Picking the greatest bass in history should be an easy task. All you have to do is go straight down the Bassmaster Top 25 list, right?
Unfortunately, that list doesn't include any species other than largemouth. And, since none of those bass was taken during tournaments, it excludes the drama that comes from competition.
Plus, it's not always the size of the fish that defines its importance. As you'll soon see, some pretty small bass have had a pretty big impact on our sport.
Here are the 10 most important and noteworthy bass ever caught.
10 and 9. TWO FOR THE ROAD
Since the first two bass on this list show the international importance of bass and the success of overseas stocking efforts, we'll cover them together. Shimada's catch is the biggest bass ever caught in Asia while Mashandure's is the best from Africa.
First stocked in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s, largemouth bass were a great success story and very popular among local anglers ... at least until the late 1990s when the country decided that bass were an invasive species and that all the bass caught from Japanese waters had to be removed and killed. Nevertheless, Japan still has many thousands of avid bass anglers who pursue the sport zealously.
The bass' prospects aren't much better in Africa, where it is taking underground efforts to stock the many remote lakes that exist in South Africa. Luckily, Zimbabwe still welcomes the bass as a sportfish. Stockings occurred there as early as the middle of the 19th century, and Florida bass stockings in the 1980s and 1990s have resulted in tremendous trophy catches, like Mashandure's.
8. A RECORD THAT'S NOT
Never heard of this one? That's not surprising. George Nicholls allegedly caught a 24-pound giant from the Tombigbee River in 1926. The fish was reported in a 1928 issue of Field & Stream magazine. Then, in January 1934, the magazine published "Tales of Record Fish" by Seth Briggs. It was an early effort to compile a list of world records.
In that article, Briggs wrote of George Perry's 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth, "So far as we can determine, it is the heaviest largemouth that has ever been entered in any of the Field & Stream Prize Fishing Contests."
What about Nicholls? Did Briggs simply overlook the Nicholls entry that had been referenced in a 1928 issue of the magazine? If so, it was a big oversight. Perry has become a household name among bass anglers. Nicholls has been completely forgotten.
7. ONE THAT GOT AWAY
In the annals of bass fishing, no other angler and fish exemplify "the agony of defeat" quite like Bitter and the small keeper bass he hooked, landed and then lost on the final day of the 1989 Bassmaster Classic. It ranks as the biggest gaffe in professional fishing history.
Not only did Bitter lead the first two days of the 1989 Classic, he also had the heaviest catch on both days. With a lead of nearly 4 pounds going into the final day of some tough fishing on the James River, he could sew things up with a limit.
And he had one fairly quickly. Swinging his fifth keeper into the boat, Bitter confidently walked toward the livewell, feeling good about his chances.
Then Tim Tucker, the late senior writer for Bassmaster Magazine and his press observer on that day, asked Bitter if he was sure the fish was 12 inches long.
Well, he was pretty sure, but not certain, so he stepped back toward the bow of the boat, measured the fish — comfortably over 12 inches — and turned to take it to the livewell.
At that moment, the fish twisted just slightly in his hand, and Bitter dropped it. It hit the gunnel of the boat and bounced back into the river.
It was the last bass Bitter caught all day.
Back at the weigh-in, Bitter watched in horror as his catch fell 2 ounces short of Hank Parker's three-day total.
6. CALIFORNIA HERE WE COME
It took more than 40 years, but on June 23, 1973, Zimmerlee fired a shot over the bow of fishing's most hallowed mark and started a record chase that continues to this day. His was also the first bass since Perry's to break the 20-pound mark and the fifth in six years to break the California largemouth record.
Zimmerlee's catch, like several on this list, also carried some controversy. The angler used a nonfunctional 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 the bait.
No matter. Zimmerlee's fish is in the Top 10 because it alerted the bass world that there were giants in California, and in the 35 years since his catch we've been waiting for the world record to fall.
5. THE MODERN TOURNAMENT ERA BEGINS
In the summer of 1967, BASS was just an idea in the mind of Ray Scott.
