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World Record Bass: Why It was Released
By Ernie Cowan
Many questions still swirl around Mac Weakley’s catch of a potential new world record largemouth bass from a Southern California Lake Monday, but the biggest question is why did he release the fish?
“Yep, that’s what everyone wants to know,” said an exhausted Weakley a day after nailing a 25-pound, 1-ounce largemouth from Dixon Lake, located about 30 miles northeast of San Diego. “My phone has not stopped ringing and I feel like a broken record. I’ve probably told the story about 200 times now.”
Controversy surrounds the fish that could shatter the previous world record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces which has stood since George Perry pulled the largemouth from Montgomery Lake, GA in 1932.
Weakley quickly admits his fish was snagged in the side, was not weighed on a certified scale and was not measured before being released. With millions on the line for the person who sets a new world bass record, everyone wants to know why it was not kept.
“That’s easy. We had six witnesses to verify how it was caught, and the size. It’s not like it was just a hair bigger than the world record. It blew out the record at 25 pounds.” Weakley said. “We’ve been after this fish for so many years it was like a pet just laying there and we decided we just had to let it go.”
Weakley has been fishing with buddies Jed Dickerson and Mike Winn for years. Three years ago, Dickerson may have caught and released the same fish, then weighing 21-11. His fish had a distinctive freckle below the right eye, and Weakley’s fish also has the same freckle.
“What really matters, between you and me, is this IS the world record bass and we know it,” Weakley said. “I don’t care about the money. This was personal between the three of us who have been fishing together for years.”
Weakley said, however, that he will formally file an application with the International Game Fish Association in hopes of being awarded the all-tackle world record for largemouth bass.
“We did take plenty of photographs and video and we have saved everything, including my rod and reel, line, lure, net and digital scale,” Weakley said.
At the IGFA, conservation director Jason Schratwieser said their phone has not stopped ringing as news of the Dixon Lake catch spreads.
“You don’t know how many calls we have had today. We have been flooded,” Schratwieser said.
He said once the IGFA received the application from Weakley, a review process will begin that will take about a month to complete. The issues of the fish being snagged, not measured and not weighed on a certified scale may not disqualify the fish from being designated as a new world record.
The IGFA rules say that a catch will be disqualified for any fish intentionally snagged, or foul-hooked. The key word is intentional. Weakley said he did not intentionally snag the fish, but instead saw his lure disappear, felt his pole “go vertical” and he reacted to set the hook. Witnesses confirm his story.
“There have been cases where we have certified snagged fish,” said Schratwieser. “We often see marlin that were snagged because it was incidental to a normal catch.”
Photographs taken by Weakley of the fish and the weigh-in will be examined by the IGFA along with the digital scale used to determine the weight.
“We may be able to verify the size from the photographs and we have certified scales after the fact,” he said.
Schratwieser also had praise for the fact Weakley released the fish.
“He caught a big fish and he knows it, but he still wanted to make sure he got it back in the water.
“This is a huge female with a lot of quality eggs,” Schratwieser said.
For Weakley, what started out as a cold and rainy Monday morning has turned into a day that has turned his life around. He has been flooded with phone calls, and interviews, with ESPN even flying in a crew to interview him. He is satisfied with his accomplishment, but anxious about the weeks ahead as the IGFA jury decides the fate of his monster bass.