For 74 years, the persistent ghost of George W. Perry's world record largemouth bass has haunted its detractors. The problem, many have said, is that it's hard to swallow the story of the 22-pound, 4-ounce fish without being able to see it. Ever since the Georgia bass was landed on June 2, 1932, and later certified by Field & Stream magazine as the reigning world record, no photograph had been found to document the feat. Now a photo, salvaged from the personal effects of a distant Perry relative, has been found - taunting naysayers who believe the fish wasn't as big as it was said to be, or perhaps wasn't a largemouth bass at all.
"There is no doubt in my mind it's the world-record bass," said Bill Baab, who retired from The Augusta Chronicle in 2000 after 35 years as its outdoors editor - and who helped authenticate the mysterious snapshot. Baab knows plenty about Perry and his bass. In a recent book, Forbes senior writer Monte Burke refers to Baab as "the world's leading authority on the story of George Perry's fish, and the story's most tenacious guardian." The photo, likely taken near the post office and general store in Helena, Ga., was found by Waycross, Ga., resident Jerry Johnson while going through his late aunt's belongings. "The aunt was a relative of Perry's," Baab said. Johnson sent the photo to a Florida magazine editor, who in turn sent it to the International Game Fish Association, which ran the photo in its magazine, International Angler, last fall.
That's when Lee Howard, an IFGA member and fishing outfitter in Hiawassee, Ga., noticed the photo and launched a more detailed investigation. "Once Lee got involved, he was able to dig up the history," Baab said, noting that Howard used genealogical records to connect the Johnson and Perry families and made several trips to Telfair County, where the fish was caught. "He even showed the picture around in nursing homes to see if they recognized the people in it," he said.
The photo shows a man with a cigarette in his mouth holding the giant fish as a child poses in the foreground. Their identities, Baab said, remain a mystery, although there is a possibility that the "smoking man" could be Jack Page, the older companion Perry often named as his fishing partner that day on Montgomery Lake. Being caught in a small town in the Depression era, a big fish likely caused quite a stir that day, Baab said, theorizing that more than one photo could have been taken. "This one was taken and probably forgotten," he said. "People take pictures and put them in a family album and they're put on a shelf somewhere and nobody thinks about it anymore." Perry, a 20-year-old farmer, went fishing that day only because it was too wet to work in the fields. In a 1969 interview with Sports Afield, Perry recalled the famous strike: "All at once the water splashed everywhere. I do remember striking, then raring back and trying to reel, but nothing budged," he said. "I thought for sure I'd lost the fish, that he'd dived and hung me up.
When they took the fish into town, someone mentioned Field & Stream's big fish contest, which spurred Perry to have the fish weighed and measured. He not only won the contest, and $75 in sporting equipment but also reeled in a place in history. Although Perry's record still stands, an even larger bass was caught in April 2006 in California, but the angler opted not to submit the fish as a new record because it was foul-hooked, contrary to state law. That fish, caught by Mac Weakley, weighed 25 pounds, 1 ounce and was released. The Perry fish photo is a logical conclusion to the discovery several years ago of correspondence between Perry and the Creek Chub Bait Co. of Garrett, Ind., who manufactured the Fintail Shiner lure used to land the big bass.
Old photo surfaces of record largemouth bass caught in 1932
An old fishing mystery came back to life on the 81st anniversary of the day a Georgia farmer caught what remains the world-record largemouth bass.
George W. Perry caught the 22-pound, four-ounce lunker on Montgomery Lake, in Telfair County, on June 2, 1932. Although the fish was fried up for dinner that same day - and served for two nights - its weight was duly recorded and remains a record. But bass fishing fans have long sought photographic evidence of the prized catch ever since Perry, a pilot and mechanic who died in a plane crash in 1974, cryptically mentioned two pictures that were taken of it.
