Whenanglers discuss the country’s top fisheries for trophy largemouth bass,Arkansas rarely enters the conversation. States like California and Texas haveproduced far more fish in the 12-pound-plus range, so they’re much more likelyto be the topic of conversation when fishing folks are considering where theymight catch the bass of a lifetime.
Thefact is, however, many Arkansas waters are brimming with big bass. A select fewlakes have produced bass exceeding 15 pounds, including the five that follow,which produced 15-pound-plus monsters in January, February and March. Here arethe stories of those fish.
No. 5: Maners’ Monster
Located in Village Creek State Park near Wynne innortheast Arkansas’ Cross and St. Francis counties, Lake Austell covers only 85acres. Despite its small size, however, in 1987, 1988 and 1989, this CrossCounty impoundment produced six largemouth bass between 10 and 11 pounds, fivebetween 11 and 12, and five from 12 to 13. An even bigger fish surfaced Jan.31, 1989.
Around 2 p.m. that day, Jimmy Maners of Wynne wasworking a crawfish-colored crankbait through a deep hole when there was a sharptap on his line. He set the hook and found himself fighting the biggest bass he’dever seen.
“I knew it was a monster as soon as I saw it,” hesaid. “I figured right off it would go at least 13 or 14 pounds. I couldn’t getit in my net, so I hung one foot out of the boat and grabbed it with my hand. I’dhad some big bass break off in Austell before and I didn’t want this one to getaway.”
Good fortune smiled on Maners, and in short order,he was headed to a store to weigh his catch. “The first store I weighed it at,they said it weighed 15-1/2 pounds,” said Maners. “But when it was weighed bythe game warden later that night at a different store, the scales said15-pounds, 12-ounces. That was the official weight.”
No. 4: Billy’s Big Bass
Greers Ferry Lake near north-central Arkansas’ HeberSprings isn’t usually thought of as a lunker largemouth lake, but in 1988, itgave up the fourth largest bass ever caught in the state.
Billy Glaze of Bald Knob and his brother-in-lawDavid Padgett were fishing for walleyes and hybrid stripers near the dam aroundmidnight on January 1. It was 30 degrees outside, but fishing was hot. Theanglers landed two nice hybrids and three big walleyes. Then something huge hitGlaze’s CC Spoon.
“I told David I thought I had a catfish or somethingwhen it first started fooling with my lure,” Glaze recalled later. “It tappedthe lure about five times before starting to pull straight down on it. I gavehim a five count, and then hit him as hard as I could.
“When I finally saw what it was, I got prettynervous. I’ve caught 8-pound bass, but this thing made them look like babies.”
The fish eluded the net twice, but the men finallylanded it. Even after drying out on the drive home, the fish still weighed16-1/2 pounds on a tacklebox scale. Glaze wanted to get it officially weighed butdecided not to wake anyone since it was now 2:30 a.m. He packed the fish on iceand went to bed.
The bass was frozen solid the next day. When anArkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) wildlife officer officially weighedthe fish, it had been out of the water 13 hours. It still weighed 15 pounds, 15ounces. Only three heavier largemouths have ever been documented in Arkansas.
No. 3: Caught in a Net
InJanuary 1979, a commercial fisherman pulled in a net placed in Millwood Lakenear Ashdown in extreme southwestern Arkansas. He’d caught big fishbefore—mostly catfish, buffalos and carp. But the giant he found in this net wasspecial. It was a largemouth bass weighing 16 pounds, 2 ounces.
Weknow little about this fish. It is believed to have been confiscated bywildlife officers because it was kept illegally. (Commercial fishermen cannotpossess largemouth bass.) Biologists determined it was a pure northern-strainlargemouth, one of the biggest ever documented. Every other Arkansas bassexceeding 15 pounds has been a Florida-strain bass. For many years, the mountedfish was displayed at the AGFC office in Little Rock.
No. 2: A Record to Beat
Until March2, 1976, a 13-pound, 4-ounce largemouth caught in Franklin County’s Charleston Lakewas the Arkansas state record. But on that day, Aaron Mardis from Memphis,Tenn. would obliterate that benchmark while fishing in 300-acre Mallard Lakenear Manila in the state’s northeast corner.
Mardisand his older brother Troywere on a return trip. They’d hooked and lost some real hawgs in late 1975 andearly 1976, and wanted to try for them using bigger tackle. Aaron tied achartreuse spinnerbait on his 30-pound-test line, then made his first cast.
“Ifelt him as soon as I got the bait down,” he said. “I set the hook, and overthere, you can’t just set the hook once. You have to double clutch them, hitthem twice. He went to open water, and I knew I had a chance to get him. I don’tknow how long it took to land him, maybe two, maybe five minutes.”
Thefish was huge, but the Mardis brothers never considered it might be a staterecord. Aaron thought it weighed 10 to 12 pounds and wanted to release it. But Troybelieved the fish weighed more and convinced his brother to keep it. Theytrolled back to the bank, tossed the bass into the back of their truck andreturned to fishing.
“Wereally fished hard then,” Aaron said, “because we were trying to break thestate record. We didn’t have any idea we already had the record in the truck.”
Thirty-sixhours passed before the fish was officially weighed, yet it smashed the oldrecord by 3 pounds. AGFC wildlife officer Paige Miller certified the fish’sweight at 16 pounds, 4 ounces, a record that still stands more than 40 yearslater.
No. 1: Un-Dunn
OnFeb. 28, 2012, word got out that Mardis’ record had finally been broken. Thatday, Paul Crowder of Forrest City caught a bucketmouth weighing 16 pounds, 5ounces in 80-acre Lake Dunn, a sister lake to Austell in Village Creek SP.Crowder and his fish were instant news sensations.
OnMarch 9, however, the AGFC issued a press release that said,“The AGFC discovered that alicense was purchased for Crowder three hours after he claimed to have caughtthe bass. Crowder’s fishing license expired in April 2011. Under AGFCregulations, it is illegal for any person 16 years of age or older to fishwithout possessing a current Arkansas fishing license. State record fish rulesrequire that an angler hold a valid license at the time of the catch.”
Wildlife officers seized the fish as evidence, andCrowder was charged and convicted for fishing without a license.
MarkOliver, then fisheries chief for AGFC, said he was disappointed that a basslarge enough to be a state record couldn’t be certified because of illegalactivity.
“Weare still confident in the size and weight of the fish and proud that such amonster was produced in Arkansas waters,” he said.
Someday that lunker of lunkers is sure to wind up on the end of an angler’s line, andthe record books have to be amended to reflect a new champion. Until then,Aaron Mardis’ monster bass will stand as the biggest ever legally caught inArkansas.