Monte Burke is a fan of the world record largemouth bass and all the mystery and controversy that surrounds it. The author of Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest for the World Record Largemouth Bass has been fascinated by tales of George Perry and his 22-pound, 4-ounce fish for most of his life. With the 75th anniversary of Perry's 1932 catch coming up on June 2, Burke marvels at the record's longevity.
"It's like there's some weird, protective force field protecting the record," he says. "Bob Crupi missed it by less than four ounces in 1991; Paul Duclos might have broken the record a few years later if he'd had something other than bathroom scales to weigh the fish on; and Mac Weakley caught a much bigger bass last year, but it was foul-hooked. It's amazing that it's held on for so long."
Amazing indeed, especially when you consider the focus that BASS and occasional record bounties have placed on the catch. No other fishing record fresh or salt water has received as much attention or such an onslaught of pursuers.
On June 2, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division will be commemorating the 75th anniversary of Perry's catch on what's left of Montgomery Lake, the oxbow of the Ocmulgee River from which the fish came. Few thought the record would last so long, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s when dozens of bass topping 18 pounds were taken in California.
The assault on the record books brought new scrutiny to Perry's catch. At the time, no photos of the fish were known to exist and all of the principals to the catch were long dead. Several record chasers advocated disqualifying Perry's fish as the record and starting fresh with a more recent fish.
If pushed to offer his own opinion on the veracity of Perry's claim to the record, Burke sides with the 19-year-old Georgia farmer and the legend of his giant bass.
"I think the photo that surfaced last year (published in the June 2006 issue of Bassmaster Magazine) dispels the critics and shows that a truly giant bass was caught," Burke says. "But it doesn't really matter. Perry has the record, and 22 pounds, 4 ounces is the weight that has to be beaten before anyone is going to recognize a different catch as the biggest bass ever."
Does Burke want to see the record broken? "The Perry fish is a great story. It would be a shame to lose it. The way things are going, it might last another 75 years."