Back in the days in Massachusetts when Senator Kennedy was Jack and Ted was Williams, a Westboro man named Bill Plummer developed a certain genius for catching black bass. His well-publicized achievements recalled the line: "The man who caught that fish is a liar." Plummer sneered at five-pounders, lifetime trophies for most northern anglers. Bass of six pounds barely made him smile. Seven-pounders were all right, and those of eight were just fine. But that was 20 years ago, and all Plummer did for an encore was more of the same.
In the passing years, the newspapers stopped telling his story, and suburbia closed in on his little town. But one ex-Bostonian never forgot. He was a bass fisherman, too—once he had even caught a three-pounder—and one evening this fall, in a nostalgic mood, he dialed Westboro information. Yes, there was a Bill Plummer listed. He tried the number, fretting about pollution and water skiers, thinking. "What if Plummer had to give it all up for golf?" Then Plummer's wife Norma answered. "I'm sorry," she said, "he's not home from fishing yet."
The next hour seemed like 10, but finally Plummer was in, and pleased that someone remembered him. The caller said, "I hear you're still fishing."
"Not as much as in summer, I'm afraid," Plummer replied. "I'm down to six days a week now."
"Still catching the big ones?"
"Well, 6� pounds. Got him yesterday, but nothing really big for a while. Why don't you come along with me some day, maybe you'd bring me luck?"
Two days later, at 3:30 a.m., Plummer and the caller drove from Westboro, which is 30 miles west of Boston. Plummer, now 57, had eaten his usual "breakfast," as he put it, the night before, so as not to delay his departure. He said that he fishes only for bass, that he is on the water most days at dawn, that he would fish year round were it not for the ice, and that late in December he is reduced to driving around Massachusetts searching for open water, sometimes having to break shore ice for 100 feet to launch his boat. Bass are said to be dormant in those conditions, but Plummer catches them any time he wants to.
In his lifetime, he has landed more than 1,000 five-pound largemouth bass, hundreds of six and seven pounds, more than two dozen of eight and one of nine. One in five of the fish he catches is a smallmouth bass, which do not grow as large. A five-pounder is something to weep over. Plummer has caught dozens. But catching prodigious bass does take time, 2,000 hours each year, Plummer figures, and his companion could not help thinking of the proverbial room full of chimpanzees with typewriters who, if given unlimited time, would type the works of Shakespeare. And he kept wondering: "How does he earn a living?"
They were headed toward New Hampshire. The previous week Plummer had caught a largemouth of nearly seven pounds in Massachusetts. After a catch like that, most anglers would fish no-where else for the rest of their lives, but Plummer said, "Catching fish is not my main concern anymore. What I like is to explore, to find where fish are." That would appear to be the ultimate refinement of his art; he scores big in 50 to 60 different bodies of water each year, in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. He estimates an annual catch of 1,000 bass of more than two pounds, despite eschewing modern refinements such as electric motors, high swivel seats and monster outboards, which are standard equipment on tournament bass boats.
Plummer detests tournaments. His boat is an unpretentious car-top model which he designed and had built, 12 feet and 80 pounds of red cedar covered with fiberglass, with low. fixed seats and a three-horse Evinrude to putt it along. As he says, "Those fancy boats are too heavy for carrying in to remote ponds, and so what if my seats are low and less comfortable than some? I'm also less visible to the fish, and I don't need a big motor because I'm not competing with other big motors." He thinks the sudden surge of an electric motor scares bass. He glides into prime water by means of oars that have a rubber coating where they touch the oarlocks to reduce noise.