It seems that George Washington Perry has always been on top of the hill when it comes to big bass. But if you look back — way back — you'll find that there were giant largemouths even before the first "official" world record holder.
One of those giants came from Florida and was caught by a traveling hardware salesman born in Germany named Frederick Joseph "Fritz" Friebel. Nine years before Perry's catch, Friebel landed a 20-pound, 2-ounce largemouth that could have been given record status before Perry came on the scene.
The exact date of the catch is lost to memory and history. Some accounts have it as May 19, 1923, a Saturday. But in the Oct. 12, 1952, edition of the Tampa Tribune, Friebel was quoted as saying, "It was a Sunday morning when I should have been in church, and I had to call a grocer to open his store to get the fish weighed."
Because Friebel said he caught the bass on a Sunday in May, it would have to have been on the 6th, 13th, 20th or 27th — not the 19th Friebel was an avid angler who carried his tackle with him as he traveled around the Sunshine State, selling hardware. He reportedly caught the bass from Moody Lake in Pasco County, Fla., but even Friebel's brother doubted that story. Years later Walter Friebel told outdoor writer Bill Baab that "My brother said that just to throw other fishermen off the track." It's likely that Friebel caught the bass from nearby (and aptly named) Big Fish Lake.
To catch the giant bass, Friebel used a Creek Chub No. 700 Straight Pikie Minnow. The company was so proud of the catch that it featured Friebel in its 1928 catalog, five years after the fact: "The Black Bass Record has been Broken — Not Cracked or Bent, but Crushed, Torn Apart and Split Wide Open."
And we think sales tactics are aggressive today!
The catalog goes on:
Gentlemen anglers all! Please leap to your feet and throw your hats into the air. Rah, Rah! To Mr. Friebel and his black bass! Again in 'Field & Stream's Great National Fishing Contests,' the world's record is smashed into flinders. Mr. Fritz J. Friebel, of Tampa, Florida, is the world-record crasher with rod and reel and a mighty largemouth black bass.
The story goes that when Friebel was weighing the big bass, an onlooker accused him of filling the fish with lead sinkers. Friebel pulled out his pocketknife, slit the fish's belly open and suggested that the man reach inside to find out.
There are several similarities between Friebel's catch and Perry's bass nine years later. For one, both anglers weighed their catches a considerable time after landing the fish; the live weights could have been decidedly greater in both cases.
For another, both Perry and Friebel were no-nonsense anglers, not finely dressed dandies out for a little sport. Perry and his fishing partner on his record setting day had one rod and reel and a single store-bought lure between them. The few surviving photographs of Friebel show him dressed in ragged clothes. As his daughter explained, "Daddy didn't own a boat. He wore the worst looking clothes because he often waded into water up to his armpits while fishing."
Finally, their fish met similar fates — on the dinner table. Though Perry's catch was made in the midst of the Great Depression and Friebel's came during the more prosperous "Roaring '20s," both anglers treated their families to fine fish dinners.
Today, Friebel's bass is widely considered the biggest ever caught in Florida and is recognized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as the "uncertified state record." That means it is "believed accurate based on reliable witnesses and other evidence," but is not certifiable according to FWC regulations.
The "official" Florida record largemouth weighed 17.27 pounds and was caught in 1986.
Friebel died in 1965.