Tied But Not Broken
Official Largemouth Size Record Still Stands
By Stan Fagerstrom
Do you think the long standing weight record for largemouth bass will ever be broken? As I mentioned in my last column, the record has now been tied---not broken---by a monster bass caught in Japan.
The Japanese bass reportedly did weigh 1-ounce more than the record, but to be officially recognized by the International Game & Fish Association a standing record has to be broken by at least 2-ounces before it goes into the record books.
A Japanese lake may have produced a record-tying largemouth bass but I'm betting if and when that record is broken it may well be at Mexico's Lake El Salto. The picture shown here provides proof of why I say that.
If you read my previous column you’re also aware I detailed some of the facts related to the record 22-pound, 4-ounce record largemouth caught by a Georgia farmer way back in June of 1932. My gosh that’s 78 years ago!
If and when somebody does manage to hook a larger one that is officially recognized, whoever is holding the rod when it happens is on thin ice. Why? Because when they get that monster up close to the boat, odds of their having a heart attack will go up big time. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll likely have to head for shore anyhow because they’ll probably need to change into some clean underpants.
I don't care how many big fish you've caught, I swear nothing looks as monstrous as does a big largemouth bass up close to the boat. Maybe it's that big mouth or the oversize gut that does it. Maybe it's because they come along so seldom. Perhaps only someone who has spent most of a lifetime trying to catch them fully appreciates it when a really big one does show up.
Nothing looks bigger when it's brought up close to the boat than a monstrous bass like this angler is holding. The angler pictured is Joe Bullock, of California. This fish also came out of Mexico's Lake El Salto. How would you like to try to handle a bass several pounds larger than this with a closed face spinning reel? That's what Ray Easley, of California, was using when he boated one of the largest bass ever caught. It weighed 21-pounds, 3-ounces.
Even if you spend a lifetime fishing and writing about but you’ve probably not had a personal conversation with someone who has caught a largemouth of 20-pounds or more. I’ve had that opportunity just once. It was when I shared a hotel room with Ray Easley, of Fullerton, California.
This was years ago and at the time Ray and I were both sponsored by Stren Line. We were attending a meeting of the Stren Line pro staff in Connecticut.
For some time Ray had the distinction of having caught the second largest largemouth ever put in the boat. You can believe it when I say I got him to tell me the story of how he did it in detail. He had a fascinating tale to tell.
Easley was a lifetime angler who moved to California from Arkansas when he was 13. He hooked his big one in Casitas Lake. This lake is located about 15 miles east of Ventura in Southern California.
"It was 3 p.m.," Easley told me. "I was with two other guys. It was raining lightly and we were in an area called Deep Cat. There was a long ridge running out from the deeper part of the lake and I knew it held big bass."
Easley and his pals anchored their boat and had been fishing about 20 minutes when the big one came along. One of Easley's partners wasn't sure how to fish the live crawdads they were using for bait. Ray set his own rod aside to show his friend how to go about rigging the crawdad.
"The big one picked up my crawdad while I was talking to my friend," Easley said. "I was telling him how you had to let the fish take the bait and run off three or four feet. About that time my own line started moving. I knew it was a big fish as soon as I set the hook."
The giant bass ran right at the boat, something it's not uncommon for a big bass to do. Easley thought for a moment it might be a big catfish. "Then the fish ran on up to the shallow water,” he says, “and my line started to come up as the bass surfaced. It just stuck its big head out of the water and sloshed back and forth."
The largest bass doesn't fight like a salmon or a steelhead. They have tremendous power for the first couple of surges, but their fight is short lived by comparison. Ray will tell you this was true of the beauty he caught.
"I'd like to tell you how I fought that huge fish for 30 minutes," Easley says, "but it didn't happen that way. The fish made one big circle around the boat. One of my buddies got set to net the fish when I got it in close, but he was shaking so bad he could hardly stand up. I got the fish alongside the boat and he reached down to pick it up with the net. Then the net broke right at the handle."
That might, as it so often is in attempting to boat really big bass, have been the end of the story. So many good fish, bass especially, are lost during the landing process. That's due in part to the way a bass jerks its head around if given the slightest slack in the line.
"My buddy let the net back down in the water," Easley says. "Then he reached down with both hands and sort of scooped the fish into the net and flopped it into the boat."
"What was the first thing you said when you saw that fish?" I asked. "It was 'Oh s _ _ t'!,” he says, “I knew that fish was really big." And really big it turned out to be. When the fish was weighed later in the day it tipped the scales at 21 pounds, 3 ounces. That's not far off the record size bass anglers have been trying to beat for more than three quarters of a century.
A couple of bass larger than Easley's have been caught in Southern California lakes since. They also fell just short of the 22 pound, 4 ounce mark. Easley’s fish is still right up there as one of the largest ever boated.
I’ve one final detail to share. If you think the angler who catches a bass of more than 20-pounds must surely be equipped with the most sophisticated tackle available---guess again. Ray told me he caught that huge fish while using a closed face spinning reel.
How does that grab you? Chances are you’ve always thought those reels were just for kids!