The primary characters of “The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant” are the unnamed narrator, Sheila Mant, and the bass that the narrator fails to catch. There are a few minor characters mentioned, but the only one named is Eric Caswell, the person that Sheila is interested in.
In this story, the narrator struggles with conflicting desires—he wants both to impress his crush Sheila Mant, as well as to catch the biggest bass he has ever hooked. In the end, he does not catch the bass because of his fixation on Sheila. This incident follows the narrator into the present as he reflects on the summer in which he lost the true “catch.”
The story begins with Sheila Mant having precedence over any bass: “There was a summer in my life when the only creature that seemed lovelier to me than a largemouth bass was Sheila Mant.” The narrator begins the story with this statement. Here, a girl is more attractive to him than fishing. However, by the end, the narrator’s priorities have shifted as he learns what is truly meaningful to him. It ends as follows:
There would be other Sheila Mants in my life, other fish, and though I came close once or twice, it was these secret, hidden tuggings in the night that claimed me, and I never made the same mistake again.
The narrator suggests that he will not choose a girl over his love of fishing again—to do so would be a mistake in his eyes.