Now It's A Tie!

It took more than seven decades, but George W. Perry's world record largemouth bass has now been tied. Here's the story of these two monster fish!

It took more than three quarters of a century, but the most coveted of all freshwater fishing world records has finally been matched.

Manabu Kurita of Aichi, Japan, hoists the giant bass he caught on Lake Biwa in July 2009. It has been recognized by the IGFA as tying the world record.
Photo courtesy of the IGFA.

Catching a bass bigger than George W. Perry's world record largemouth has been the Holy Grail chased by thousands of bass anglers for many decades. Fishermen in California had come close in recent years, boating several bass that topped 20 pounds. All the money was on a fish from that area, if the record was to be broken.

Yet, it turned out to be a fish from halfway around the world that almost did the trick. On July 2, 2009, Manabu Kurita of Aichi, Japan, was fishing in Lake Biwa near the city of Kyoto when he boated a bass that dragged the scales down to 22-pound, 4-ounces to equal Perry's catch.

As you might expect, there is an interesting story behind each of these largmouths. In the case of the Perry bass Game & Fish Magazine had a part in the saga. So, let's take a look at both of these record fish.

THE KURITA BASS
Against the background that the largemouth bass record is undoubtedly the most sought after prize in the angling world, it's not surprising the Manabu Kurita's catch took almost half a year to be certified. Pundits for years have predicted that the angler shattering that record would automatically cash in on a million dollar payday through endorsements. That fact alone would merit all the time that was invested in making sure the facts were checked before the largemouth gained its exalted status.

One thing is for certain, however, the angler was not a novice depending on beginner's luck. The 32-year-old Kurita had been chasing big bass in Japan for the better part of two decades. A year before his record catch he reportedly boated an 18 1/2-pound lunker on a swimbait on the same lake. Also, Kurita is sponsored by the Japanese tackle company DEPS.

As for the fish turning up in Lake Biwa in Japan, largemouth bass were first imported to that country from California back in 1925. More recently Florida strain largemouths were reportedly stocked in Biwa. Bluegill were also imported, and both species are considered invasive by the Japanese government. In fact, it is illegal to release a bass caught from the lake.

Earlier in 2009 a commercial fisherman reportedly netted a largemouth from Biwa that tipped the scales at 25 1/2 pounds. Obviously this old, massive and deep lake offers some good bass habitat.

On the day Kurita caught his record bass he was fishing with a DEPS Sidewinder rod and a Shimano Anteres DC7LV reel. The rig was spooled with 25-pound-test Toray line. He used a live bluegill for bait.

The hook up with the big bass was no accident. The angler reported seeing the behemoth swimming near a bridge piling. He then tossed his first cast next to the piling, and let it settle. After he twitched the bait a couple of times, the big bass inhaled the bream and the battle was on. Surprisingly, the monster fish took just 3 minutes to bring in.

Just after the catch, Kurita said he put the bass on a set of certified scales and it weighed 22 pounds, 5 ounces, which was an ounce heavier than the world record. However, the International Game Fish Association, which is the custodian of the official record books, requires that any record fish weighing less than 25 pounds must break the standing mark by at least 2 ounces. At any rate, the announcement by the IGFA of the certification of the bass listed the weight at 10.12 kilograms or 22 pounds, 4 ounces earning it just a tie for the world record.

On one point Manabu Kurita proved that anglers all over the world are cut from the same mould.

This photo was sent into the Game & Fish Magazine offices in November of 2004. Subsequent research led experts on George Perry's bass to conclude it was 98 percent probable that it is Perry's fish.
Photo courtesy of Jerry Johnson.

"I knew it was a big fish," he reportedly said, "but I didn't know it was that big."

His bass measured 27.2 inches from the lip to the fork of the tail. It also had an astounding girth of 26.7 inches.

Certifying the new record took more than three months. At first the rumors spread that the bass came from a no fishing zone. The truth turned out to be that the area did not allow stopping or anchoring, but fishing was legal. Eventually Kurita took a polygraph test to confirm that his boat never stopped moving while he fought the fish.

On January 8, 2010, the IGFA recognized Manabu Kurita's bass as tying the world record.

THE PERRY BASS
George Washington Perry set the world record for largemouth bass while a 20-year-old farmer on June 2, 1932. He was fishing in Lake Montgomery, an oxbow off the Ocmulgee River in Telfair County, Georgia. He fishing companion was a man named Jack Page, and the fish was weighed on certified scales in the Helena, Ga. post office.

