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By Jim Pankey

In 1973 the possibility of breaking the long-standing largemouth bass record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces set in 1932 seemed within reach with Dave Zimmerlee's catch of a 20 pound, 15 ounce monster from Lake Miramar, California. Debunkers tried to label the catch a fluke, claiming it was a floater (dead) when Zimmerlee boated it. Passing the test for legitimacy, however, it was the first officially sanctioned catch over 20 pounds since the 1932 record, and set the California state record. It was the second largest ever caught up to that time. It also created a ‘gold rush’ of hopeful fishermen to that state.

Bob Crupi holds the current California state record with a fish weighing 22 pounds, 1 ounce. It was his second bass over 20 pounds! He had previously boated a 21 pounder. His record has held since 1991.

Since then, California has produced other giant bass, one of which was claimed to have been 24 pounds, one ounce, but it was not weighed on certified scales. In 1997 Scott Duclos landed, weighed and photographed his Spring Lake catch. He was not overly excited because he thought the record was 27 pounds and he reportedly weighs, measures, photographs and releases every fish without exception.

But the quest for the world record largemouth bass continues to be a long and difficult pursuit since Zimmerlee's catch. Miramar and other California lakes stocked with the Florida strain share difficult fishing conditions. Super clear, deep water (you can see your anchor resting on the bottom 70 feet below at Miramar) is difficult to fish using equipment and techniques common throughout the other states. Besides, the monsters are literally hand-fed trout (which most anglers to these lakes pay to fish for) that are stocked weekly. Observers during trout plantings see a literal feeding frenzy as the hundreds of trout hit the lake water. The big bass take them immediately as the tank truck dumps them. Huge wakes converge on the feeding area. It's an awesome sight! It's no wonder the bass are big bellied monsters on a diet of mature trout! Naturally that and other areas are off limits to fishermen! Other lakes have their own idiosyncrasies.

The technique of 'finesse' fishing was literally born of necessity, and it was probably birthed right there in that little impoundment from trout gear. Nightcrawlers hooked 'through the lip' with small trout hooks and allowed to free-fall to the depths produce some fine LMB catches.“Shaking” 2-inch plastics in the depths is popular, but I’ve fished with Western Outdoor News (WONBASS) director Mike Kennedy on El Capitan using my ‘midwestern’ gear and kept up with him. At any rate, wouldn’t I love to be the lucky angler to boat the big one?

NEXT: Is California the only place to go for the record?
Written by Jim Pankey, USN (Ret.).

Is California The Only Place To Go For The Record?

Nearly everyone has a dream--but among the 13-million-plus anglers in the United States, a good percentage of them share the same one: to hang THE World Record largemouth (replica cast, of course) on their den wall. Last month I started this article with an idea of finishing it like I was the one going after THE big one. THE big one will be caught and certified sometime probably very soon. The lucky angler (for the person will have to possess an extraordinary amount of sheer, unadulterated luck and probably some skill, too) will be acclaimed worldwide as the world's top angler. It's fishing's biggest prize, worth millions of dollars if you play your cards right.

I remember one person's story about catching THE big one that he 'et'...Junior Samples' unassuming humor propelled him to regular appearances on the television show HEE HAW. Similarly, although stardom is a possibility, the person who really does haul in that prize will be an instant millionaire...just how big a millionaire depends upon his marketing skills, but estimates range from $1mil to $10mil. Geez. Only a few sports celebrities, rock stars and movie stars could equal that for one event.

Conditions have to be right in any body of water—there has to be ample resources for the fish to live long, grow big, and hide. The bass is an object-oriented fish and newer impoundments with plenty of good cover and forage provide the bass with those conditions for growth. Past their prime, older lakes still produce, but the prime conditions are gone.

Like you, I had heard of the giants produced in California lakes, particularly from Lake Castaic. Rumors that lake being dead are debunked by Bob Crupi, who says the lake is not dead and is capable of producing THE big one. He should know, he has a 22 pound one ounce fish from Castaic. Stocking the lakes with trout provides the caloric intake a bass needs in these lakes. Actually I would think it is caloric glut—Dennis Lee, a California Fish and Game biologist, says that “bass gorge on them.” He asserts that trout plantings are the reason the huge bass are produced.

But is California the only place to go for THE big one? What about storied Lake Fork, or Cooper in Texas? For that matter, how about other lakes in the southern U.S? A total of 14 states have introduced the fast-growing Florida bass (Micropterus salmoides floridanus) into their impoundments, and some are actually pursuing THE record with programs statewide.

Texas began stocking Florida bass into Texas lakes in 1972. The state record, which had been set 37 years before, was broken six times since. The Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center is apparently doing something right, but even with their Operation World Record effort, there are problems with mother nature to overcome. Allen Forshage, director of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center, says, “We are trying to develop a fish that is unique to Texas. We are using Florida bass as the starting block, but we hope to ultimately change the genetic makeup of the fish enough to give it a new name…our goal is to produce a largemouth bass that will exceed the current world record weight.” Things take time, of course, and time is running out. THE record is in sight in California. It’s probably already produced that 24.1 ounce monster I talked about in the last issue.

Is it possible that there’s a George W. Perry out there, casting from a homemade boat in some obscure lake in the deep south, to reel in THE next big one?

Sure. Me? I think I’ll head South in February. After all, I buy lottery tickets, too. I figure my chances are about the same.

Jim Pankey, USN (Ret.)