On Monday, March 20, Mac Weakley fished California's Lake Dixon with friends Jed Dickerson and Mike Winn. In the early hours of that day, he hooked and landed what was potentially a new world-record largemouth bass. That record has stood for more than 70 years.
The bass weighed 25-01 on a handheld scale – with evidence captured on video. However, the fish was foul-hooked from a nest, and Weakley returned the fish to the water before it could be measured or weighed on a certified scale. The current world record is 22-04, set by George Perry in 1932.
In the days that followed, controversy erupted around the catch. The public wondered why Weakley and friends conferenced prior to bringing the fish to the dock. Some questioned whether Weakley had intentionally snagged the fish. Other questions included why the fish wasn't weighed on a certified scale, and why the trio had first access to the fish that morning.
In the following Q&A, Weakley tells BassFan the facts from his point of view. Key points that Weakley stresses are:
- He did offer to pay Kyle Malmstrom $1,000 on Sun., March 19 for a 30-minute chance at the fish.
- He did purchase a camping permit at Dixon, which is in-bounds in hyper-competitive San Diego.
- He did not intentionally snag the fish.
- He conferenced before bringing in the fish to both celebrate with his friends, and discuss the ramifications of such a monumental fish.
- He did not intend to obscure the fact that the fish was foul-hooked.
- There was no longer a certified scale at the Dixon dock. He said it was removed when control of the concession stand changed.
- He released the fish without measurements and additional photos because he didn't want to risk killing it.
- He won't submit the fish to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) for potential world-record certification.
BassFan: What did it feel like when you hooked, then landed the fish?
Weakley: You know you're fishing for something that's just huge. It was just a full adrenaline rush. Unfortunately, she got snagged on the side. It sucks, but it happened.
I caught the fish, brought it in, got it in the boat, saw it was foul-hooked on the side, and I couldn't even really think straight – it was such a full adrenaline rush. It was just a really exciting experience to see a fish that big. To see they can grow that large – it was pretty neat.
You've said you won't submit the fish to the IGFA for possible world-record certification. Why not?
I don't want it to be an official, or unofficial, record. The three of us had put so much time into this. At first, people were pushing the fact that it could be (a record) because was it intentional (snagging) or not? If not, it could be.
I didn't even know those rules even existed. I had no idea they were there. We knew because it was foul-hooked there would be tons of controversy. I didn't know the rules, but I didn't think it would count.
I was just stoked to get a 25-pound bass. That's what the video was for – for us to share as we get older. Everybody wanted a copy, so I gave it to them. People are saying they'll give me money for it, but I haven't received one dollar. I don't want to receive a dollar. I've told everybody, if they send me money, I'll send it to Make-A-Wish.
I have a great job. I really don't think (potential money) would change my life. I'm very fortunate and blessed for what I have. I'm truly blessed with great friends, an awesome family, a good job. So I don't think it would change my life at all.
Even if I hit the lottery, I'd still be going out there with Jed and Mike. We fish saltwater too – we have our own skiff. In fact, I enjoy saltwater fishing more than bass fishing.
The thing that's really sad is, I feel this record's really tarnished by everybody looking at it for this big cash-in they're going to get. That's why I think the record is so popular.
Not only that, but the fact that people are wondering if (bass) can actually grow that large. Between the three of us, we know they can get bigger than that. When you see big fish repeatedly – these fish are 23-, 25-pound fish – you don't see them often, that's for sure. But you definitely know it when you see something that large.
Now that some of the dust is settling, are you anxious to put the whole catch behind you?
Totally. I felt I did the right thing by releasing the fish. The fish is still alive and swimming in there for anybody to have a chance to catch it – whether it's a 12-year-old boy or a 60-year-old man.
That's what I feel is the most important thing – why I was in such a rush to get this fish back inside the lake.
Is that why you didn't officially weigh and measure the fish?
To set the record straight, I didn't want a bunch of people taking photos of it. It's not healthy to pass around the fish. All it takes is one person to drop it on the dock and that fish dies.
