George Perry's world record bass

Eighty-one years and counting atop the bass fishing mountain

Perry's grave and a replica of his world record bass.Ken DukePerry's grave and a replica of his world record bass.

After that, Perry took the fish home and cleaned it. It was a female full of roe. His mother fried one side of the fish for dinner to feed the family of six. The other side was dinner the next night.

Of course, Perry's entry won the Field & Stream contest. For his victory he collected a shotgun, shells and some clothes — $75 worth of outdoors gear in total.

It would be two years before the catch would be recognized as a world record. That's when Field & Stream reviewed their contest records and decided that Perry's catch belonged on top of the largemouth bass category. That same year Perry won the annual contest again, this time with a 13-pound, 14-ounce bass taken from Georgia's Altamaha River.

Perry received little notoriety for his catch. He died in 1974 when the plane he was piloting crashed into a mountain in Birmingham, Ala. This was not long after Ray Scott founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) and just before the sport of bass fishing really boomed. Had he caught the fish today, many speculate that it would be worth millions. Though it's been said for decades that all Perry got for the catch was the Field & Stream prize package, there's evidence that it was a little more lucrative. Correspondence with Creek Chub Bait Co. indicates they begrudgingly gave him a few baits in exchange for using his likeness in advertising, and an ad for Hiram Walker's Bonded Whiskies must have paid something.

An advertisement from a 1930s outdoors magazine featuring George Perry.Ken Duke collectionAn advertisement from a 1930s outdoors magazine featuring George Perry.

Naturally, with any record that is so revered and which came so long ago, there is controversy surrounding Perry's catch. Part of the problem was the lack of photographic evidence. The Field & Stream contest didn't require photographic proof, so none was submitted. Furthermore, Perry's entry was lost by the magazine in the 1950s after loaning the materials to an outdoor writer.

It wasn't until 2005 that a photograph of a man and a little boy holding an extremely large bass surfaced in the effects of a woman whose family was close to Perry's. Though the man in the photo is not Perry (is it Jack Page?) and neither he nor the boy have been positively identified, the background appears to be the area just outside the Helena post office. Record aficionados were thrilled at the possibility that were actually looking at a photo of the fish.

That a photo surfaced at all is not entirely surprising. In recently discovered correspondence between Perry and the Creek Chub Bait Co. in the mid-1930s, Perry referenced at least two such photos — one that was "not a real good photo" and another he described as "a real good picture of myself and the big Bass together...." If the photo discovered in 2005 is one of these, it must be the former since family members agree that Perry is not the man pictured.

Another controversy surrounds Jack Page. Who was he? Where did he go? Did the two men have a falling out over the prize materials or the fish — neither of which Perry shared? Page has completely disappeared.

That's not George Perry ... but is it his bass? We'll probably never know for certain.That's not George Perry ... but is it his bass? We'll probably never know for certain.

It's also true that there's only been one other certified bass weighing better than 18 pounds ever taken from Georgia waters. What are the odds that there would be more than a 4-pound (23 percent) gap between the two biggest bass? A look at almost any other state's records shows that mere ounces separate the top catches.

Could the bass have been something else? Some have speculated that it might have been a striped bass and that locals might not have recognized a striper as something different from a largemouth. It's almost certainly true that stripers swam in those same waters.

Ultimately, the controversy doesn't matter. For generations of bass anglers Perry's mark has set the standard and is the number we dream about. Nothing less will do.

Author's Note: In July of 2009, Manabu Kurita caught a 22-pound, 4.97 ounce largemouth from Japan's Lake Biwa. Because International Game Fish Association rules require a record catch of less than 25 pounds to be surpassed by at least two ounces, Kurita's catch is considered to be tied with Perry's.