Over the last century, bass fishing has seen a huge explosion in popularity. The species went from being primarily the target of sustenance anglers to a multi-billion dollar sportfish industry. Fish like smallmouth and largemouth bass are stocked widely outside their native ranges, and are arguably the most sought-after fish in North America. Bass fishing’s success saw an upheaval in angling culture, with it still firmly rooted in its blue collar heritage and a healthy “catch-and-release” philosophy. Yet throughout it all, many bass anglers are aware that they are chasing the “Big One.” Whether you are fishing for food or for the simple joy of netting a good-sized fish, these record entries will leave you in awe.
1. George W. Perry’s undefeated largemouth bass
For more than 80 years, one man has held the most coveted bass record of all time. On June 2, 1932 George W. Perry caught the fish that would make him a legend and leave a record that has remained unbeaten—though it has been tied—to his day. While fishing the waters of Lake Montgomery in southern Georgia, Perry landed a behemoth largemouth bass that weighed 22 pounds, four ounces. In an interview with Sports Afield years later, Perry said that his initial fear after hooking the fish was losing his only lure of the day, a Creek Chub Fintail Shiner.
“I don’t remember many of the details but all at once the water splashed everywhere,” Perry said in 1969. “I do remember striking, then raring back and trying to reel. But nothing budged. I thought for sure I had lost the fish—that he’d dived and hung me up. I had no idea how big the fish was, but that didn’t matter. What had me worried was losing the lure.”
In his lifetime, Perry never gained much recognition. Today, however, Perry’s record largemouth is one of the most coveted records in the fishing world. But for years nobody had even seen a picture of the record fish. At the time Field & Stream did not require a photograph to be submitted for the contest, so no image of the fish was ever released into the public. The world simply speculated as to what Perry’s legendary catch might have looked like. Then in 2006 a photo of an unidentified man and child holding a large bass surfaced, seemingly taken in front of the Helena post office. While the man holding the fish was not Perry, experts seem to agree there was a good case that the fish was indeed the record bass. The mystery was considered solved and in 2009 Japanese angler Manabu Kurita matched Perry’s bass with a fish of a similar size, thanks to the efforts of a bass lover that had stocked the fish in Japanese waters several decades earlier. You can watch a video of Kurita’s fish below:
The announcement that Kurita had matched, but not beaten, Perry’s record was greeted with acclaim and some chagrin. To many anglers, it seems that Perry’s catch will never be surpassed.
2. The undisputed (eventually) smallmouth bass
David Hayes holds the world record for smallmouth bass with a fish that weighed 11 pounds and 15 ounces, but his legacy was marked by controversy. The fish was landed in Tennessee’s Dale Hollow Lake on July 9, 1955 and for decades after, was undisputed. However, over 40 years after his catch was certified by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), there came a rumor that the bass was tampered with. According to Bassmaster, an affidavit found in 1995 alleged that a dock hand stuffed sinkers into the bass to pump up its weight. Hayes was stricken from the record books and only Tennessee still recognized his fish as a state record. It seems that state officials didn’t want to give up on Hayes, and a subsequent investigation by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency found that the testimony against Hayes was fabricated. The dock hand was likely not even present at the time of the catch and the allegations against Hayes were without merit. At 80 years old, Hayes lived to see his record restored.
You can see a short interview with the angler below:
3. Landlocked striped bass
In March of 2013, 65-year-old James R. Bramlett managed to catch a 70-pound, 45.5-inch long striped bass. It was an unlikely fishing trip at Alabama’s Black Warrior River, one that Bramlett only took because of a schedule conflict. The result was a bass large enough to overtake a world record that has stood for over 21 years, and absolutely shattered a 57-year-old state record.
“Shocking,” said Alabama fisheries biologist Heath Haley after seeing the fish. “This is definitely a once in a lifetime catch. Mr. Bramlett is an extremely generous, humble person and I’m excited to see him receive recognition for this fish.”
The striped bass earned him the world record for landlocked striped bass, but the angler described the 20-minute fight as frustrating.
“I couldn’t gain any line on him,” said Bramlett. “In fact it just sat there for a while. I was trying to get him up, trying to get reels on him but I take a few turns of the handle, he’d take a few turns of the handle. This went on for 10 minutes probably. All at once I started gaining line on him, just a little bit at a time. Eventually I got him up.”
The world for striped bass (landlocked and sea-dwelling) is held by Greg Myerson with an astounding 81-pound, 14-ounce fish caught in 2011 from Long Island Sound.
4. The tournament angler’s spotted bass
By the end of the first day of the Pro Am California Tournament Trail Event, all eyes were on angler Keith Bryan and his astounding 21.39-pound haul. The guest of honor was a 10.48-pound spotted bass, which happened to be the new all-tackle world record.
“I can’t even describe it, like ‘Are you kidding me?’ I want to say that sometimes,” Bryan told OutdoorHub back in March.
Bryan, the owner of Powell Fishing Rods, caught the fish from the New Melonies Reservoir in Tuolumne County on February 22. Although the fight only lasted about four minutes, Bryan said that the fish put up a spirited fight.
“She came up several times just so you can see the hook in her mouth about 20 yards away, then she would just rip line and go down,” Bryan continued.
The angler was using a Shimano Stradic 3000 reel with a Powell Inferno 6103 rod, Power Pro braided line, eight-pound-test Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, and a five-inch Yakamoto Senko.
It was only when he brought the fish out of the water that he realized how big it was. Bryan’s fishing partner initially thought he had caught a largemouth bass, but then Bryan showed off the fish’s belly.
“It’s a spotted bass,” he told his awestruck partner.
This catch was confirmed by IGFA for the world record in July. The previous record was a 10.25-pound bass caught by Bryan Shishido from Pine Flat Lake in 2001.
5. The missing giant sea bass
James Donald McAdam, Jr. was like an adventurer out of suspense novel. He traveled around the world, survived a shipwreck and lengthy drift at sea, rescued a boat full of people marooned off the coast of Vietnam, and he died young at the age of 44 due to complications from a blood transfusion. McAdam also landed the largest giant sea bass in history in 1968. The record still stands today, but all pictures of the record catch seem to have disappeared. Perhaps lost in some forgotten archive, no image of the giant bass was ever released to the public.
Whatever it was, it must’ve been one impressive specimen.
This picture of a previous world record was caught in 1903 by Edward Llewellen near Catalina Island, the same location where McAdam would catch his record almost 70 years later.