But one long-standing enigma regarding the Perry bass was that no photographs of the fish were known to exist. However, that changed half a decade ago.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about the morning of Friday, Nov. 19, 2004. Over a cup of coffee I began sorting through the last of the pile of recently delivered mail. As usual, the envelopes addressed to the Camera Corner had been set aside and were the last ones opened.

I knew that those never threatened to create problems for the rest of the day. Rather they often provided some entertainment as I browsed the photos of trophy bucks or big fish that readers submitted.

When I opened the one from Jerry Johnson postmarked from Waycross, Ga. however, a long chain of events was set in motion that solved one of angling's long-standing mysteries. Inside was a photograph of a man and boy in front of what appeared to be a couple of palmetto palms. The black and white photo and its subjects obviously harkened to a past era. Framed between the two individuals was a largemouth bass of eye-popping proportions!

Reading the accompanying letter from Mr. Johnson provided scant background on the enormous f

ish. He had found the photo among a collection of pictures inherited from a deceased aunt. Unfortunately, there was no indication of who the people in the picture were or where it was taken. Jerry simply wanted some help in estimating the size of the fish.

Needless to say, I was immediately on the phone calling information to find a number for Jerry Johnson in Waycross! Tracking him down, I discovered that his aunt was Mildred Johnson, who had died in the late 1980s in Georgia's Bacon County. Other than that, Jerry could provide no details about the photo.

Some telephone and on-line investigation of the Johnson family and Bacon County area turned up nothing, and because of interruptions, months passed without any further details coming to light. Finally, as an act of desperation, we ran the photo in the July 2005 In The Field column of our Georgia edition with a plea for any additional information that any of our readers might be able to provide.

Once published, the photo sparked a good bit of interest, but no one came forward who could identify the man and boy pictured. That is not to say that I did not get contacted about the photograph. Almost immediately a call came in from Adrian Gray at the International Game Fish Association down in Dania, Florida wanting to know if we had gotten any new information. Upon getting a negative response she requested permission to run the photo in their newsletter, the "International Angler." With our blessing, that took place in their September/October edition in 2005.

The author poses beside the historic marker on Georgia State Route 117 near Lake Montgomery.
Photo by Polly Dean.

When that publication went out in mid-September, the next call came from Phil Chapman, the resident guru of giant bass for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Again he wanted to know if new details had arisen. But he also pointed out that he had photos of Florida's uncertified state record bass that weighed 20.13 pounds and was caught in May of 1923 by Fredrick Friebel. The bass in our mystery photo dwarfed that largemouth!

As it turned out an even more important call came in a week later. It was from Lee Howard, then a guide for Upper Hi Fly Fishing & Outfitters up in Hiawassee, Ga. and an IGFA member. He had seen the photo in the organization's newsletter. As with the other callers, his request was for any information that had come to light.

Our discussion ended with speculation about the possibility the picture could be of George W. Perry and his world record largemouth. After all, that fish had been caught in the same general area of Georgia where this photo surfaced. Rather than being dejected at the news of no new details, the lack of developments lit a fire under Howard.

The first thing Howard set out to do was see if a genealogical connection could be made between the families of Jerry and Mildred Johnson and that of George W. Perry. The task would be daunting.

Fortunately Howard held a couple of aces up his sleeve. Among his acquaintances was Bill Baab, the retired outdoor editor of the Augusta Chronicle and acknowledged foremost expert on the Perry bass. Baab first met George Perry in 1959 and is a veritable walking treasure trove of details on the man and his fish.

Also, several years earlier a fellow had walked into the Upper Hi-Fly shop. While admiring the mount of a 16-pound largemouth that Howard caught down in Florida, the stranger commented that his dad had taken one a lot bigger. The man turned out to be George L. "Dazy" Perry, the son of the world record holder and now a resident of Hiawassee.

LAKE BIWA
Lake Biwa is located on the Japanese island of Honshu, just to the northeast of the ancient capital city of Kyoto. Until recent times it was known as Lake Omi.

It would be hard to imagine a body of water more unlike the habitat from which George Perry caught his world record largemouth bass.

Lake Biwa is one of the 20 oldest freshwater lakes in the world, dating back 4.4 million years. The very scale of the lake is mind-boggling. It covers roughly 6.7 million acres, is 340 feet deep and is fed by more than 400 streams and rivers. On average, water entering this massive lake takes 5.5 years to pass through to the Seta River that drains into the Yodo River and eventually Osaka Bay on the Pacific Ocean.