Mike (Winn) has been a charter captain, and he has tons of fish-handling skills. I was confident to let Mike do the handling of the fish. Again, the cool thing is the fish is still living. Catch and release is proved to be a very good thing for a lake.
But I'm pretty much ready to put this behind me. This will probably be the last interview I wind up doing. I don't want any product endorsements. If someone sends me free products, I'll give them away to charity.
The other thing is, I've been very open about giving away the pictures and video. It doesn't matter to me.
There seems to be some discrepancy about how you got on the water so early. Could you walk us through that?
People keep talking about that. It's a public thing, and people can go there and do the same thing. If they get outwitted because we actually figured that out (the camping permit), how is that our problem? They have the same right to do the same thing.
San Diego is very competitive – especially for bed-fishing. The more that I look at it, I'll still always enjoy the sport, and there's some really good sportsmen out there – like Mike Long, and definitely five stars for John Kerr.
The fish was foul-hooked – it wasn't properly caught. Therefore, I believe, after thinking about it, that it should not be the record out of respect for the rest of the guys like Long and Kerr, who've put thousands of hours into doing this.
I would like to see people actually try to get the rules down to the wire. All this speculation – what if you're fishing a private lake? What if you have access to certain areas that other people don't have? How is that fair?
So you think the world-record rules need to be refined?
One thing I always discussed is if you're fishing a private lake, and the general public doesn't have access to it, how can that be considered a record?
There's a gray area and people definitely need to refine it if we're to continue to pursue the world record. So when it's caught there's no controversies behind it. I think the controversy sells, and people want to stir everything up with it.
After you caught the fish, you went out toward the center of the lake before coming to the dock. Can you discuss that?
We went to the middle of the lake because it was something we wanted to experience for the three of us. We were high-fiving each other, and stoked to see the fish. That's it. Those were our thoughts.
And, "What do we do?" It wasn't because I'm going to turn this fish in as the official record. That's ridiculous. There were already witnesses on the docks who saw it was foul-hooked.
People also need to understand, I can't respond to people's questions that everyone has immediately on the Internet. I don't know how many calls I got. It was like people were pulling from every limb of your body.
So to set the record straight, you did not intentionally snag the fish, and you had no intention of ever obscuring the fact that is was foul-hooked?
I don't even know how I could answer that. My intention was to catch the fish. Things happen when you're fishing. Maybe I jumped the gun, and I set (the hook) out of sequence. Obviously I did. You know how it is when you're bed-fishing. A big fish can come in and in a second suck in and blow out a gallon of water. There was also the male to contend with.
When you're fishing that early in the morning, and it's windy, and rainy, and I pretty much have a major astigmatism, so I can't see that well as it is. The fish was foul-hooked. I admit it.
Kyle (Malmstrom) told us (on Sunday) that he actually saw the fish, felt it – actually saw that it picked it up his bait, that he got bit by it. That's the nature of the bass. That's just how it is.
We're human beings. We're not perfect. You can't always be perfect. The guys on tour fishing professionally, they do one little thing wrong and they lose a big fish. It comes out after the fact that maybe you feel bad, maybe you should have got the net out instead of flipping it up on the boat.
I'm human. I made a mistake. Unfortunately, it happened on a big fish. But it's not the only big fish it's happened on.
Weakley said Jed Dickerson's fish first weighed 22-09, but by the time the warden arrived, it weighed 21-11.
I've had other big fish eat a jig and I didn't have the drag set right. Everybody has their fish story about the one that got away. That's the thing. Everybody wants to know if it was intentionally snagged. It was not intentional. I was trying to do everything but catch that fish the way I did.
Kyle Malmstrom told us you offered him $1,000 on Sunday for a chance to catch the fish. Is that true?
I sure did. Absolutely. Everybody thinks I'm going to stray away from that question. Jed offered him five rods (for the chance). We saw him (Kyle) fishing for this fish for a long period of time. He even let me inside of his boat, so I could take a look at that fish.
