A cool story grabbed my attention: Wanted Dead or Alive: The History of Big Bass Bounties. The piece, written by bass fishing guru Ken Duke, begins with a quick recap of bounties placed on the world-record bass over the last several decades. Today, catching such a fish has fallen off the radar for many, as more attention is focused on tournament bass fishing than any other aspect of the sport.
However, the subject of a world-record largemouth continues to pop up throughout time, and likely will again. Florida’s big bass boom in the 1960s and '70s started it all, as millions of anglers flocked to the Sunshine State with dreams of catching a personal best, and were later entertained by the locals’ stories of 20-pounders that were never certified and cleaned for supper. Even today, the myth around mysterious giants persists in Florida – just this season, I was shown a blurry photo (go figure) of a fish rumored to weigh over 18-pounds, easily large enough to beat the state record, that was consumed by what must have been the world’s last true redneck.
In any case, the record hunt shifted away from Florida in the early '80s as the state’s goliath gene pool simply couldn’t withstand decades of slaughter. Texas became the destination for those desiring to be near the world’s biggest bass and, for a while, it looked like the Lonestar State was on the right track. Certified catches in the high teens came from Lake Fork, and later other bodies of water carefully managed to produce giants.
The '90s pushed record chasers West, as California seemed poised to take down the title. A few fish in the 20-pound class had come in earlier, but when record-chasers like Bob Crupi and Mike Long got fired up, things got interesting. Crupi’s 22-pound fish caught in 1991 convinced everyone in the bass world that it was only a matter of time before a new world record would be caught. Big bass bounties continued to pop up, including an insured compensation of $8 million, as Duke reflects.
Now, if you don’t know the rest of the story, the record was never caught here in America during the heyday. Instead, it was tied, so to speak, more recently in Japan by an angler who never seemed to seek much publicity. Quite the opposite from our American hoopla.
Regardless, Duke’s column talks paydays, mentioning that the Hale Lures/Stanley Jigs company has again cranked up the world-record publicity machine by placing a $100,000 bounty on the head of a bass weighing 22-06 or more. However, there’s a catch.
It seems that the previous method for gauging a record’s authenticity – certification by the IGFA – won’t play a role here. In fact, it will likely make it impossible for anyone to claim the prize; anyone with much sense, that is.
Duke’s fact checking quickly determined that the “IGFA will not consider world record applications for fish where a cash prize, reward or bounty is offered, including any fish caught in the Hale Lure promotion.”
What’s more, the IGFA went on to clarify that it would disqualify any such fish altogether. Duke’s column mentions that Hale/Stanley has since modified the contest – and their website lists the modification as well – but, from what I read, a winner won’t get an IGFA certification.
Does this all matter? Well, maybe. It demonstrates how some manufacturers continue to push the envelope in terms of publicity, just to get a press release out and to get others talking about their products. It turns our greatest fish into nothing more than a payday. Now, I’ve been a Stanley Jigs fan since the good ol’ days, and I could probably still dig up a bag of Hale’s Craw Worms (best ever), but this is a little shameless.
Besides, in case others haven’t figured it out already, given the choice between certification of a new world record bass by the IGFA and a $100,000 prize, any angler taking the prize would be a fool. A hundred grand would be just the starting point of where a savvy business person could parlay world-record dollars. But is that really the point?
You know, at one time, dreams of world-record bass were far removed from dollars and cents. They were fueled by personal achievement, coupled with persistence; a touch of addiction thrown in for good measure.
I’ve met a few men who once chased the world record. Real, living, breathing people who risked everything they had in order to climb what they saw as the sport’s highest mountain, and finally put the George Perry rumor to bed. Never did it enter my mind that they did it for money.
But perhaps that’s the grand scheme, after all.
“If he used his status to encourage the conservation, even the release of big bass, if he told the world what it meant to him in spiritual terms to have caught the fish, it could be a very positive thing for the sport…Suppose he stood up and said “I caught the World Record bass, and with enlightened conservation approaches, there’s still a chance that more world records could be caught in the future!” Think of the benefit to the future of the sport!
-Doug Hannon, on the impacts of catching a world record bass, 1986
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)