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Return To Africa
Scott Tracks Tale Of Record Bass

Tuesday, November 30, 2004
by Ray Scott

To quote Yogi Berra, it was "déjà vu all over again" as I settled into my South African Airways seat for the 17-hour flight to Capetown, South Africa. It was my fifth trip to the beautiful "dark continent" over the last 24 years.

As I told you in my last Scott On-Line column, I was heading to Zimbabwe to check out a new African record black bass. But it was much more than just a record bass for me. As I explained, the 18-04 heavyweight – which ranks among the world's largest black bass reported outside U.S. and Mexican waters – had very unique bloodlines.

The monster bass was a direct descendent of 2,500 largemouth fingerlings I air-transported in 1982 to BASS Federation members in Zimbabwe. (Details of this shipment by South African Airways and the Bulawayo Bassmasters are reported in my previous column: "African Record But American Pedigree.")

The photos I had received simply could not tell the story. I wanted to meet the angler and shake his hand. I wanted to see the lake and boat and the lure. I wanted to visit the tackleshop where the fish was weighed. And last but not least, I wanted to visit with the Zimbabwe Federation members who had welcomed me in 1980 and inspired me to ship the 10 boxes of fingerlings – and in doing so, make bass-fishing history.

Another wave of "déjà vu" rolled over me as Gerry Leach greeted me at the Capetown Airport. Gerry, now a resident of South Africa and president of the South Africa Federation, had been the first Zimbabwe Federation president (and founder) back in 1980 when Zimbabwe was known as Rhodesia. It was the beginning of an enduring friendship.

Photo: Ray Scott Outdoors
Maxwell Mashandure, who caught the 18-04 Zimbabwe record, displays his tackle hat.

A get-it-done kind of guy, Gerry had carefully orchestrated my trip itinerary in both South Africa and Zimbabwe. He had also scheduled an incredible revisit to the eighth natural wonder of the world – Victoria Falls in northern Zimbabwe – where the Zambezi River makes a grand detour over a gigantic geological fissure that makes Niagara Falls look like a bathtub.

In Harare, Zimbabwe I was graciously hosted by Gerry Jooste and his lovely wife Alberta. Jooste's name is most likely familiar to BASS Federation and Bassmaster Classic followers. He has the unique honor of qualifying for the Classic world finals three times through the Federation system. In Zimbabwe, Jooste manufactures the Ruffneck Bass Boat as the country's most popular rig.

The moment I was waiting for finally arrived. Jooste and I launched at Lake Darwendale about 30 miles west of the city. Some would say Darwendale looks like any other welcome-looking place for bass. It's maybe 15 miles in length with an abundance of what locals call "oxygen weed" – a thick carpet-like weed akin to the hydrilla family and good habitat for largemouths.

Then I saw it – a sight I will never forget. A tiny 8-foot long fiberglass craft came toward us from the shore. Bright blue, it had no motor and looked a little like a kayak. And indeed, it was being "powered" by a hand-made, double-headed, kayak-style paddle.

As it drew nearer, I saw a big, bright smile on Maxwell Mashandure's face. This was the 42-year-old electrician and Bassmaster who captured the record bass last July 25. As he neared, I saw his "tacklebox" – a floppy cotton cap loaded with every type of lure imaginable. Topwaters, spinnerbaits, buzzbaits – nothing was too big or too small. The soft hat rested over a protective baseball cap. It was ingenious.

After he pulled up beside us, he showed us his treasure trove of Senko worms in a bag on the bottom of the boat. A 6-inch junebug Senko is the bait Maxwell had tied on his 25-pound line when he landed the record bass.

Meeting this gracious, soft-spoken fisherman was an honor and a pleasure. He spoke in excellent English about his bass fishing and his record catch. As the Zimbabwe native talked enthusiastically about tackle and techniques, he could have been any avid angler, anywhere.

It was quite a sight as Maxwell's little boat bobbed gently beside our 21-foot, well-equipped bass rig. I couldn't help but think that for all the differences, we shared the common denominator of loving to fish for bass.

Maxwell told me he boards a public bus in his hometown of Harare and rides 30 miles to his fishing spot on Lake Darwendale. He not only enjoys the fishing but supplements the family groceries for his wife and four children with his rod and reel.

He happily showed us the location where he landed the 18-04 record. He explained he was fishing a lightly weighted Senko in 4 to 6 feet of water. He used the locally popular deadstick method where he put the worm on a likely spot and left it until, as one club fisherman told me, "you can't stand it any longer."

Maxwell touched a lure to his mouth and told me he thought there was something about the unique salt and chemistry composition of the lure that made it so effective.

Amazingly, Maxwell told me that the bass was not the largest he has caught. And it was only at the urging of Clive Harris at the Master Angler Tackle Shop in Harare that he learned the value of officially weighing trophy bass.

It was an unforgettable experience meeting Maxwell and being on Lake Darwendale with Gerry Jooste. But another treat was still in store for me later that afternoon on the lake. As Jooste's guests, we also visited a 24-man club tournament of the CCC Bass Club from Harare.

The quality of fish weighed in was awesome. Most were five-bass limits of 4 and 5-pounders, recalling the glory days of Lake Eufaula on the Alabama-Georgia border. Thirty-pound creels were common and nobody blinked as 8-, 9- and 10-pound lunkers were weighed in. The winning weight was 34 pounds, which included a 10-pound monster.

The tournament recorded a 96-percent live-release total for the 130 fish weighed in. Only four bass were dead on arrival. I have to think these dedicated anglers, 8,000 miles from home, have helped create this amazing fishing environment, because no one single group of fishermen I know has embraced catch-and release with more zeal than these anglers in Zimbabwe. It's not just a practice, it's a religion.

And it has to be poetic justice that the African record was caught in their waters – a descendent of the same bass they helped to bring from America.

And now the burning question: Will these very waters – with the American pedigree Florida bass – produce the next world-record largemouth? I personally believe that the next world-record newsflash could have a Zimbabwe, Africa dateline.

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