Robert Earl Woodard wanted to prove his expert angling skills. But he got more than he bargained for when he decided to fish without a line. Woodard was astonished by what he had got his hands on – and he soon became an internet phenomenon because of it.
Woodard, who resides in Alabama, spent almost four decades teaching sports and physical education. His biggest passion, though, is fishing. And he’s honed his skills over the years, racking up more than half-a-century of experience.
The talented fisherman even has his own five-acre bass lake on his farm. And on March 5, 2015, he recorded a video at the pond to demonstrate his skills. Woodard thought that it would be the perfect way to promote his book, which had recently been published.
Woodard’s The Way It Was Back Then was published in 2014. The book is a collection of short stories about growing up in the countryside. In his youth, the Alabama native was accustomed to life’s simple pleasures, without the technology that we have today.
Fishing, then, has always been a big part of Woodard’s life. And what’s more, he says that back in the day, they didn’t utilize fancy fishing lines. Instead, people would simply catch the creatures using nothing but their hands.
So that’s exactly what Woodard aimed to do in his video. The clip was shot on the pier of his lake in Blountsville, Alabama, where people can catch and release bass but only by hand. But what he didn’t know was that it wouldn’t be long before the footage went viral.
“Today, I’m going to try to catch a big bass,” he tells viewers in the resulting YouTube video. “Been trying to catch her for a while. She’s never been caught, but today I’m going to try to catch her by hand.”
With that, Woodard lies down on his stomach across the wooden jetty. He has a small amount of bait in one hand and places it just below the surface of the water. Meanwhile, he keeps his other hand in place, waiting for the bass to arrive.
And less than 30 seconds after Woodard starts dangling the bait, there is some movement in the water. The fisherman subsequently begins flailing his arms about and is audibly struggling. In fact, a friend even comes and holds onto his legs and the waistband of his jeans to stop him from falling in.
Then, with a lot of effort, Woodard manages to pull something out of the water. He can be seen holding onto a massive largemouth bass with just his two hands. “That’s a biggie, look at her!” the woman filming the video exclaims. “Look at her mouth. Oh my goodness!”
Woodard’s friend then gets out some scales, and the bass can be seen thrashing about as they attempt to weigh it. The farmer predicts that it will be “at least” 15 pounds and soon discovers that he is correct.
The scale reads 16.03 pounds, in fact. And as well as being a huge trophy bass, the creature was close to the biggest ever to have been caught in the state of Alabama at the time. What’s more, Woodard believes that it probably measures between 34 and 35 inches, which would make it the longest on record.
However, in the video, Woodard decides against calculating the length of the fish, as he wants to release it back into the water. “She’s going back in,” he says after holding the largemouth up for the camera. “16.03 by hand,” he adds. “This is the way they caught them, the way it was back then. Read my book.”
Next, Woodard lies back down and carefully places the bass into the lake once again. By this point, the fish has been out of the water for more than a full minute, but within a few seconds it’s shown swimming away at high speed. The video ends with the angler raising his hands in the air and grinning and cheering.
A year later, the clip started gaining popularity, and it has appeared on several news outlets in the time since. Woodard told Bassmaster what it was like to get his hands on the largemouth. “She headed for deep water and pulled me a foot down the pier,” he said. “When I was holding it, it went from my shoulder to my knee.”
And the internet was clearly very impressed by Woodard’s technique. “This is by far my favorite fishing video on YouTube of all time!!!! SO EPIC!!” a user called Trophy Bass Chasin commented. Zack G added, “People spend thousands of dollars on boats and gear so that they can catch fish like this…. And this guy grabs a minnow and catches it with his bare hands?! Wow.”
And the fisherman has put his newfound fame to good use. Yes, Woodard decided to write about his popular catches in another book, called Eye To Eye With Big Bass. “I explain the techniques that I used finding and catching big bass,” Woodard explained on Facebook. “There are stories on how I grow bass to trophy size. In my book, I write about some of my famous fish and how their videos went viral.”
The farmer revealed that catching largemouth with only your hands is all about ensuring that your thumb is placed in the mouth’s V-shape, as this will give you a tight grip. He added, “And you can’t pull them out when they’re wild. Bass are very powerful.”
Woodard has had further successes with his fishing technique since he became a viral hit. Indeed, he’s regularly posted videos that showcase his ability to catch trophy bass by hand. The former coach has even caught a 16-pound, 11-ounce largemouth that would have broken the state record.
“I thought it would be dangerous to the fish’s life if I waited for a state biologist to come and certify it, but I did measure it with witnesses,” he wrote on Facebook. “Now, one year later, she is close to 19 or 20 pounds.” Woodard set out to have “the best bass lake in Alabama,” and he certainly seems to have proven himself as a legend in the fishing world.