January 31, 2014
Record largemouth bass are an obsession for some, a passion for others, and a joy to behold for the masses. Defining "trophy" is a personal matter, of course, and often varies depending on where you fish. In most northern states, 6 pounds is a beast. But in southern latitudes, it takes a 10 to truly raise eyebrows.
As we pored over state record largemouth bass from across the continent, it quickly became clear that breaking the 15-pound mark is best achieved south of the Mason-Dixon Line. To be fair, Massachusetts produced a 15-plus back in 1975. And Indiana yielded a 14-pound, 12-ounce record in 1991. But there's no denying your odds increase in the south and west. Even there, however, the surge of behemoth bass ebbed in the 1980s and '90s. While reports of huge fish and near-misses have surfaced, few records have fallen in recent years.
As for the world all-tackle record, George Perry's 22-pound, 4-ounce giant continues to exhibit amazing staying power. We lead off with his catch, followed by a selection of North America's biggest bass records, with a nod to Massachusetts' notable northern leviathan.
Anthony Denny topped the Magnolia State recordbooks on New Year's Eve back in 1992 with this 18.15-pound behemoth taken from Natchez State Park Lake. No doubt his catch was more than enough reason for a New Year's celebration of epic proportions. Interestingly, according to a story in The Clarion-Ledger newspaper the following day, Denny hooked his record in just two feet of water in a shallow cove far from deeper water. It was also reported that New Year's Eve was unseasonably warm, which may have helped lure the giant bass into skinny water. State biologists noted that the fish was not laden with eggs. Had it been caught several months later, just prior to the spawn, it might well have broken the 20-pound barrier.
Yellowhammer bass busters know all about the 16-pound, 8-ounce Alabama state record, taken from Shelby County's Mountain View Lake by Thomas Burgin of Birmingham on November 3, 1987. While many 'Bama bassers dream of toppling Burgin's benchmark, more than a few speculate that a private lake or pond offers the best shot at breaking the record.
Given the cartoonish proportions Florida-strain largemouths have attained in states like California, it's surprising that the Sunshine State's own official record stands at 17.27 pounds, or 17 pounds, 4½ ounces. There's certainly no denying that this fish, taken by Billy O'Berry from an unnamed Polk County lake in 1986, is an amazing catch. But it seems like Florida could do better than fifth place in the national largemouth records — if not break the 20-pound mark. And actually, it has. The state recognizes a 20.13-pound monster caught by Frederick Friebel in 1923 as the 'uncertified record. ' That fish was taken before Florida adopted modern recordkeeping methods. Fittingly, it came from Big Fish Lake in Pasco County.
At 21 pounds, 12 ounces, Santa Monica bassman Michael Arujo's Golden State record gave George Perry's legendary lunker a run for its money. Caught at Lake Castaic on March 5, 1991, on a rainbow-trout pattern Renosky Super Shad, it spanned 28½ inches in length and sported a 26½-inch girth. As many big bass buffs know, Bob Crupi pulled a 22.01-pound bruiser from Castaic, also in 1991. While that fish was recognized by the IGFA as the 16-pound line class world record, it is not acknowledged by the California Department of Fish and Game. The reason? When Crupi saw that he hadn't eclipsed the all-tackle world record, he elected to release his catch rather than wait for state officials to arrive and certify it.
All-Tackle World Record
Who among us hasn't gazed in awe at George W. Perry's catch for the ages? The 22-pound, 4-ounce behemoth he wrestled from Georgia's Montgomery Lake on June 3, 1932 has topped the recordbooks longer than most bass fans have been alive. Perry, then a young farmer eking out a living during the Great Depression, tipped the bass world on its ear — and kept it there for more than eight decades — with his incredible catch. He hooked the giant fish on a Creek Chub Fintail Shiner, then had both the weight and measurements (32½ inches long, 28½-inch girth) notarized in nearby Helena. While photos of Perry and his bass have for years proven harder to land than another world record, this image is widely believed to the real McCoy, at least of the fish. Supplied to In-Fisherman by retired Augusta Chronicle outdoors editor and dedicated Perry historian Bill Baab, it depicts Perry's bass being held by an unidentified man. While Perry's bass retains full rights to the title according to the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, a 22-pound, 4.97-ounce largemouth caught in 2009 by Manabu Kurita in Japan's Lake Biwa is recognized as a tie by the International Game Fish Association. It did not knock Perry's fish from the IGFA books because records under 25 pounds must beat the existing record by at least two ounces. Will Perry's record ever be topped? Giant bass have surfaced in California, including at least one fish that, had it not been foul-hooked, stood a chance at taking the crown. We won't know until it happens, but one thing is certain, Perry's bass continues to fuel fine dreams among largemouth aficionados around the world. And in case you're wondering, it's also the official Georgia state record.
Barry St. Clair raised the bar for Lone Star anglers on January 24, 1992, with his 18.18-pound Lake Fork monster. Notably, St. Clair wasn't on a monster quest with classic bass tackle when his fish of a lifetime struck. The Klondike, Texas, farmer was targeting crappies with a live shiner in 42 feet of water.
Topping 15 pounds is quite a feat in Yankee territory, but Walter Bolonis pulled it off while ice fishing Sampson Pond back in 1975. His 15-pound, 8-ounce state record stands to this day. And, while it's tempting to think it might hold the title forever, retired Army sergeant Bryan Tuliano reportedly caught a 14.2-pound largemouth on Lake Wampanoag in 2013. He weighed it on a handheld scale, but released it when he decided obtaining an official weight would be difficult given he caught it on a Sunday. That fish fuels dreams that another 15-plus giant is possible somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon.