Opinion

Are Record Fish Stories as Captivating as They Used to Be?

Tales that were once woven into the fabric of fishing culture have become mere blips in today's digital age
Joe Cermele Avatar
are fish record stories captivating
Albert McReynolds with the world-record striped bass he caught in 1982. Photograph courtesy of Joe Cermele

Not long ago, Idaho Fish and Game posted an article on their website that fascinated me. It was about the long-standing state record largemouth bass, a catch that was steeped in mystery. It’s worth reading the entire piece, but here’s the short version:

The bass that has held the record for more than 60 years weighed 10 pounds 15 ounces, and it was caught by “Mrs. W.M. Taylor” in Anderson Lake. There was never an official date listed, nor a recorded length of the fish despite that being standard with all other state records. Per the story, these lacking details have made the fish controversial in local and national bass fishing scenes. Ken Duke, a well-known outdoor writer and bass fishing historian took on the challenge of uncovering the truth about the record, documenting the process on his show, The Big Bass Podcast.

Read Next: Details Behind a Mysterious Idaho Bass Record Finally Come to Light

What Duke and story author Martin Koening ultimately figured out was that Mrs. W. M. Taylor was Alice Hurt Taylor, and she caught the fish in October of 1948. Most interesting, it was discovered that despite recreational angling not being very popular among women in that era, Taylor was an avid bass chaser who caught a largemouth weighing more than 9 pounds in the same lake, earning her sixth place in a Field & Stream fishing contest in 1944. As for all the missing data in the record book, it turns out that Idaho didn’t start documenting records until the late 1950s, at which time they asked for retroactive entries. The first bass to hold the spot weighed 9 pounds 15 ounces, and was traced back to 1949. Not long after, Mrs. Taylor must have caught wind of the new record archive, and she submitted her 10-pound 15-ounce bass. Despite a lack of specifics, Idaho accepted the catch.

So, why was I intrigued by this tale? Simple. Because it’s an actual story full of twists and turns. It’s part of fishing lore and was likely discussed on and off for decades at bars, around campfires, and in tackle shops. And it’s certainly not the only old fish record that had anglers choosing sides and speculating over bourbon, scotch, and beer. What’s sad is that I don’t believe modern record fish stories can infect fishing culture in the same way as Mrs. Taylor’s mystery bass.

Changing Forums

No fish record has arguably captivated more anglers than George Perry’s world-record largemouth caught in Georgia in 1932. Every aspect of the achievement was debated and scrutinized for decades. The 11-pound 15-ounce world-record smallmouth bass caught in 1955 by David Hayes in Dale Hollow Lake drew even more skeptics, some asserting that he’d doctored the fish to achieve the record weight. Ultimately, however, neither man was ever stripped of his record.

fish records, perry largemouth bass
A controversial photo that claimed to show George Perry with the world-record largemouth bass in 1932.

Nor was Albert McReynolds. In September of 1982 — the year I was born — he caught a 78.8-pound striped bass on a jetty in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which happens to be my home state. As a kid I would gawk for what felt like hours at a replica of the fish in a marine mammal rescue center at the Jersey Shore. The striper fishing community, however, was always divided on the validity of the catch. Some folks claimed it was far too rough for McReynolds to have been on the jetty that night. Others said the bass was caught in a commercial fisherman’s net, not on his Rebel plug. McReynolds wasn’t fishing alone, either. His friend, Pat Erdman was out there that night, but remained largely tight-lipped and hazy on details. When Erdman passed away a few years ago, he took his side of the story to his grave.

In 2011, angler Greg Myerson beat McReynolds with an 81-pound 14-ounce striper from Long Island Sound. I remember the news breaking. And I remember thinking the catch would never generate the long-term scuttlebutt and lore of McReynold’s bass. I was, by all counts, correct.

Myerson has a reputation for being a hell of an angler who put years into pinpointing the location of big bass in the area he fished and monitoring their seasonal movements. He would later reveal that he was confident his program would result in a record, he just wasn’t sure when. He certainly deserved to catch that fish, but when it happened it felt so … matter of fact. This angler went out looking for this bass, he put in the work, found it, and hung it on the scale. Case closed.

While there was some speculation about what happened in the hours between when Myerson weighed the fish and when he gave his first on-the-record interview, the actual catch itself was disputed very little. Myerson also inadvertently proved just how much better and capable anglers have become. Neither Perry, nor Hayes, nor McReynolds went out seeking a record fish. They all went fishing for fun and got lucky. If you look at some of the more recent world-record catches, many were claimed by fishermen who were on a mission to claim them. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a record chaser, but in my view, the story of those catches will not be getting retold in bars 20 or 30 years from now.

For the Record?

Given how fast information travels, record fish stories are mere blips in a Google news feed these days. We assume — occasionally incorrectly — that if it’s been certified, sufficient research went into the catch, and everything is legit. Sure, that’s necessary for accurate record keeping, but a byproduct of the internet age, at least in my opinion, is the loss of the barroom banter that wove records like Perry’s and McReynolds’ into the fabric of largemouth and striper cultures. You almost need a contingent of non-believers for the story to travel and live on. But seeing how obsessed we are with details and proof, and how much goes into signing off on world-records in particular, there’s less room for valid conjecture. You’ll have keyboard commandos spouting off, no doubt, but we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing people criticized from behind a veil of anonymity that it becomes noise instead of a conversation, least of all an oral history.

In 2009, when angler Manabu Kurita caught a 22-pound 4-ounce largemouth bass in Japan’s Lake Biwa, it rocked the bass fishing world. For 77 years, George Perry’s record had stood. Kurita didn’t beat it, however, he tied it.

Read Next: The Biggest Largemouths in History

Like many modern record hunters, Kurita was looking for that fish. He knew Lake Biwa had the potential to produce it, just like Myerson had a feeling he would stick a new record striper someday. Though I’m in no way a largemouth fanatic, part of me was glad it was a tie. It’s unlikely, but I love the idea that the door to glory has been left open for an unsuspecting angler out for a casual day on the water. Imagine the story you could tell if you pulled a 22-pound 6-ounce bass out of your local lake with your favorite spinnerbait.

But the aftermath is less fun to think about. Could you handle the social media onslaught if you decided to have it certified? Even if you knew every aspect of the catch met record qualifying criteria, that you had nothing to hide and had, in fact, just gotten very lucky, would it be worth the hell you’d endure in the comments section to potentially become a legend?