On June 2, 1932, George W. Perry caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass in Georgia, and, for four decades, the record seemed completely unassailable.
All that changed forever on June 23, 1973, when Dave Zimmerlee pulled in a 20-pound, 15-ounce leviathan from California's Lake Miramar. It marked the fifth time in just six years that the Golden State's largemouth record had fallen, moving it from less than 15 pounds to almost 21. And Zimmerlee's bass would hold onto that top spot for almost seven more years, despite an unprecedented assault on the mark.
More importantly, Zimmerlee's catch was the first certified largemouth over 20 pounds since Perry's catch. It proved that the world record was attainable, and it launched the world record bass chase in California. And, because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the catch and the small, heavily regulated waters that produce the California giants, it also ushered in an unprecedented era of competition, suspicion, fraud and mania in the chase for a new record.
Bassmaster Magazine covered Zimmerlee's historic catch in the September-October 1973 issue, and the Q & A between Zimmerlee and outdoor writer Chuck Garrison did much to fuel a controversy surrounding the catch. The angler used a non-functional Zebco 33 spincast reel, a mismatched spinning rod, 10-pound-test line and a nightcrawler to land the lunker. That and the fish's behavior led many to conclude that it was very near death when caught, and that it may have been unable to actually strike a lure or bait.
As Zimmerlee described it, "I saw this big fish swimming in the water. I went up to it and anchored off, and the fish dove down.
"The water was about 20 feet deep and the fish was down about five or six feet from the surface. I put a nightcrawler on a number six treble hook and dropped it down in front of the fish and the fish opened its mouth and grabbed it. As soon as it did, I set the hook, but then my reel wouldn't wind line. I only fought the fish for a little while, and then had to lay the rod down and grab hold of the line and start to pull it in. I reached down and grabbed hold of the fish and pulled it in."
The fish measured 26 3/4 inches long and had a girth of 28 inches. Zimmerlee summed up the physique of the fish by saying, "As short and round as it was, I'd say it was square."