The Record Breakers
There is no doubt that whoever breaks the world record for largemouth bass is going to become a wealthy person. Bob Kutz, who at one time was director of the National Fishing Hall of Fame, indicated that if the fish ever comes, it will be worth more than a million dollars. Many believe that a million dollars could be made within the first year of the catch. Between endorsements, outdoor shows, prize money, etc; the trophy fish would truly be a “Bucketmouth Bonanza.” That information right there was enough to “stoke my furnace.”
The record, caught in 1932 by Gerald Perry still stands today. The fish was caught in a Georgia lake by Perry during the Depression era using a $1.33 rod and reel and a $1.35 lure. At the time, Field & Stream was offering a seventy-five dollar merchandise prize for largest bass, so Perry took the fish to the post office where it was weighed in at twenty-two pounds, four ounces; and measured at thirty-one inches long, twenty-seven inches around. The fish was so big that it took the Perry family two days to eat it. Talk about being at the right place, at the wrong time! If Perry had caught that fish today he would be a multi-millionaire.
Lake Fork, located in Emory, Texas, is one of five lakes in the United States that experts believe can spawn a record largemouth. The flooded timber that pervades Fork provides an ideal habitat for the fish. Beds of hydrilla, sunken timber, docks, and lake points, all provide ambush points for the ravenous bass. Fork has given up the top six bass in Texas (all over seventeen pounds with the state record at eighteen pounds-eighteen ounces). Best of all, the bass factory is located within a two hour drive from my residence in Rockwall.
For a fisherman, catching a the world-record bass would be the equivalent of a card player, catching a “Royal Flush” during a big stakes five card stud poker game: it’s rare, but it happens. The only thing I knew for sure was that if you didn’t put the hook in the water, you weren’t going to catch the fish. With that in mind, I called my brother and told him I was going out to Fork to shatter the world-record mark. “The only mark you’re going to break is the beer-bass record,” he said, “but if that’s the case, I’m in.”
We gathered our mind-blowing assortment of fishing gear and headed out to Fork to break the world-record. “We’re not coming back until we shatter the mark,” I told my wife as we boarded the SUV.”
“Good ─ I hope you never find it”
“We’re not going to find it; it’s not the “arc of the covenant.” We are going to catch it and become millionaires.”
“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah…when your done becoming millionaires call me and I’ll cook some burgers on the grill.”
We headed out to lake, checked into our motel, and began to settle in for the evening so that we would be fresh in the morning. Before we became too comfortable, I suggested that we go down to the bait shop and find out what the fish were hitting on. Entering the bait shop, we found an old man wearing a Dallas Cowboys cap passed out in his chair. “sir?...sir?...Hey mister.”
“That guy looks like he’s dead,” my brother said.
“He’s not dead; watch this: TOUCHDOWN!”
The man shot out of his chair as if he had been ejected from a James Bond car. Regaining his disheveled composure, the old man picked his cap off the floor and stood up. “Can I help you young fellers?”
“Yes sir,” I said. “We just checked into the hotel and we’re fixin’ on breaking the Texas state record for largemouth bass.”
“Is that right?”
“Sure is. What type of artificial lure do you think might do it? Spinner-baits, top waters, deep divers, plastics?”
“None of the above” he said. “I am going to tell you about a secret bait that is guaranteed to get you a big fish.”
“Don’t tell me you have guaranteed minnows.”
“Better: I have mud-puppies.”
“Mud puppies?─What the hell is that?”
“Follow me boys.” The ancient mariner made his way to the back of the bait shop and approached a large aerated tank. Sticking a large minnow net into the tank he pulled out what looked like a large tadpole. The critter was about six inches long and had a tail and legs. “You can hook this guy through the tail and toss him onto the spawning beds. The bass hate these little buggers because they think it is eating the eggs in the nest. Once the bass sees it, its goners.”
“Where do you get these things?” I asked.
“We order them from a supplier up in South Dakota.”
“Yeah, it’s kind of a weird place from what I understand, but these things sure catch fish.”
“What do you think Tom?” I asked my brother.
“I don’t know; they sure are ugly little suckers.”
“We’re not going on a date with it ─ we’re using it to break the world-record.”
“I guess you have a point there,” he said.
“Give me a dozen of those bad boys.”
We took the mud puppies, deposited them in the live well of the boat, and went back to the motel to get some sleep.
The alarm clock went off at five o’clock in the morning. “Get up,” I said, “I feel a world record coming up ─ Who wants to be a millionaire?”
