Fishing Record Fish

Watch: Giant Hybrid Bass Caught on Fly Could Set a New World Record

A YouTube video shows how a diehard striper fisherman and a Tennessee trout guide caught a pending world-record hybrid bass...on accident
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Angler with a giant striper-white bass hybrid.
Michael Kaal with the 28-inch-long, 16-pound hybrid bass he caught from the South Holston River. Photograph courtesy Patrick Fulkrod

Late last month a professional videographer obsessed with striped bass went out with an East Tennessee fly-fishing guide in hopes of landing his first striper on the fly. With cameras rolling, the pair of anglers did one better, landing a massive striper-white bass hybrid that stands to break multiple IGFA world records. You can watch the whole 17-minute episode on YouTube, and it tells the abbreviated version of how Michael Kaal and Patrick Fulkrod caught a pending world-record whiterock bass — on accident.

Outdoor Life caught up with Fulkrod, who shared the full story behind the fish. That ending has yet to be determined, as the International Game Fish Association is still considering the record application. Either way, Fulkrod says it’ll go down as one of the greatest lucky breaks of his guiding career.     

“It was a total fluke that we caught it, landed it, and then weighed it,” Fulkrod tells Outdoor Life. “And then there’s this roller coaster of emotions over the whole record thing … It’s a crazy story.”

Trout Fishing for Stripers

Fulkrod, who owns the South Holston River Company, has been a trout guide in the Southeast for more than 20 years. He says he started fishing with Kaal about a year ago, when the aspiring YouTuber decided to take up fly fishing.

“He is a diehard striper guy, and he mostly does conventional tackle but is learning how to fly fish,” Fulkrod says. “So, we started the day trying to catch a striper on a fly rod on a nearby lake where they’re traditionally found.”

Their plan didn’t work out. After getting skunked that morning, the two packed up and tried to salvage the day by trout fishing on the nearby South Holston River. Fulkrod gave Kaal a 10-foot 4 weight and tied on a double nymph rig with a small white shad imitation and a pink squirmy worm. They started nailing rainbows right away, but Kaal couldn’t help it. He still had bass on the brain.

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“He was just asking me — and I think it might be on the video — ‘Do you ever catch a striper on a nymph rig like this,’ and I told him, ‘No, but I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more.’”

The real surprise came a few minutes later, when Kaal’s bobber dipped and he set the hook on a heavy fish. An epic battle followed as they were using six-pound test and had to play the fish gingerly while they kept it away from the banks. Fulkrod figured it was a giant brown trout for most of the fight, but after a few hard runs that took Kaal deep into his backing, they saw the silver shimmer of a striped bass near the surface.

A giant hybrid bass caught on the fly.
The hybrid bass weighed 16.1 pounds on a certified scale and measured over 26 inches long.

Photograph by Michael Kaal / via YouTube

When Fulkrod netted the huge fish, they realized it wasn’t actually a striper but rather a striper-white bass hybrid. These freshwater fish go by a few different names. Most folks in Tennessee call them wipers or just “hybrids,” while the IGFA classifies them as “whiterock bass.”

Kaal told his guide it was the biggest hybrid he’d ever seen. They measured the fish at 26.38 inches long with an astonishing 26-inch girth. (The fish’s belly was packed full of shad.) With the bass still in the net, they did some quick research in the IGFA record book, where Fulkrod saw that the current catch-and-release world record was caught in 2022 from the same stretch of river. They compared those measurements (23 inches long) with the fish in the net and knew they had a potential world record on their hands.

Fulkrod, who’d never tried certifying a world-record fish before, knew there would be some hoops to jump through. He figured they should get a certified weight of the fish just in case.

“We actually didn’t show this part of it,” Fulkrod says, “because I’m a trout guide, and harvesting fish is a no-no. You keep a fish, and you’ll get strung up online by the keyboard warriors.”

Technical Difficulties with the Record Books

The two anglers quickly found a way around this dilemma. Fulkrod pulled up to a client’s house on the river, where they grabbed a large Rubbermaid container to use as a makeshift live well. Then they ran down to the nearest boat ramp, which is located near a post office with a certified scale.

“We got the weight notarized at 16.1 pounds,” Fulkrod explains. “And again, we didn’t know if we needed the weight or the length, so went right back to the river, got to the ramp, and released the fish.”

Since it was roughly six inches over the standing catch-and-release length record, the two anglers figured they had that record in the bag. They submitted their application to the IGFA earlier this month and included the measuring tape they used.

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“Well, we heard from the IGFA about a week ago and we were told it’s disqualified [for the catch-and-release length category] because it wasn’t measured on an IGFA-certified tape measure,” Fulkrod says. “But, the guy also said, ‘I don’t know if you know this or not, but the weight record you guys have destroys the current record.’”

That current record is a tippet class record, which means it’s the largest fish caught with a fly on a certain line size. (The all-tackle world record for the species weighed more than 27 pounds and was caught from a lake in Arkansas.) Fulkrod says they’re now waiting to hear back from the record-keeping organization. In the meantime, he says his phone keeps ringing off the hook. Everyone wants to know when he can take them out to catch the next world-record hybrid bass.

“That fish,” Fulkrod says, “is both a blessing and a curse.”