Illinois hunting and fishing

George Perry’s family members pose with a replica of his world-record bass in 1983 in this photo by Bill Baab.

Perry’s bass record still the best

June 21, 2010 at 03:28 PM

Seventy-eight years ago, George Perry caught a largemouth bass that weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces. It topped the then-existing world record by more than 2 pounds. The fish was described as “bigger (around) than a fully inflated basketball.”

The 20-year-old Perry was a farmer who went fishing that day because it was too wet to plow. He caught the world record on his only lure, a Finntail Shiner. He had the fish weighed at the local general store, may have had some pictures taken, took it home and had it for supper. He said he never thought much about it because “the family needed meat in the house.”

Considering the fish was caught by a man in bib overalls — who really wanted to be farming that day — Perry’s record catch is even more remarkable.

His record was set in a smaller fishing world than we know today. Bass fishing wasn’t an international sport. It’s possible that the largemouth bass was a more regional species, because widespread stocking efforts had not yet taken place.

Some say Perry’s big fish was the beginning of modern bass fishing. Largemouth bass are now the favorite species of millions of fishermen all over the United States and in many parts of the fresh-water world.

While largemouth bass are not native to all the waters where they are currently swimming and spawning, they do well almost anywhere they have enough to eat and the water warms up to 70 degrees for at least part of the year. In 1925, a Japanese businessman became so enamored with bass fishing that he personally stocked largemouth bass in Japanese lakes.

Last fall, on Japan’s Lake Biwa, Manabu Kurita hauled in a largemouth bass that, when officially certified, tied George Perry’s record. Perry’s name is still in the record books, but now there’s another name alongside.

Kurita is no big-bass catching novice. He has also landed one that weighed in at 18.5 pounds and claims to have seen other 20-pounders on Lake Biwa.

While U.S. fisherman have been counting on the fame, fortune and potential endorsements that were sure to follow landing a world record, Kurita has missed the boat. He has not hit the mother lode and probably won’t. No American tackle company has jumped on his big-fish bandwagon.

It isn’t because the fish was caught across the international dateline.

Kurita caught his record-tying fish using live bait. No bass-lure manufacturer is going to shoot itself in the foot by throwing money at a live-bait fisherman.

Even George Perry caught his fish on an artificial lure. But he didn’t get much out of it, either. Perry wrote to Creek Chub, the manufacturer of the Finntail Shiner, offering a photo of his record-breaking bass in exchange for “a handful of lures.” Nobody knows for sure if the picture was ever sent, or if the lures were ever received.

At least Perry had a good supper.