The first words out of my mouth when I saw it were, "That's Jed's fish." (Weakley's fish is believed to be the same fish Jed Dickerson caught in 2003, when it weighed 21-11. – Ed.)
He (Kyle) wanted to borrow my cell phone. His wife was giving him a hard time for being out there so long, so he made me talk to his wife to convince her that is was Jed's fish, and that he needs to stay.
He kind of stared at it in the water, and we talked back and forth. At that point, he said he's not going to leave. We decided we'd get a campsite so we'd be the first ones out.
People are losing sight of the fact that people can actually see a fish that big on a video and photo. There's so many people here that do things like poach, and there's people that snag – people who do all kinds of things. And the nature of the bass – that's how it is.
That's why I tell everybody, I hope it's a 12-year-old boy sitting on the dock (who catches the official record), so people will give it a break. If it comes from any professional, they'll always be wondering, how did you catch it?
Does that controversy have you feeling down?
I'm setting the record straight, telling you right now, it's not the record, and should not be the record.
It's the same bad beating I watched Jed take. I saw Jed weigh his fish at 22-09 (in 2003). But by the time the warden got there, it weighed 21-11.
Back then, we were like, "That's ridiculous. All the witnesses said the fish was 22-09, and (he) should be awarded that." Well, I'm not a biologist, but from what I hear, these fish can actually lose weight as they stress out. They regurgitate.
The ranger on the dock watched it spit out food. Jim Dayberry, the ranger, was like, "That's BS, I saw the thing weigh 22-09. He got robbed."
He was a member of the BBRC (Big Bass Record Club) at the time. (The BBRC would have paid $1 million for a new world record. – Ed.) We could have caused a huge stink. I'm not going to cause a huge stink of this.
There was a certified scale at Dixon when Jed weighed his fish, but it's no longer there, right?
Before, back when Jed weighed his fish, there was a certified digital scale up on the dock. What happened was, the man that owned the dock and concession stand – his name was Lyle – he got rid of the dock, and apparently the city owns the rights to the concession stand.
Lyle took his certified scale. But after the fact, (lake superintendent) Tony Smock told us they have a digital scale in the ranger station.
First of all, I didn't know they had that scale. Second, I was not about to go toting that fish all over the place. It's not right when there's a whole circus around with a bunch of people poking at it and lifting it out of the water.
When Jed weighed his fish, at the end of the day, at least a hundred people had to pick up Jed's fish just to see it. That's what people aren't looking at here. People want to bring up a bunch of negative crap because it sells, and people are jealous.
The thing they shouldn't discount is the fact the fish weighed 25 pounds. There's no doubt it was foul-hooked, and no doubt it shouldn't qualify, but it weighed 25 pounds.
I looked at some of the comments on BassFan and other sites, and told the guys from ESPN that it looks to be the public out there is looking at this like a 50-50 thing – 50% are wanting this thing to be the world record, then 50% don't.
Mike and Jed and myself talked (Tuesday) night. We said, "We've been doing this a long time, and we know we have the edge as far as breaking the record. We've gotten close so many times, but we've always gone back after the fact and said, 'Forget it.'"
I looked at Jed when his weighed 21-11 and said, "Forget it. We'll go get a bigger one and blow everybody's mind."
So we decided we'll go back out, do what we do well, have a good time, and if we break it, we break it.
I think this thing has gotten way out of control. The thing I want to get across is, let's keep the integrity of it – keep that right there at all times.
I know there's a lot of people out here that do a lot of fishing at nighttime, and a lot of BS stuff. Hopefully, this will push people to do the right thing about it.
> A big question is whether the fish will attempt to spawn again this spring. Dickerson said he'll be at the lake this week, but he's not sure if he'll fish. "I'm hearing stories of people coming from Japan to spend the whole spring here – all kinds of crazy stuff. It'll be bumper-boats out there. Who knows if she'll come up or not. As big as she's gotten, I can't believe nobody's caught her on a swimbait yet."
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