One, found in 2006, shows two unidentified people holding what appears to be Perry's bass, though Perry himself is not in the photo. The whereabouts of the other photo have remained a mystery. But Augusta Chronicle outdoors writer Bill Baab received an e-mail earlier this month containing a photo of Perry holding a massive fish, and a message saying, "Happy Anniversary."
Baab is not sure whether the photo is legit or fake, but he would be the likely recipient of it. A fishing legend in his own right, and the paper's outdoors writer since 1964, he wrote a 2009 book about Perry and the mythical fish that won praise from no less than former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who was well aware of the lore surrounding Perry.
"You have beautifully awarded Perry with the honor that he deserves," Perdue said. "He is a true legend in the sport."
Baab is sure the man in the photo is definitely Perry, but he could not say whether the fish he is holding is the 22-pounder or even if the photo has been doctored.
The email's unidentified sender claimed to be a descendent of a fishing buddy who was with Perry when he set the world record. The photo was found in a barn the family owned in Florida, the sender told Baab, before declining to answer more questions.
Photograph might show George Perry's world-record largemouth bass
An old mystery took a tantalizing new turn last Sunday on the 81st anniversary of the day a young Georgia farmer landed what became the world-record largemouth bass.
It was a photo, grainy and stained, depicting a thin young man in overalls, smiling broadly and holding a mammoth bass.
The photo was dated June 2, 1932 ? and the man in the picture was George W. Perry.
The image arrived in an e-mail to longtime Augusta Chronicle outdoors writer Bill Baab, whose book, Remembering George W. Perry, encapsulated all that had been learned about the 22-pound, 4-ounce fish.
The e-mail also included a message: "Happy Anniversary."
Baab knows as much as anyone about the fish and the events of the day it was pulled from Montgomery Lake in Telfair County. Many details remain unknown, however, including whether there were any photos that show Perry with his giant fish.
Perry died in a plane crash in Alabama in 1974.
The image that turned up last week, Baab said, is definitely Perry, but is it a photo of "the bass?"
Baab isn't sure. The fish, he said, doesn't appear to be a 22-pounder. But there is no way to tell.
The person who e-mailed Baab the photo identified himself as a descendent of a man who was Perry's companion the day the famous fish was landed.
The e-mail, Baab said, disclosed that the image was found in a barn the family owned in Florida. But the sender declined to answer further questions.
Baab said he repeatedly tried to contact with the fellow, but after some initial correspondence, e-mails bounced back, saying the address did not exist.
The owner of the photograph likely could shed more light on the day the fish was landed, Baab said.
But we may never know. "Close, oh-so close," he said.
Perry's bass remains the reigning world-record largemouth, although a Japanese angler, Manabu Kurita, landed a fish in Japan's Lake Biwa in 2009 that was later certified as a tie with the Perry fish.
Perry's record lives on today, even though the fish was eaten the same day it was caught.
CARLSBAD, Calif. - "Chaos has broken out."
Well, what do you expect when you notify the media that you boated a potential world-record bass?
That was the story at the home of Mac Weakley, who early this morning caught a mammoth largemouth on tiny Dixon Lake in southern California that he and his longtime fishing partners Mike Winn and Jed Dickerson weighed out at 25.1 pounds on a hand-held digital scale.
If that weight stands up it would shatter what is considered to be the granddaddy of angling records - the 22/4-pound largemouth bass taken in 1932 at Georgia's Montgomery Lake by George Washington Perry.
"I feel good, awesome, in fact," said Weakley, 32, of Carlsbad, Calif, who used a white jig with a skirt and rattle on 15-pound line to boat the brute. "I'm just stoked to see a fish that big."
Claimed by many to be a mark that could never be eclipsed, the largemouth-bass record has become the thing of legends. It's the Joe DiMaggio 56-game hitting streak of the angling world.
"It's simply because there are people who are out there who didn't think a bass can grow to more than 22.25 pounds," said James Hall, editor of Bassmaster magazine. "It's because of how elusive the record has been for so many years."