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Record Bass: What the Pros Think
By Jerry Gibbs
John MacArthur “Mac” Weakley’s decision not to submit the goliath largemouth bass he caught and released Monday, March 20, as a new world record for the species takes the heat off record keepers, and should shortly begin to lessen the harangue which he and his fishing buds have endured since the catch. But the brouhaha surrounding what might have broken what many consider the mother of all freshwater fish records has again focused a harsh light on the need for eliminating loop holes and vague terminology in record catch rules. It also begs for absolute verification of a catch.
“When money, or the potential for it is involved, everything is going to have to be documented,” says Californian Dan Kadota, holder of the 20 lb. line class largemouth record and former fishing partner of Bob Crupi who owns title to the second biggest largemouth on record. “It’s not just bass fishing, but saltwater fishing, too; when money’s at stake it can get ugly.”
Weakley insists catching the record, not the possibility of money, has been his goal and that of his two fishing partners for years. Regardless, facts surrounding the catch engendered so much controversy Weakley was wise in his decision not to submit the fish for record consideration.
The bass was foul hooked in the side, though Weakly insists accidentally. “I haven’t seen it but it’s likely that viewing the video the anglers made you’ll be able to tell if they were swinging the minute the bait was positioned over the fish—that’s snagging—or fishing and striking legitimately,” says Kadota.
G. Loomis Executive Director Bruce Holt spoke with one of Weakley’s partners Jed Dickerson on March 21. Dickerson along with friend Mike Winn had been aboard for the catch. “All these anglers could see was a big, black shadow on the bed—both male and female were there,” says Holt. “As is normal, they were trying to catch the male –which usually strikes first— so they could concentrate on the female, and when Weakley felt a tap he set the hook but quickly realized it was the bigger fish. There were three lake employees, including the manager watching from a nearby dock and the men agreed that the anglers weren’t trying to snag the fish.”
Accident or not the fact remains the fish was foul hooked which immediately disqualifies it for a California state record. Being an illegal state catch would have disqualified it for Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame record consideration; the Hall also requires that the catch must be examined by a professional fisheries person. But disqualifying item #10 of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) warns only against the illegality of “ intentionally foul hooking a fish.” For a time that gave Weakley pause for consideration.
All record keepers require weighing via certified scales. Had the bass not been foul hooked would Weakly have kept the fish (hopefully alive as Bob Crupi has done ) and sought an official scale? Likely, though we do not know. Record keepers also require fish measurements, though in some cases excellent photographs or videos can establish a fish’s size well enough for record acceptance if other requirement factors substantiate the claim.
True to nature B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott, himself an IGFA Trustee, pulls no punches describing the California catch. “As a record it’s a joke,” he says. “Look, I’m thrilled to death to know that anybody achieves a world record or comes close to it. However, any person who is pursuing a world record knows what’s required to establish it and they don’t screw up. And in this case, those requirements were essentially not observed at all. And for something as important as world records there’s got to be verification. I don’t know any other way than a polygraph test by an excellent, licensed examiner. They should be mandatory for all world records. Something else. You may not agree but I’ve pleaded with IGFA that we need to encourage the fish to die. A twenty-five-pound bass doesn’t have much more time to live. It needs to be archived. We need a corpse. Such a fish deserves to be hanging on somebody’s wall or the IGFA’s wall.”
Like most anglers who consider a foul hooked fish illegal, Shakespeare’s Mark Davis has no room for compromises. “If this fish was caught legally and broke the record I’d be the first to cheer. But this is the mother of all freshwater records and too important to compromise. The fish needs to be mouth hooked, weighed on certified scales, measured and witnessed. You have to have rules or there’s no point to keeping records.”
Clear rules scrupulously followed make it in my book as well. The IGFA rule regarding foul hooking developed mainly for salt water fishing, especially with big game like billfish where tandem hooks (hook eyes are allowed to be 18 inches apart in natural baits) and even singles can be whipped free and hook again outside the mouth. We all know that in fresh water, fishermen resort to so-called “lifting” practices to snag trout, salmon, even bass. There needs to be some refining of this regulation. More inshore saltwater anglers are attempting to live release fish after they are weighed on certified scales on land (an IGFA requirement). It takes work and care but it’s commendable. Based on what I’ve seen in the photograph, the Weakley bass was heavy enough to break the record. It is simply sad that so much went wrong.