episode out of that.”
Fishing trade secret, check. Reeling in a prized money fish, check. Fishing with the pros, soon to be checked.
But what about any superstitions? After all, most have some rabbit foot, some odd ritual when it comes to wooing fish.
For Christmas last year, he received what would be dubbed his fishing shirt. Wearing it for the first time on that now legendary Saturday, Riley says it’s now become his lucky fishing shirt. The only trouble now is whether Mom will be able to keep up washing it with his incessant habit come summer and warmer weather.
But it’s not just wearing the shirt that sends a message to both fellow anglers and fish, so much as what is on his newly dubbed fishing uniform.
‘If you don’t fish, I see no reason to talk to you.’
“I was mad she washed it,” said Riley following his catch. “It’s okay though, I’m just looking forward to catching another one.”