It's now been 75 YEARS since George Washington Perry caught the 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass that set the benchmark in our sport and gave lunker hunters a standard at which to shoot.
As we mark the anniversary of Perry's catch, it's worth noting that his record is older than any other major title in the International Game Fish Association's record book and has seniority over all other records except for the yellow perch (1865), brook trout (1916), tiger musky (1919), cutthroat trout (1925) and Atlantic salmon (1928).
To say that Perry's record has been zealously assailed over the past three decades is to make the biggest understatement in fishing records history. Nearly everyone who has ever made a cast for bass knows of the mark and has imagined what it would be like to claim the top spot in the books. Dozens of serious fishermen across the country are trying to catch, trap or grow a new record bass, and a book (Sowbelly) has been written on the passion and mania surrounding the record chasers. For the angler good enough or lucky enough to catch a new record bass, the ramifications are as big as the fish.
For starters, there's the money —real or perceived. For decades, several manufacturers posted bounties on the record— if the fish was caught using their rod, reel, line or lure. In the late 1990s, the Big Bass Record Club had an insurance policy that would pay $8 million to the member who caught a new record largemouth and turned it over to the organization. Today, virtually no such bounties exist. If the fish is worth millions, as many have speculated, it will come from after-the-fact contracts between the angler and manufacturers, publishers, displayers and the like.
When calculating the value of a new record bass, much depends on the angler. If the angler already has a national reputation, you can bet that will add to the bankroll, too. And if the "right" equipment is used, it will mean the difference between a pretty nice check and early retirement in a posh neighborhood.
Along with the money comes fame if you're the world record holder. And make no mistake, the next claimant will be both revered and reviled, put up on a pedestal and under a microscope. It'll be a roller coaster of emotions and experiences.
Half of the bass fishing world will call the next record holder a hero while the other half, secretly or openly, will call him a liar.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
No discussion of the assault on the bass record could be considered complete without reference to Bob Crupi. The Los Angeles motorcycle cop was a one-man record book wrecking crew in the early 1990s, and is the only person with two fish in the Top 10 of the Bassmaster Top 25 list. He also came the closest to breaking Perry's record, with a 22.01 fish taken from Lake Castaic in 1991.
Crupi's devotion was unflinching. For better than 10 years he was on Southern California lakes in search of a bass to beat Perry's, but the strike never came. Instead, the pursuit nearly cost him his marriage and his relationship with his children.
In March of 1997, Paul Duclos caught a giant largemouth from Spring Lake in California. Since he claimed that he didn't want to kill the fish, he had his wife bring a set of bathroom-type scales to the lake rather than transport the fish to certified scales.
After weighing both himself and the bass on the bathroom scales and taking a couple of photos, Duclos released it. When he stepped back on the scales alone, the difference was an even 24 pounds. He never submitted the catch for record consideration.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
On March 20, 2006, Mac Weakley caught what was probably the biggest bass anyone has ever seen. The leviathan weighed 25 pounds, 1 ounce and was taken from California's Lake Dixon, a 75-acre reservoir better known for its trout fishing until recent years.
Unfortunately for Weakley, his monster bass was foul-hooked, and he decided not to apply to the IGFA for record consideration.
"We don't want to go out breaking the record with so many people doubting it," Weakley said, speaking for himself and a couple of his record-chasing buddies (Jed Dickerson and Mike Winn) who accompanied him for the catch.
A year later, his attitude seems to have changed.
"The more we thought about this," Weakley told the San Diego Union-Tribune, "the more we realized there's always going to be controversy surrounding this record."
He's probably right. Jed Dickerson obviously thinks so. At the same time Weakley was considering his possible application, Dickerson was planning to submit his catch of the very same bass (it bore a distinctive birthmark) in 2003 for world record consideration. Although the bass is generally cited as weighing 21-11, he has witnesses who saw it stretch the scales to 22-9 before it lost fluid and eggs.
Either catch could be certified by the IGFA and given recognition as the new all-tackle world record. If that happens, the storm of controversy surrounding the catches will begin in earnest.