For Dazy Perry, the story of his dad's feat was a family tradition from a time before he was born. But his first reaction upon seeing the photo was that the man in it could have been his father. That hope faded, however, when he noticed the cigarette in the man's lips. George W. Perry never smoked.

Undaunted, Howard joined an Internet genealogical Web site and began the search. That led to David E. Johnson, who was also searching for details on the Perry family of Telfair County. David's grandfather was James Bowen Perry, who was George Perry's brother. From there the trail through the Johnson family led to Mildred Johnson of Bacon County. The connection was made!

Two problems remained at this point. Who were the folks in the photo and why was their no record of the photo having been taken? The second of these questions had already been solved; it just required Lee Howard's making the right contact. That came through Bill Baab.

Baab's heir apparent as "keeper of the torch" for the Perry story is Ken Duke, the senior editor of B.A.S.S Publications. When Howard contacted him through Baab, he discovered that Duke had a letter in his possession that had turned up in 2003 that was sent from George Perry to the Creek Chub Bait Company in Garrett, Indiana and dated June 3, 1935. In the letter Perry stated that he had send the company a poor quality photo of the world record fish and offered to send them a better one of him and the bass. Apparently, more than one picture had been taken of this phantom of the angling world!

Indeed, contrary to commonly accepted knowledge, Dazy Perry pointed out that in his family circle it was known for years that photos were made of he fish. His aunt, the former Lelia Mae Walden, who married James Bowen Perry, had shot some pictures of the fish. Later her daughter married into the Johnson family, which explained how Mildred Johnson had the photograph.

The hunt was now getting exciting for Howard. He next had the photo run in The Telfair Enterprise newspaper for a couple of weeks in the Helena area.

The only response Howard received was from an octogenarian, with that lady saying she remembered the little boy, but not his name. She also indicated that he died as a child a short time later, presenting an apparent dead end.

Speculation about the identity of the man in the photo centers on the elusive Jack E. Page, Perry's fishing partner. Lee Howard could find no evidence of a Page family in Telfair County, but most records were destroyed in a 1934 courthouse fire. He eventually did find a local cemetery with Page graves, but not that of Jack. The shadowy Jack Page seems to have simply vanished from the region, leaving no trail.

One final alluring tidbit did surface later. The present post office in Helena occupies the same plot as in 1932. When Dazy Perry accompanied a film crew to the location while they worked on a documentary about the famous largemouth, they discovered a pair of palmetto palms on the grounds of the post office that are spaced very similarly to those in the photo. Those trees are much fuller today, but the species does not grow very tall. They could be the trees in the picture.

So is this a photograph of Jack Page or someone else holding George Washington Perry's world record largemouth? Some very knowledgeable folks seem convinced.

"I'm 99.99 to 100 percent convinced it's the fish," Bill Baab offered. "The photo was probably one of many shot that day. It was Helena with its small-town atmosphere and I'm sure when they brought the fish in everybody came out with their Brownie cameras."

LAKE MONTGOMERY
Lake Montgomery is located in southeast Georgia's Telfair County, just south of the twin towns of Helena and McRae.An old oxbow off the Ocmulgee River, at its largest the lake covers just a few dozen acres and is probably is no more than 10 to 12 feet deep.
During recent drought years this body of water was more like a stagnant swamp than a true lake. The wet winter of 2009-10, however, replenished it with the overflow from the Ocmulgee.

As for Dazy Perry, there is little doubt in his mind.

"I'm convinced, yes," he stated emphatically. "Family records and those two palm trees prove the connection."

Some are less convinced, but still apparent believers.

"That's a tough question," Ken Duke said. "It's as likely to be as not. There's just so much conflicting evidence. I don't know what to make of it.

"If I had to bet," he finally admitted, "it's the fish."

Both Jerry Johnson and Lee Howard mirror a rather pragmatic view of the situation. In Howard's case he entered the quest as a skeptic, expecting to find some other explanation for the photo.

"I'm comfortable enough to say I'm 99 percent sure that this is the fish," he now concedes. "But, there are just too many things we can't prove."

"My reaction is typical of any bass fisherman," Jerry Johnson chimed in. "After all these years it is awesome to know that there is a picture. I wish we could pin it down 100 percent, but it looks like we can't after all these years."

As Lee Howard summed it up, probably the only way that can happen is for some relative of Jack Page to appear who can fill in the gaps in the story.

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