Seventy-six years and counting. That's how long it's been since George Washington Perry caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass from Georgia's Montgomery Lake on June 2, 1932.
At the time, the fish was merely recognized as being extremely large — not as a record. It wasn't until a couple of years later that Field & Stream magazine looked back at their Big Fish Contest records and decided that Perry's fish should be established as a world record.
In 1932, George Perry was a 20-year-old farmer living in Telfair County, Ga. The social column of the Telfair Enterprise reported that spring that "People are not visiting very much now. It seems that they love to sit around and look at it rain, as it is too wet to work in the fields."
So Perry and a friend, Jack Page, decided to go fishing. Between them they owned a single rod and reel and one "ready-made" lure, a Creek Chub Fintail Shiner in a Silver Shiner scale finish. On the shores of the lake (actually just an oxbow of the Ocmulgee River), they kept a homemade wooden johnboat that Perry built.
Once on the water, they took turns casting while the other paddled the boat. Fishing was slow until Perry connected with something big.
"I thought I had hooked a log, but then the log started moving," he told a reporter in 1973. "A fish of that size isn't too spectacular in the water, just heavy and cumbersome. I didn't want to pressure him on that line [24-pound-test waterproof silk]. The bass did work its way into a half-submerged treetop, but finally it tired of my constant pressure, and I got him in."
Once the fish was in the boat, Perry and Page decided to call it a day. This was during the Great Depression, and they were fishing for food. A fish of that size would feed the Perry family for several meals.
"It was almost an accident that I had it weighed and recorded," Perry said in a 1969 interview. "It created a lot of attention that day in Helena. The old fellow who ran the general store weighed it. He was also a notary public and made the whole thing official."
What needed to be made "official" was the Field & Stream Big Fish Contest entry form, which Perry submitted to the magazine. Naturally, he won the contest. First prize in the largemouth bass division was $75 worth of outdoors gear, including a shotgun and rod and reel.
Perry died on January 23, 1974 when the small private plane he was piloting crashed into a mountain in Birmingham, Ala. With him went the answers to numerous questions, such as whatever happened to Jack Page and just exactly what does a world record bass taste like?
The question of what a 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth looks like may have been answered in 2005 when a photo of a man holding up a giant bass surfaced in south Georgia. Though the man in the photo is not Perry, family members and others close to the story have speculated that it could be Jack Page.
In the 76 years since Perry's catch, the record has been threatened a handful of times, most recently in 2006 when Mac Weakley foul-hooked and landed a 25-pound, 1-ounce largemouth from California's Lake Dixon. It seemed likely that the same fish ("Dottie") would break Perry's record as soon as she was caught again, but it never happened. Dottie was found floating dead on the lake several weeks ago, reduced to "just" 19 pounds and apparently dead of natural causes.
With millions of anglers pursuing bass every day and dozens of serious trophy hunters targeting the world record largemouth specifically, it seems fantastic that the record has lasted so long.
Can it last another 76 years?