We walked through the darkness and entered the restaurant, which was already half-filled with fishermen who had the same goal as us. The giant wall hanger bass that decorated the interior of the restaurant was testimony to Lake Fork’s lunker population.
A waitress approached us from behind, “Good morning fellas, what can I get you for breakfast today?”
Tom dropped the menu that was masking his face and emerged like a bass trying to throw a plug out of his mouth. “Grand Slam breakfast, blueberry pancakes, side orders of hash brown potatoes, bacon and sausage, toast, juice, and coffee.”
“Ya’all must be hungry ─ I’ll have that right out.”
“Wait a second,” I said, “that was just his ─ I would like to order too.”
The waitress’s mouth dropped wide open. “Well I’ll be…”
We finished up breakfast and headed out to the lake. Following the old man’s directions, we hooked the mud puppies through the tail and began fishing the beds. The bait was just what the doctor ordered. We caught fish all day long and for the rest of week. Most of our bass were small but a few were in the five to six pound range. On our last day of fishing we pulled into a small cove on the east end of the lake. “If we’re going to catch a world record bass it’s going to come out of this inlet; this is perfect bass cover,” I told my brother.
We hooked on the mud puppies and tied on a large float. Throwing the baits towards the submerged tree trunks, we sat back, and eagle-eyed our round red and white bobbers. I was reaching down to grab the coffee thermos when I heard my brother shout, “Where is your float?” I looked toward the stump where I thrown the bait, but no float. I began reeling in the line but once the slack was pulled in I couldn’t budge whatever I was stuck on. “I’m hung up again,” I said.
“Just keep the line taught and I’ll get us over there using the trolling motor. We’ll save us a mud puppy by pulling it out on the other side,” he suggested.
Right when he turned the boat I felt a tug. I pulled on the line and then watched as it began to move sideways. “Stop the motor ─ Fish on!” I shouted.
The fish made a run towards the submerged timber but I could not turn him. I felt like I was trying to stop a buffalo with a pea shooter. Suddenly the fish stopped and ran right towards the boat in an effort to snap the line. “Put the tip of the rod in the water so that he doesn’t bust you!” my brother barked. Following his directions, I reeled in the slack and stuck the tip of the rod under the boat. The drag of my reel began singing as the fish peeled off the line. “Tom, this thing is like a locomotive ─ I think I have the World Record!”
“Don’t screw this up; this is a one and a million shot,” he said.
“I had fought the fish for twenty minutes and had now attracted the attention of other fisherman. They watched as the fish ran one way and then the other as I tried to steer him towards the boat. The fish finally began to tire and I now had him directly under the boat. The monster had never broken the water, so we had no idea how big he was. “Git the net ─ Who wants to be a millionaire?” I shouted for all to hear. The fish took one more run and then succumbed. Tom reached under the boat and netted the colossal fish. “What the hell is that?” he asked.
I looked down at the muddy brown prehistoric looking creature which resembled a double-digit mud puppy with a huge mouth full of teeth. “What in the world?” The other fisherman gathered around to get a glimpse of the world record. “What is that thing?” I asked a fishing guide within shouting distance.
“It’s a grinnel, you friggin’ idiot: Who wants to be a millionaire now?”
They all began to laugh as the fish thrashed around in the net.
“Get that thing off the hook and let’s get out of here,” I told my brother.
“I’m not touching that thing ─ do you see the teeth on it?”
“Give me that net, I’ll get him off,” I said, anxious to get away from the continued humilaition. I grabbed the line and tried to pull fish out of net but the line snapped. Upon closer examination I found that the fish had sawed the hook in half with his razor sharp teeth. Throwing the big sucker back in the water, we started the motor and headed back to marina. Upon reaching the lodge, I told my brother to pack up while I signed us out at the front desk. I checked out and then asked the clerk if I might be able to use her Internet service for a moment. Googling in the word grinnel, I found out that the fish is actually called a bowfin and dates all the way back to the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic Era. While the T-Rex and all his kin went extinct, somehow the bowfin survived. The head of the fish is often described as looking like “Charlie Brown with fangs.” I also found that Lake Fork holds the Texas state record bowfin at 17.65 pounds.
Pulling up in front of my house, my wife came out the front door. “How did the great white fishermen do?”
“Your husband caught a double-digit grinnel,” Tom said.
“Grinnel? What’s that?”
“Never mind,” I said.
“Are you going to be a millionaire?”
“Are you ready for those burgers?”
G.O. Fishin': Tall Tales from the Tackle Box