Fishing "derbies" of the day had little respect or prestige among avid anglers, but Scott's All-American on Arkansas' Beaver Lake would change that. He would gather the best bass fishermen in the country and require each angler to fish with a man he didn't know to prevent any wrongdoing. It was the first modern bass tournament.
And the man who caught the first bass in that tournament was none other than Bill Dance. After motoring a short way from the launch, he stopped and cast a
7 1/2-inch blue Fliptail plastic worm toward the shore. A 2-pound bass engulfed it as soon as it hit the water.
The modern era of tournament fishing was less than a minute old.
4. A BAD, BAD FISH
"I took one look at the fish and felt as if I'd known him personally all my life. It was apparent to me that he had personality. That little bass, more than the hundreds of thousands of others that I've caught, changed my life forever."
Those are the words the late Mann used to describe a 1-pound largemouth he caught one day in 1973. He took the fish home and put him in a swimming pool where he kept much larger bass. When he saw how the little bass dominated his new home, Mann named him "Leroy Brown" after the character in the song of the same name by Jim Croce.
Over the next eight years, Mann trained Leroy to jump through hoops and take live bait from his hand. The fish became a major attraction at Tom Mann's Fish World and even may have eclipsed his owner in notoriety.
When Leroy died in 1981, BASS founder Scott presided over the funeral that was attended by more than a thousand people, including the governor of Alabama. The pallbearers included BASS legends Roland Martin and Hank Parker, and the event was covered by the national press.
The inscription on Leroy's tombstone reads, "Most Bass Are Just Fish, But Leroy Brown Was Something Special."
3. BIGGEST BASS EVER!
Who knew they got that big? That was the buzz all around the bass fishing world in the spring of 2006 when word spread that a California record chaser named Mac Weakley had not just broken the world record largemouth mark, but obliterated it by almost 3 pounds, likely putting it out of reach for generations to come.
Weakley was fishing on tiny Lake Dixon near San Diego. The day before he watched an angler work a bed all day long to no avail. Weakley came back the
next day and camped out on the fish.
After numerous casts to the nest with a jig, he felt a "thud" and saw his line move. Then he set the hook.
Unfortunately, the bass wasn't hooked in the mouth. It was foul-hooked, and Weakley decided not to apply for world record status with the International Game Fish Association.
The angler did, however, bring the fish to the dock and weigh it. It was an astonishing 25 pounds, 1 ounce.
That same bass was likely caught in 2001 by Mike Long (when it weighed 20-12) and again in 2003 by Jed Dickerson (21-11). Weakley's fish has a birthmark on the lower right gill plate that matches a birthmark on the other two catches. If it's the same fish, it occupies two places on the Bassmaster Top 25 list and nearly grabbed the top spot.
2. THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING
When Hayes caught an 11-pound, 15-ounce smallmouth while trolling a Bomber crankbait in the Kentucky section of Dale Hollow Lake, he never imagined that anything bad could come of it. After all, just a few months later it was hailed as a world record.
But 40 years later Hayes had his record status stripped from him when authorities uncovered an old affidavit from a dock hand who claimed to have tampered with the fish and added 3 pounds of weights to it.
It took 10 more years to clear that up and re-establish Hayes' catch as the biggest smallmouth ever recorded.
One look at the enormous skin mount on the angler's living room wall should remove any doubt.
1. A RECORD FOR THE AGES
In the middle of the Great Depression, a young Georgia farm boy named George Perry caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass from an oxbow of the Ocmulgee River. At the time, he had no idea it was a record of any kind, but he knew it was big so he had it weighed and witnessed and entered it in a big fish contest, which he later won.
Decades later, when the sport of bass fishing exploded across the nation, people took notice of Perry's catch and even offered bounties and rewards for any bass bigger than the one he caught. So far, no one has collected, though several have come close.
Perry and his catch are not without their detractors. After all, there's always going to be some mystery and controversy over any claim that's more than three quarters of a century old. But the important thing for bass anglers to keep in mind is that Perry's catch and that number — 22-4 — are indelibly written in the lore of our sport. It is the fishing equivalent of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.
Perry and his bass will remain atop the mountain until someone can beat that number.