OUT OF THE WOODWORK
As Weakley observed, not every claim to the world record has been without controversy. In fact, most of the claims of fish weighing better than the hallowed 22-4 mark can be classified as jokes or outright frauds.
One of the jokes was played in a South Carolina newspaper on April 1, 1997 —April Fools' Day. BASS founder Ray Scott decided to have a little fun and concocted a story about Roy (Peg&#$1; Greer catching a 22-pound, 7-ounce largemouth from someplace called "Walker's Slough."
When the media began investigating the story, Scott revealed the joke. They could have realized something was up if they had just unscrambled the name "Roy (Peg) Greer." It can be rearranged to spell "George Perry."
Scott wasn't the first prankster to play games with the world record largemouth. In 1967, a friend of Junior Samples left a grouper's head in the then-unknown comedian's yard. When asked about it, Samples claimed it was the head of a 22-pound, 9-ounce largemouth he had caught from nearby Lake Lanier (Georgia).
Samples said that he had been drunk when he caught the bass, but that he recalled weighing it somewhere.
When local media began checking out the story, virtually every merchant claimed to have seen Samples with the big "bass."
Junior wound up parlaying his fish tale into a role on television's Hee Haw. But for most bass anglers, the next world record largemouth bass will be no joke.
It's unlikely that the angler who catches it will be a young farmer like George Perry. It's far more likely that a savvy Californian with a deep tan from hours on the water and a keen eye for sight fishing will take the bass. If and when he does, we can only hope he wears the world record holder title with honor.
THE FOREIGN MARKET
If and when trade and travel are opened between the U.S. and Cuba, there is a legion of bassers ready to hop a plane to Havana and cast their lines on Treasure Lake. It's been off-limits for most Americans for nearly 30 years. The last time it was tested by U.S. anglers, it disappointed, producing skinny fish up to about 12 pounds.
Mexico has reported a couple of bass weighing better than 19 pounds, but details are sketchy. There's little doubt that the country produces as many double-digit largemouth as any other per surface acre of bass water and man-hour of fishing pressure, but scorching temperatures for most of the year may prevent bass from reaching the species' maximum size.
RECORD CLASS BASS BY THE NUMBERS
A look at the Bassmaster Top 25 largemouth list reveals a few important facts.
Time of Year
First, none of the Top 25 was caught any later in the year than June, and most were caught in March. This makes a lot of sense. In California, where 21 of the 25 were taken, March is typically a peak time for bass to be spawning. That's when they're shallower than usual and more vulnerable to angling than at most other times.
Type of Bait
Lipless Crankbait (1)
Blade Bait (1)
Plastic Worm (2)
Live Bait (10)
Ten of the fish on the list were taken by live bait, with six of those coming on crawfish. Another six were taken with swimbaits. Something very natural or something big and easy to catch will give you the best chance at the record.
Day of the Week
Finally, the day you go fishing may be important. Although far more hours are spent fishing on Saturday and Sunday than at any other time, only eight of the giant bass on the list were caught on the weekend. Seven were caught on Tuesday, and five were taken on Monday. For some reason, not one was caught on a Wednesday.
BASSMASTER TOP 10 — LARGEMOUTH BASS
# WEIGHT ANGLER LOCATION STATE
1. 22.2500 George W. Perry Montgomery Lake Ga.
2. 22.0100 Robert J. Crupi Lake Castaic Calif.
3. 21.7500 Michael Arujo Lake Castaic Calif.
4. 21.6875 Jed Dickerson Lake Dixon Calif.
5. 21.2000 Raymond D. Easley Lake Casitas Calif.
6. 21.0100 Robert J. Crupi Lake Castaic Calif.
7. 20.9375 Dave Zimmerlee Lake Miramar Calif.
8. 20.8600 Leo Torres Lake Castaic Calif.
9. 20.7500 Mike Long Lake Dixon Calif.
10. 20.2500 Gene Dupras Lake Hodges Calif.