Is this the same fish?

Don Sullivan of Hanna City (above left) and his son Donny Sullivan of Kickapoo (above right) think they may have caught the same lunker bass one year apart based on photos and a comparison of markings (above middle and below).

For The Prairie News

Big fish invite comparisons and questions. How big? How deep? Where? On what? Did you eat it?

Seldom, though, does the line of questioning include, “Is that the same fish your kid caught last year?”

But that’s exactly what Don Sullivan of Hanna City and his son, Donny Sullivan of Kickapoo, have been pondering since last Sunday’s fishing trip to a deep Tazewell County lake yielded a lunker bass.

Don Sullivan caught the day’s lone fish, which he said measured 24 inches and weighed just over 9 pounds on a hand-held digital scale.

“We weren’t out fishing for 20 minutes when, bam, I hooked a hog down about 15-20 feet from the boat. I had a [Rapala] crankbait diver on. What a fight,” the elder Sullivan said. “My son grabbed the net and in the boat she came. It was huge! Biggest bass of my life. We went crazy.

“We weighed and measured it, then we took some pictures and then I released her back into the water. Off she swam. What a father-and-son moment. A day we will always remember.”

That was caught from within a few hundred feet of where Donny Sullivan last April caught a 22-inch bass that weighed 6 1/2 pounds on a digital scale. Last year the fish bit on an Alabama rig.

In the moment, none of that mattered to the Sullivans, who were busy celebrating.

“We think our excitement scared all the other fish away,” Don Sullivan said, explaining the lack of bites thereafter.

But later that day, Donny started comparing pictures of the bass. Don Sullivan explained that his son takes hunting and fishing more seriously and spends time studying fish they catch and deer pictures they gather on trail cameras.

“My son posted side-by-side photos of the fish on a fishing forum he is on,” the elder Sullivan said. “Right away, everyone was pointing out the identical marks on the fish. Could we have caught the same fish? It sure looks like it.”

Department of Natural Resources fishery biologist Rob Hilsabeck agreed that the markings do look very, very similar.

“I’d say it’s very possible,” Hilsabeck said.

Skeptics may still have doubts, as is natural with any big-fish story. While stories of anglers catching the same fish in the same day are not unusual, tales of a father and son teaming up on a fish one year apart are rare. And barring a fin tag or other tracking device, it’s not possible to prove definitively this was the same fish. That’s OK with the Sullivans.

“My wife, Beverly, couldn’t believe I didn’t bring it home,” Don Sullivan said. “I told her it was too big. I had to put it back.”

That release sets up an interesting possibility.

“We are both so grateful for the experience and hope maybe my grandson [Donny Sullivan III] can catch that same fish some day,” Don Sullivan said.

While chances of that seem slim, as Donny Sullivan III is just 4 years old, one way to increase the odds is to fish in late March and early April – prime time for catching big bass in Illinois waters.

You can bet the Sullivans won’t miss that chance next spring.