Follies, frauds and hoaxes, part 2

In the second half of "Follies, Frauds and Hoaxes" we're going to cover four more notable runs at the largemouth bass world record. In the 77 years since George Perry set the bar at 22 pounds, 4 ounces, dozens of anglers have laid claim to a fish that weighed more. None have been able to substantiate their claims; some haven't even tried. Here are a few more of the most notable.

April Fools!

Here at BASS we take pride in staying on the leading edge of all things bass fishing, but it was Sporting Classics that broke the story of Roy "Peg" Greer in their March/April 1997 issue. According to the article, the one-legged 68-year-old South Carolina resident caught a 22-pound, 7-ounce largemouth from Walker's Slough in the Palmetto State on a homemade crankbait that he cast with a Zebco 33 spincasting reel.

As the story goes, Greer walked right into the offices of Sporting Classics to show off the fish, and there learned he might make some money on a new world record. According to the article, Greer's nephew — who had carved and painted the lure — was the first to cash in, selling the rights to the bait to Norman Lures for a tidy $25,000. It was to be catalog number 419-7, but another way of looking at the number would be 4/1/97 — April Fool's Day, 1997.

Sporting Classics and author Richard Behm even brought BASS founder Ray Scott into the prank for added credibility. The former BASS boss was quoted as saying, "Peg is a shy, homespun type who will prove fascinating to a lot of people."

Though the magazine story never actually lets readers off the hook by telling them it's a joke, there was at least one other clue that Scott and Sporting Classics were having a laugh. If you rearrange the letters in Roy "Peg" Greer, you get "G-e-o-r-g-e P-e-r-r-y."

My kingdom for a scale

Unlike "Peg," Paul Duclos had both of his legs. What he lacked was a scale. So when he cast a Castaic Trout swimbait into 74-acre Spring Lake (Calif.) in March of 1997 and pulled out a mammoth bass, he had a problem. How do you find out what a bass weighs if you don't have a scale and aren't willing to keep the fish out of the water to get to one?

Duclos' first effort was to call a nearby tackle shop and ask the owner to bring a certified scale down to the water. No luck. Then he called his wife and asked her to bring the couple's bathroom scale to the lake.

When she arrived and set the scale on the dock, Duclos stepped aboard: 180 pounds. Next, he lifted the fish out of the water and stepped on the scale again.

This time it read 204 pounds — a 24-pound difference!

The weighing was witnessed by Duclos' wife and a Coast Guard commander who was also on the water that day. Several photos were taken.

At first, reports of the fish were confused and confusing. Did Duclos know that the existing world record was 22 pounds, 4 ounces? (Yes, he did.) What were the fish's measurements? (Wild reports said it had a 39-inch girth.) Was the fish a cross between a Florida largemouth and the northern strain?

We'll never know the answers to some of these questions because Duclos released the bass right after he weighed it.

The speculation started a feeding frenzy among the media and record hunters. Duclos was accused of everything from using a mounted bass in the photos or stuffing the fish with lead to fishing with live trout (which is illegal in California). He and his wife were harassed by disbelieving anglers for months after the catch.

"I'm happy I let the fish go," Duclos said in the June/July 1997 issue of Outdoor Life. "If I had kept it, my life would have been a living hell."

The Trew-th shall set you free

Six and a half years later, on the very same body of water that produced Duclos' catch, a 45-year-old woman named Leah Trew caught a bass she claimed weighed 22 pounds, 8 ounces — a new world record, right?

Of course not! By now you know better. But for a while it seemed the only people who believed her story were the ones in charge of the record books.

She weighed the fish on Boga Grip scales, which were certified for accuracy, took one photograph of the bass and then she released it. The fish allegedly measured 29 inches in length and 25 inches in girth. No biologist or park ranger saw it. In fact, the only reported witnesses were a man on a family picnic (where was the rest of his family?) and Trew's son Javad. Better yet, the first witness was believed to a friend of Javad.

There were other issues, too. Trew ignored repeated calls from the media and would not answer questions about her catch. The fish's dimensions (which were controversial to begin with and unsubstantiated by photographs that might give the bass some scale or measurement reference) were smaller than the current world record, the California record and a 22.01-pound fish claimed by record-hunting legend Bob Crupi in 1991.

And then there's Trew's son. Exactly a week after his mom's catch, he would claim an 18-8 from Spring Lake and apply for a line class record with both the IGFA and the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. Many assumed mother and son were using the same fish.

Ultimately, prudent heads prevailed ... at least at IGFA. It issued a news release rejecting Trew's application, noting that her catch "was not documented to IGFA's satisfaction." Rob Kramer, then president of IGFA, was quoted as saying, "In this case there were too many unverifiable factors, so we had no other choice."

The Hall of Fame was less skeptical, and, though it never listed Trew as the all-tackle record holder, for a while it did call her the "unofficial" record holder and gave her the line class record for 12-pound-test.

Today, Leah Trew holds no titles with any major record-keeping organization. Javad, on the other hand, holds numerous records with the Hall (sigh), but — despite numerous applications — none with IGFA.

Cry foul!

From the time Dave Zimmerlee caught a 20-15 from California's Lake Miramar in 1973 — the first 20-pounder since Perry's — the bass fishing world has been holding its collective breath and waiting for the Golden State to break fishing's most coveted record.

On March 20, 2006, it looked like a done deal. That's when Mac Weakley caught a 25-pound, 1-ounce monster from tiny Lake Dixon. If not for one critical fact, the catch would have obliterated Perry's mark and likely closed the door on record hunting for decades to come.

Weakley foul-hooked the giant.

He was sight fishing for the bass with a white jig. When the fish got near enough to the jig to obstruct his view of it and perhaps even bump the line, he set the hook ... right into her side, just below the dorsal fin.

Weakley released the fish after weighing it and taking a few photos and videos. He considered applying for record status with IGFA but decided against it. California does not offer state record status to fish that have been foul-hooked, and IGFA requires compliance with all state fishing regulations.

The real story regarding Weakley's fish was that it was likely the very same bass caught by Mike Long in 2001 (when she weighed 20-12) and Jed Dickerson in 2003 (when she weighed 21-11). A mark on her lower right gill plate made her easily identifiable and earned her the nickname "Dottie."

In 2008, a park ranger found a much lighter Dottie floating dead on Lake Dixon. At the time, she weighed about 19 pounds. With her passing went hopes of an even larger bass for the record books.