"I fish every day that I'm not working," says John Liechty, a full-time employee of Glory Hole Sports in Angels Camp.

Last Friday, Liechty, 32, had a day off from work.

"I didn't have any special hunches about what might happen," he said.

But Debi Nunes, a fellow employee, did.

"Before I went fishing," said Liechty, of Angels Camp, "I stopped by Glory Hole and one of my co-workers Debi Nunes says to me, 'John, you will catch the lake record today.' Those were her exact words. Well, I didn't. But I was close."

"John had bought some Senkos," said Nunes, of Copperopolis. "And, I'm

not sure why, I just knew in my heart that it would be John's day. I

told him, 'You will catch the lake record today!' And it ended up that

he was only 12 ounces away from doing that."

Liechty caught a 17-pound, 4-ounce largemouth, the second-biggest

bass ever brought in at New Melones. Liechty's personal previous best

was 7 1/2 pounds. The all-time lake record is 18 pounds.

"I was just going out there trying to catch a better-than-average

fish, although I didn't think I'd catch a 17-pounder that day," said

Liechty. "I did spot one that looked like it was about 8 pounds and

that's the fish I kept seeing every 10 or 15 minutes. I just basically

kept blind-casting into the area where I'd seen the 8-pound fish and

then my lure felt heavy. I set the hook and it was 'Go Time.' "

Liechty knew this was no 8-pounder.

"The fish came out of the water in the first five seconds and I

realized that I'd hooked into the biggest fish I'd ever seen," he said.

"I was beyond excited. And then it was the fight of a lifetime. It took

me a good 8-to-10 minutes to land the fish."

Liechty called Glory Hole and was told fishing guide Gary Burns was also on the lake.

"I was just keeping the fish alive in the water," explained

Liechty. "I always catch-and-release. And it was great that Gary came

over to assist me."

"My reaction when I saw that fish was, 'Holy Moly!' " said Burns.

"I could not believe how big that beautiful fish was. We took pictures

and weighed it and then John let it go.

"This couldn't have happened to a better person. John was all

excited. And what I especially loved about it all was that John fishes

out of a small boat. It just proves that you don't need a fancy boat to

catch a big fish."

"I was fishing out of my 14-foot Valco," said Liechty. "Nothing fancy. A 9-horse-power motor."

"John is very knowledgeable," said Burns. "He's very aggressive. He doesn't give up."

Liechty caught his near-record fish on 8-pound line with a spinning rod and used a 5-inch green pumpkin Senko.

After letting go of the largemouth, Liechty stayed out on the water for another hour but didn't cast.

"I just wanted to soak it all in," said Liechty. "I had thought

that maybe I should fish some more, it was just four (p.m.). But then I

thought, 'Nah ... I don't need to keep fishing today.' "