Living on cloud nine.
‘Country fisherman’ sets world record with surprising catch
By Robert DeWitt - Outdoors Writer
August 25, 2002
SAMANTHA| Nobody will ever accuse James Seller of being one of those pretentious fly-fisherman.
“I’m not a fancy fisherman,” Sellers said, sitting at the kitchen table of his Samantha home. “I’m just a plain old country fisherman. I paddle my boat – got no trolling motor.”
Sellers, 64, is also a world record holder, according to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis. On May 22, he hauled in a 9-pound, 5-ounce largemouth bass using line classified by the Hall of Fame as 12-pound-test tippet.
“I stayed on cloud nine for a week or two,” Sellers said with a smile. “I still like to talk about it.”
In a sport run amok with snobbery, Sellers is refreshing. He’s pure West Alabama, fishing with a fly rod purchased in the early 1960’s. The brand name is worn off and he can’t remember what it is.
“It’s the only rod I’ve ever had,” Sellers said.
Attached to it is an automatic winding reel.
“That’s a Martin and it’s a good one too,” he said. “I’ve had it since the early ‘70’s.”
Instead of a bass boat, he’s got a 14-foot aluminum john boat. The boat, along with the trailer, 9.9 horsepower Johnson outboard, life jackets, registration number and a six-pack of oil cost him $643 at Bennett’s Marina back in 1971.
Attached to the end of his leader is no hand-tied fly made of exotic feathers and hair. Nope, it’s a 1/24th-ounce Fred Arbogast Hula Popper. He has to order the yellow-bellied popper from Fort Smith, Ark., because the color isn’t available locally.
He also swears by the $14-per pack Air-Sel fly line. The line that was on his reel when he landed his record breaker was 20 years old, although he’s since changed it.
Back on May 22, he and Randal Jones were having a good day on the Samantha farm lake owned by Jones’ family. Sellers had already caught 11 nice 1-to 1.5-pound bass and was ready to head home at 7 p.m. Bet he wanted to fish all the way to where he had launched his boat.
Just past the corner of the dam, next to where his trailer sat waiting, he flipped his Hula Popper next to patch of grass.
“I wasn’t expecting anything,” he said. “We were about to come in and put the boat on the trailer.”
But a big female, fresh off the bed was waiting and hungry. The bas hit with the sound of beaver churning the water, Sellers said.
“I said, ‘Man, I’ll never get him in,’” Sellers said. “I thought with 10-pound test line and him that big, I’d never land him.”
The big bass headed for deeper water, line screaming off of Sellers’ old Martin. Then it came out of the water, shaking its head and trying to throw the lure. But in its hunger, it had completely swallowed the lure and couldn’t throw it. The fish’s only chance to escape was to break the line, and Sellers wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.
“It made three runs,” Sellers said. “The line was tight and I was padding for all I was worth.”
The fish went three times from the spot it struck to a spot about 20 yards into deeper water and back to the spot where it struck. Sellers hung on, giving line where he had to and taking it up when he could.
“Randal said it took me about 15 minutes to get it in,” Sellers said. “I couldn’t tell you how long it took. I was on cloud nine.”
Eventually the fish tired and rolled up on its side. Sellers didn’t have a net so he guided in to his free hand, grabbed its lip and hauled it in the boat.
“I got a good grip on it and I held it until we got in,” He said. “The majority of the fish I catch, I release. But I wasn’t about to with this one.”
It was late, and he couldn’t take the fish anywhere that night. So he packed it in ice and took it to Piggly Wiggly in Berry the following morning. The store’s certified scales said the fish weighed 9.5 pounds.
Sellers debated on mounting the fish. Finally, he decided he would take it to Toby Lightsey in Brent. The taxidermist suggested he might have a record, and Sellers took the big bass to the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries office in Northport. Biologist Jerry Moss identified the fish as a largemouth bass and gave Sellers the record book paperwork to fill out.
He had to send a sample of the leader line. While the package listed it as 10-pound test line, the Fishing Hall of Fame classified it as 12-pound test line.
Sellers took the bass back to Lightsey, who will mount it with the lure and line coming from its mouth. He will also encase it in glass.
Prior to May, Sellers’ biggest bass on a fly rod was a 5.5-pound largemouth caught in 1974. But he’s never been a trophy fisherman.
“I go just to have fun,” Sellers said. “If I catch a fish, fine. If I don’t, fine.”
Retired from the state mental health system, he fishes at least once a week.
“Sometimes more if it doesn’t make my wife mad,” Sellers chuckles.
Usually, fishing late in the afternoon near dusk, he’ll catch three or four, sometimes more. Top-water action is part of what draws him to fly fishing.
“If something can break the water and I can see it and hear it, I’m tickled,” Sellers said.
The secret to his equipment’s longevity is simple, he takes care of it. He rubs down the rod with automotive wax every once in a while and he always tries to dry out his line and dress it after fishing.
“I don’t let anybody else much touch my fishing tackle,” he said.
Equipment need not cost a fortune, he said.
“I just think that if they get a simple rod and reel and a good line, it’ll work fine,” he said. “If they’re spending $600-$700 they’re spending too much.”
Someday, Sellers would like to try his hand at trout.
“I have for years wanted to go out to Wyoming,” Sellers said. “I planned to go once but didn’t. I’s like to go on those small creeks and try some cutthroats, browns and rainbows. It looks like the most peaceful place you could go.”
Out in his workshop, he’s got a classy bamboo fly rod in a metal case that a university professor gave him. It would look quite chic on the trout stream.
But folks out west shouldn’t be too surprised to someday see a county bow next to them holding a no-name rod with a Martin auto-winding reel. They also shouldn’t be surprised if he catches the biggest fish.