Nowadays, catching and releasing trophy-size largemouth bass is the norm. Motoring up on one in trouble and then saving its life, however, makes a day of fishing a bit more unusual. That's just what happened to Renia and Stephen Fairbanks while taking their daughter, Amy, out for a fishing trip on Arkansas' Cove Lake on Friday, August 14. Cove--a 160-acre lake located east of Fort Smith, at the base of Mount Magazine--holds a plethora of fish species, including largemouth and smallmouth bass and panfish. The trio was motoring back to the ramp after a morning of jigging up small fish when they came upon a hefty largemouth that couldn't swim more than a foot below the surface. After pulling the fish from the lake, they discovered its dilemma. Renia Fairbanks
Fairbanks spotted the trouble as soon as the fish was pulled from the water: The big bass had eaten another large fish, probably a shad, and the forage was so immense that the predator was either unable to control its air bladder or the aged meal had bloated, making it buoyant. Either way, the largemouth was unable to descend and was, more than likely, doomed. But thanks to the efforts of the Fairbanks, who removed the oversized meal from the bass’ gullet, the fish was eventually able to swim away no worse for wear. Click through the photos for the complete story. Renia Fairbanks
In this photo you see the dorsal fin of the fish, which is what caught the eye of Renia as the family was headed toward the launch. Renia Fairbanks
As the trio motored closer, they could tell it was a large fish, but was unable to confirm the species. Renia Fairbanks
They could tell it was a largemouth bass once they were alongside it. Renia Fairbanks
“The fish would flip, attempting to dive, but would eventually give up and float back to the surface,” says Renia. Renia Fairbanks
The majority of the time, the fish would just lie still at the surface. Renia Fairbanks
Here you see Stephan about to grab the fish. Renia Fairbanks
Several attempts were made to grab the fish by the tail, but it was too slippery. Renia Fairbanks
Stephen was finally able to get a grip on the fish with a shop towel. Renia Fairbanks
Stephan struck a quick pose with the largemouth bass before removing the forage from its throat. Renia Fairbanks
In this close up you can see the bass’ belly protruding from the head of the fish it swallowed. Renia Fairbanks
He used needle-nose pliers to grasp the tail of the bass’ last meal. Renia Fairbanks
Here you see the fish being pulled from the largemouth’s esophagus. Renia Fairbanks
The small fish was tossed back into Cove Lake. The head and main body were digested enough that the Fairbanks were unable to determine its species. Renia Fairbanks
The bass was placed in the livewell for a few moments so it could be revived. “We talked about moving it to our pond, but Stephen said ‘We didn’t catch it, and it wouldn’t be fair.’ So back to the lake it went,” says Renia. Renia Fairbanks
The big bass hung at the surface of Cove Lake for only a few moments after being relieved of the forage. Renia Fairbanks
The largemouth then turned tail and dove out of sight. Renia Fairbanks
The Fairbank’s stuck around the area where the bass submerged for quite some time, and it never resurfaced. Renia Fairbanks