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Object of obsession

5/19/2008

Thousands of fish die every day and no one blinks an eye. But when Dottie — a world-record class Florida strain Largemouth bass in Dixon Lake, Calif. — floated up on Friday, May 9, it became headline news.

Never has a bass been so publicized and followed by anglers from around the world. She's made the top-20 largest bass list twice and could arguably be put in there again as No. 1, if you count the foul hook in 2006.

But when she was scooped up by a local angler and positively identified as deceased by a park ranger, the chase was officially finished, and one of the longest-standing and most prestigious records in bass fishing lived on.

Dottie Timeline

June, 1932: George Washington Perry sets the largemouth bass record mark at 22 pounds, 4 ounces, on Montgomery Lake in Georgia.

April, 2001: The first time Dottie was caught and recorded as a record. Mike Long of Poway, Calif., caught her and officially weighed her in at 20 pounds, 12 ounces. Three friends, who had been fishing the lake together since they were kids, were introduced to the possibility of a world-record bass in their pond and became intoxicated with the idea of catching it. Mac Weakley, Jed Dickerson and Mike Winn officially begin their quest for the world record.

May, 2003: Dickerson is the first of the three friends to catch Dottie. Dickerson contends that Dottie weighed 23 pounds when they caught her but lost two pounds because of stress during the three hours it took the Game and Fish Commission to get to Dixon and officially weigh the bass. She weighed in at 21 pounds, 11 ounces, which is the fourth-largest bass ever caught. The friends notice a black dot on the gills of the bass, and she goes from "lunker" to "Dottie."

March, 2006: Sight-fishing for her off a bank, Weakley gets Dottie to react and eventually works her into the boat. It wasn't until they pulled her in that they noticed she was foul hooked. Weakley weighed Dottie at 25 pounds, 1 ounce, shattering Perry's record, but decided not to pursue the official record because of the foul hook. A photo is taken of Winn holding her on dock and the great debate begins. Some people considered it a new record, some didn't. The three took a lot of criticism for how they caught and handled the bass. Weakley considered the chase to be done, but Dickerson wanted it to be official — and continued his quest for the world record. With Dottie's weight officially at world-record status, anglers from all over the country, and even some from out outside, start frequenting the public lake, hoping to knock Perry off the top.

March, 2008: Former NFL coach Dennis Green meets Dickerson on the dock and they strike up a relationship. Green signs Dickerson to his sports agency business, Dennis Green Sports Marketing, and starts helping with the search for Dottie. Green and his son Zach saw Dottie swimming a couple weeks later while fishing with Dickerson.

May, 2008: The day Dickerson, 35, calls off his chase for the season and tells a National Geographic film crew he hopes Dottie dies naturally or is caught by a kid, a local angler nets a 19-pound floating bass and alerts the park ranger. Dickerson positively identifies it as Dottie and Weakley, 35, meets him at the dock to see it for himself. The chase is officially off and Perry's record dodges the largest bullet in its 76-year life.

The Fallout

The day after she was found, Dottie's name showed up in newspapers across the nation like the Chicago Tribune, and she was featured in the The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Union-Tribune's first line read, "The quest for the legendary big bass is over."

But for Dickerson, Weakley and Winn, it was more than just the end of a quest; it was the end of what had defined their lives for the past six years.

This spring, every day, Dickerson would get up at daybreak (sometimes before), fish for eight to 10 hours, go to work for 8 to 10 hours and sleep for four.

"I think I missed two days," he said. "I'm completely exhausted. I'm glad it's over."

Weakley said it was hard to describe how he felt when he saw Dottie's stiff body without sounding "weird."

"Even though people look at it like it's just a fish — and I know this is going to sound kind of silly — but with everything we've gone through with her, she's more than that to us," Weakley said. "It's just a really neat story. I think it all worked out really, really well."

Dickerson, who works at a casino near San Diego, said he was ready to close that chapter in his life, but Green, who might know about leaving a passion behind, said it's going to be harder than Dickerson thinks.

"That one goal that he's had is gone, but who knows where the next Dottie will be?" Green said. "There might never be another Dottie — a bass that's that big, that active and that unusual."

Dottie was given to a California biologist so they could determine her age and if there was a medical reason she grew to such an incredible size. There is no timetable on when those results will be made public.