The next world record

Seventy years is a long time for anything. Especially for a sporting record that has taken on countless challenges from all comers — and endured. While George W. Perry could not have gauged the magnitude of his 22-pound, 4-ounce bass taken June 2, 1932, from Montgomery Lake, Ga., he nevertheless created a record of legendary proportions. It has become the very fabric of bass fishing lore for several generations of anglers, an accomplishment so overpowering and unassailable that a large percentage of serious bass anglers can recite the details of the catch as quickly as their own social security numbers.



















John Kerr of Ramona, Calif., caught a 15.9-pound bass from Lake Dixon while fishing with the author and record hunter Mike Long.





In the modern era of bass fishing, Perry's exploits have always resonated with fishermen, particularly those who admire the simplicity of the story and feel comforted by it. After all, here was a 20-year-old sharecropper who couldn't plow his fields because of rain and found himself casting a perch colored Creek Chub Wiggle Fish in an old oxbow lake off the Ocmulgee River. It was pure Norman Rockwell with a Depression-era motif. So much so that the record potential of the bass placed a distant second to its value as table fare. No picture of the world record exists, and indeed, the Perry family did eat the fish. If not for a friend who told Perry of a Field & Stream Magazine big-fish contest — one that offered $75 in prizes but required a weight — the record may have been lost to the ages. It has always been a great story. For bass anglers, it has also been the one constant in an ever-changing world. Hometown, U.S.A. may not look the same after 20 or 30 years, and the local tackle shop may be long gone, but that record still remains. Far from mere nostalgia, the all-tackle record for largemouth bass now carries the added distinction of being equal parts angling achievement and lottery ticket. Although it is often repeated in the press and private conversation that the next world record holder will be an instant millionaire, most industry insiders think not. The earning power of this fantastic fish will be linked directly to the person who catches it. On one hand, we've got a legendary figure in Perry, a soft-spoken man who never profited from his catch — a quiet, heroic icon bathed in the sweet glow of another era. This time around, it will be very different. John or Jane Doe will have to make his or her money by accepting the role of "world record holder" and whatever that may entail. Whoever catches The Big One will come under scrutiny like no other. He or she will be judged — rightly or wrongly — by whatever standards the press and public choose to apply. No personality? No bass fishing insights? What, then? Fortunately, this specter of living up to other people's expectations is not even a remote concern for most bass fishermen. Statistically, it's just not in the cards, especially for anyone who doesn't live in California — specifically Southern California. If that statement rankles anyone in another state, it can easily be understood from an emotional standpoint. Southern California is hardly a place steeped in bass fishing culture and one beholden to Florida for the very fish that have created the heavyweights. Still, the numbers don't lie. By whatever formula one cares to employ, California continues to dominate the upper end of bass fishing's record book. Moreover, California has done it virtually by accident and certainly without the kind of state-sponsored stewardship found in Texas' ShareLunker and genetic breeding programs. As one observer remarked, "The only state program promoting big bass in California is the trout stocking trucks that show up on Thursday."



















The key to California's wealth of huge bass is the regular stocking of rainbow trout. That's why Bill Siemantel and other trophy experts often use trout-imitating swim baits.







Although California biologists struggle with the limitations in their budgets and the lack of positive bass culture among the general public, they do recognize their good fortune. "The number of places where you produce huge largemouth with trout far exceed the number where you don't. It may not be the only way, but if I had to bet, it will be in those types of systems," observes Dennis Lee, a California warmwater fisheries biologist. To Lee, there is a fairly basic formula for producing world record bass. First, you need the environment and the forage to propagate huge fish. In order to produce the so-called "superfish," you also need the genetics. Then, for a world record, you need the most elusive element of all — a combination of all these factors and an angler who can actually find and land the fish. "You can have the most wonderful environment, but without the genetics, it's not going to happen. What Texas doesn't have is the environment. They have the genetics, just not the environment." Obviously, Allen Forshage, director of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, doesn't necessarily agree with his counterpart in California. "Since California has produced several over 20 pounds, they think they're the lead contender. But we've always said that we have the same chance. To me, the most limiting factor is genetics, and that is followed by the overall health of the fishery. All of that is followed by your regulations. You have to protect those fish long enough to get to be 20 pounds." With perhaps the most enlightened black bass program in America, Texas may someday figure out the formula. For now, however, a Lone Star world record is still a long shot, made even longer by the lack of "high-teen" fish emerging from Texas fisheries. It's been a long 10 years since Barry St. Clair landed his state record 18.18-pound largemouth at Lake Fork — a full decade without any serious challengers. In that same 10-year period, California world record hopes also seemed to take a decided turn for the worse after Bob Crupi caught his 22-pound, 1/2-ounce monster at Lake Castaic in 1991. However, the sudden dearth of enormous bass in California was only one of perception. Big fish were being taken, they just weren't being reported. More to the point, California bass fishermen were learning valuable new techniques with swim baits and sight fishing tactics that would eventually pay bigger dividends in the new millennium. So what if the giant plastic trout attracted a horde of dilettantes to the world record hunt — fishermen who threw the big stuff only on occasion — there was still a small cadre of dedicated big bass hunters. Guys like Bill Siemantel and Mike Long are part of this "X" factor in Southern California that really doesn't exist elsewhere in the country. While others come and go with the season, these fishermen are always out there on the cutting edge. As a result, the prospects of a world record being caught in California are never extremely remote. Even when doubters periodically forecast the demise of Southern California big bass fishing, someone steps up to the plate to prove them wrong. In 2001, Mike Long's 20-pound, 12-ounce boxcar served notice that any discussion over the existence of a world record is foolish. It is out there. Whether it will come from the diminutive Lake Dixon (north of San Diego), where Long corralled his 20-pounder, or from the well-trampled waters of Lake Casitas (near Ventura), which recently produced a 19 1/2-pounder, is anyone's guess. "Where?" is not so much the question as "when?" For some, the real argument is that the bar was set artificially high to begin with. Without a photograph or certified weight, Perry's world record is actually the least-documented fish on the BASSMASTER Top 25. Aside from the few anglers who have come within striking distance of the world record, most bass anglers revel in its durability and privately worry over the person who might break it. Will he or she be worthy of the record? Is anyone?

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