Robert Earl Woodard has been catching giant bass by hand for well over four decades. A retired high school football coach and cattle rancher by trade, the lifelong Alabamian has seen his bass wrangling videos go viral several times since he began sharing them online back in 2014. His latest internet sensation—a revived 2016 video that shows him hoisting a near state-record largemouth out of a pond next to his home—was viewed more than a million times after being be shared on TikTok and Instagram by country music star Brad Paisley.
Woodard tells Field & Stream that he originally filmed the video to help promote his book, “Eye to Eye with Big Bass,” which was published in 2016. At 16.03-ounces, the bass was nearly as big as the reigning Alabama record, though fish caught by hand don’t show up in the state’s record books. “I never could have imagined how big that video would become,” Woodard says. “I didn’t plan for it to happen like this, but I’m just so honored that people enjoy it.”
@bradpaisley Oh lookey there, he’s got a bite. #bradpaisley #countrymusic #fishing #bassfishing #imgonnamissher ♬ I’m Gonna Miss Her – Brad Paisley
The hand-caught bass in Woodard’s 2016 video gained him a ton of notoriety in the outdoor press, netting features in Bassmasters Magazine and Bass Times to name a few. But the fish is just one of several record-sized largemouth he’s pulled from his carefully-managed farm pond in recent years.
A 2019 clip on Woodard’s personal Youtube page shows him hoisting a 17-pounder caught on a crank bait. Two years before that clip was filmed, he says, he caught a 16-pound, 11-ounce fish on a Mann’s Razor Back. Both of those fish would have broken the current Alabama state record of 16 pounds, 8 ounces. But Woodard opted to put them back in his pond unharmed rather than waiting for a state biologist to come out and record the official measurements.
The 72-year old Woodard says he’s been obsessed with catching big bass since he was a college student at Auburn University. “We fished Gunnersville a lot back in those early days,” Woodard recalls. “In the 70s, 80s, and up to mid-90s, we thought we owned that lake. And we caught a lot of big fish during its prime time—back when you could could fill the boat with six and seven pounders.”
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These days, the veteran angler spends most of his time managing his 5-acre farm pond near Blountsville, and catching lunker bass by hand that most rod-and-reel anglers only dream about. He’s retired from raising prize-winning angus cattle, and his pond management techniques—which he detailed in his 2016 book—have made meaningful contributions to the field of trophy bass management.
In fact, Woodard says, since catching the 2016 bass that went viral, he’s had fisheries biologists from all over the country consult him about his unique methods for raising lunker largemouth. “There are still a lot of really big bass in there,” Woodard says. “We’re still looking for that 20 pounder.”
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