June 18, 2013
On June 2, 1932 George W. Perry would catch the fish that would make him a legend, as well as a world record holder for 81 years and counting. On that day, while fishing the waters of Lake Montgomery in southern Georgia, Perry landed a behemoth largemouth bass that weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces. In an interview with Sports Afield years later, Perry said that his initial fear after hooking the fish was losing his only lure of the day, a Creek Chub Fintail Shiner.
“I don’t remember many of the details but all at once the water splashed everywhere,” Perry said in 1969. “I do remember striking, then raring back and trying to reel. But nothing budged. I thought for sure I had lost the fish–that he’d dived and hung me up. I had no idea how big the fish was, but that didn’t matter. What had me worried was losing the lure.”
The fight with the fish was brief but frenzied. Perry and fishing buddy Jack Page brought the bass onto the boat, and although they noted its large size, it did not occur to the anglers that this could be a world record.
“The first thing I thought of was how nice a chunk of meat to take home,” Perry recalled.
Sure enough, he brought it home where his mother fried it up and served it as dinner for two nights. Thankfully, Perry had stopped on the way home to measure the fish in a grocery store in Helena. The bass measured 32-1/2 inches long and 28-1/2 inches wide. Perry then weighed it at the nearby post office and on a whim, submitted it to a Field & Stream contest.
After that the angler gave no more thoughts about it and chowed down on his mother’s home cooking with gusto. A little while later he received notice that he had indeed won the Field & Stream contest. The prize package was a new shotgun, some ammunition, and hunting clothes. Bassmaster speculates that if the same fish was caught today, it would be worth millions.
Of course, in his lifetime Perry never gained much recognition. Today however, with bass fishing one of the nation’s top sports and millions of dedicated anglers supporting a growing industry, Perry’s record largemouth is one of the most coveted records in the fishing world. But for years nobody had even seen a picture of the record fish. At the time Field & Stream did not require a photograph to be submitted for the contest, so no image of the fish was ever released into the public. The world simply speculated on what Perry’s legendary catch might have looked like. Then in 2006 a photo of an unidentified man and child holding a large bass surfaced, seemingly taken in front of the Helena post office. While the man holding the fish was not Perry, experts seem to agree there was a good case that the fish was indeed the record bass. The mystery was considered solved and in 2009 Japanese angler Manabu Kurita matched Perry’s bass with a fish of a similar size, thanks to the efforts of a bass lover that had stocked the fish in Japanese waters several decades earlier.
To some however, a piece of correspondence from Perry left the mystery still open. Perry had written previously that there were two photos of the fish, one that he thought was “not a real good photo,” and another that was taken of himself with the fish. In the years after his death, no such photo was uncovered and it was thought to be lost. Then, on the 81st anniversary of Perry’s catch, outdoors writer and George Perry biographer Bill Baab received a startling email.
The email contained the message “Happy Anniversary.” And this image:
The Augusta Chronicle’s Rob Pavey further explained that the person who sent the email indicated they were a descendant of Jack Page, Perry’s mysterious fishing partner who remained quiet since the record setting catch. The email also said the photo was found in a Florida barn.
Could this, at last, be the missing photo taken at the time of the catch?
“To me, the fish he is holding in the photo doesn’t look 22 pounds, but the penciled inscription on the picture says June 2, 1932 so it must be,” Baab told OutdoorHub. “It was taken at angle which emphasized the mouth rather than the overall fish. Note that he’s kneeling and one foot is in the water. It was hot that day, muggy with showers and thunderstorms, and a tornado was recorded several miles away from Montgomery Lake, blowing a steeple off a country Baptist church.”
Baab is one of the leading biographers of George Perry’s life and penned the book Remembering George W. Perry.
“The rain was the reason he was able to get away from his farm and go fishing–too wet to plow! His friend, Jack Page, who was paddling the boat when George hooked the fish, may have taken this snapshot from inside the boat.”
Baab is confident that the 2006 photo is the genuine edition, but could this new photo be the world’s largest largemouth bass? Experts are not sure whether its an elaborate hoax, a photo of another, smaller Perry catch, or the real deal. The image seems to have been cleaned up digitally, possibly to repair damage to the photo, which brings up the fear that it may have been altered. Several members of our staff here at OutdoorHub believe that the picture has various flaws that could point to it being a fake. However, if confirmed, it would certainly be heading to the record books where the section on George Perry will finally receive an image.
Images courtesy Bill Baab.