Friday the 13th was anything but unlucky for Gabe Keen. In fact, it might have been the luckiest day of this hardcore bass fisherman’s life.
Keen broke a legendary record that has been etched in Tennessee fishing history for more than 60 years. He captured a largemouth bass larger than any other ever captured in the Volunteer State. And he did it on Chickamauga Lake.
The huge largemouth weighed 15.2 pounds on certified scales, breaking the previous record set by James “Logue” Barnett on Oct. 17, 1954. That bass weighed 14.5 lbs. Anglers who haven’t been keeping up with the huge bass coming from Chickamauga Lake recently, wondered if Barnett’s 60-year-old record would ever be broken.
Other fishermen fantasize about a day that turned into reality for Keen. Hours after the catch he said, “For something like this to happen to me, it’s still sinking in. But I’m tickled. I couldn’t be happier.”
It was 11:45 am when the huge fish hit a lure known as a Tennessee Rig Keen was casting “in the area of Chester Frost Park.” He said the fish grabbed the lure, made by Dixie Custom Rods, as it was about halfway back to the boat.
“I was sitting in about 20 feet of water just slow rolling it off a bank,” he said. Getting the record-breaking bass into the boat “didn’t take as long as you would think,” said Keen. “He came in pretty good at first and then after two little surges he came right on into the boat, and took on last little tail flip at the boat and I got him in.”
Keen weighed the fish on his scales and immediately knew he had to quit fishing and get back on shore to begin the process of making his catch official. On the Soddy Daisy BiLo scales, the huge fish measuring 30 inches long, was officially certified at 15.2 lbs.
Keen was actually practicing for a Saturday bass tournament when he caught the record fish. Obviously he would have liked to have caught the fish in a tournament. In fact the upcoming Bass Pro Battle of Chickamaugahigh school tournament out of Dayton is offering a $25,000 prize for anyone who catches a new state record. Keen says he is convinced it’s possible and that there is still another potential record largemouth swimming in Chickamauga.
“There’s another one in there,” he said. “It’s a great lake and if there’s a 15.2 in there, there’s a 15.3 in there. I think there’s some more 15 or 16 pound fish in the lake.”
Keen, along with most other bass anglers, credits the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for helping create the great fishery with its ongoing Florida bass fingerling stocking program.
TWRA Fisheries Biologist Mike Jolley said long ago he wouldn’t be surprised to see a new state record from Chickamauga Lake.
Friday Jolley said, “No, I’m not surprised. With the weights we’ve been seeing come from the lake a lot of people felt it was just a matter of time. There is no way to know for sure until we run a DNA analysis, but I would bet this fish will be a cross between one of the Florida largemouth bass and a native northern largemouth.”
Just recently TWRA announced it would be expanding its Florida bass stocking program to other lakes in Tennessee. The new waters to be stocked are Nickajack Lake, Watts Bar Lake, Fort Loudoun Lake, the middle portion of Kentucky Lake, and TWRA’s Herb Parsons Lake in Fayette County.
Rhea County, through FishDayton.com (hotlink), has been working hard to bill itself as the “NEW Bass Fishing Capitol of the South.” Keen, originally from Dayton, pulled in to Dayton Boat Dock & Grill Friday afternoon to a throng of three dozen well-wishers who wanted to be part of Tennessee’s fishing history. On the wall of the building hung a sign that read “Home of … the next state record.” Officials proudly looked on and snapped pictures as Keen crossed out the word “next,” replacing it with the words, “Home of … the NEW state record.”
Keen’s father, Mike Keen, is the coach of the Bryan College Bass Fishing Team. Gabe also coaches a bass fishing at his school in Campbell County. He’ll be fielding teams in the Bass Pro Battle of Chickamauga March 27-28 and hopes one of his students might be the one to break his record.
Keen said he was fishing with a 7-foot Abu Garcia Veritas rod, Viscious 20 lb. fluorocarbon line and his Tennessee Rig lure was outfitted with Zoom Super Flukes.
“The ones on the outside were baitfish color, the one in the middle was a white ice color,” said Keen.
Caleb Luzader was originally supposed to go fishing with Keen on Friday but his schedule prevented him from heading out. Luzader took it all in good humor however, and was at the dock to support his friend.
“I would have loved to have been able to witness that history getting reeled in right there,” said Luzader. “But you know, it couldn’t have happened to a better man. Gabe is a great guy, a high school fishing coach and just an all-around wonderful guy. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Good guy or not, Keen — or at least his record — is now a target. Every Chickamauga bass angler on the water is now gunning to be the one to make the next historic catch.
Story & Photo by Richard Simms