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Calif. bass angler won't pursue world record

4/26/2006
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    ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Say it ain't so, Mac.

    A day and a half after boating the heaviest largemouth bass known to mankind, Mac Weakley and his two lifelong fishing buddies decided to drop their pursuit of angling's most important world record.

    "We want to let the 22¼-pound George Perry record stand, and we'll break it another time," said Weakley, 32, of Carlsbad, Calif., whose name has circled the fishing world since he boated a 25.1-pound largemouth bass early Monday on nearby tiny Dixon Lake in San Diego County.

    If officially recognized, Weakley's bass would have shattered Perry's legendary standard — a fish so revered by bass enthusiasts that many thought its weight would never be eclipsed after it was taken in June 1932 at Georgia's Montgomery Lake.

    Worry not, bass anglers, your cherished milestone appears safe … at least until Weakley and his close-knit fishing partners — Mike Winn, 32, of Carlsbad, and Jed Dickerson, 33, of Oceanside, Calif. — catch another monster.

    "We feel we are the favorites of beating this record," Weakley said, "whether it's this year or in 20 years."

    Winn said the three angling amigos — best friends since kindergarten or as long as they can remember, whichever comes first — huddled Tuesday evening after he surfed the Internet and determined in a quick survey that general opinion over the catch was split roughly 50-50.

    "It just feels like 50 percent want it to be the official record and the others don't," Weakley said. "With all the people we fish with and the other sportsmen out there who put in as much time, we don't want any negative feelings over it."

    Weakley said there always will be controversy over a largemouth bass that appears primed to upstage the world record, and this week's catch certainly has proven that.

    Among the issues:

  • The fish was not weighed on a certified scale.

  • It was unintentionally foul-hooked.

  • No measurements of length or girth were taken.

  • It was released.

    However, none of these facts would have disqualified the fish from record consideration, according to Jason Schratwieser, Conservation director of the International Game Fish Association, recognized as the leading keeper of angling standards.

    That the catch was weighed on dry land, witnessed, photographed and documented by video makes it eligible for record status, Schratwieser said. He also noted that a scale can be certified after the fact; only fish determined to be intentionally snagged are disqualified; and measurements are only required in lieu of photo or video evidence.

    Still, the anglers came to a unanimous and definitive decision not to chase the record … and any riches in the form of sponsorships and guest appearances that may have been associated with the remarkable catch.

    "It's 100 percent done," Winn said. "We all kind of collectively talked about it as friends and family, and we just decided there was so much controversy around it that we wouldn't pursue it."

    "We don't want to paint a bad picture of anglers to the public," Winn explained. "We're not out to pull the wool over anyone's eyes."

    Next time there won't be any controversy, Winn promised.

    "We'll just go out and catch another big one and nobody will have anything to say about it," he said. "That way everybody can feel good about the catch being a record catch.

    "And I don't have any doubt we will catch another big fish. We have a pretty good track record."

    Indeed they do.

    Dickerson already has the fourth-heaviest largemouth bass on record — a 21.7-pounder taken from tiny, 72-acre Dixon Lake in May 2003. Weakley has No. 15 on the list — a 19.44-pounder netted at Dixon 11 days before Dickerson's behemoth. And Winn will be forever remembered poising for snapshots of this week's 25.1-pound Dixon denizen because Weakley was too nervous to hold the bruiser for the photo op himself.

    But certainly not everyone is calling foul on Weakley's catch.

    Many feel he clearly has earned the record, and he has gotten kudos from bass aficionados around the world — including the International Game Fish Association and Bassmaster magazine — for releasing such a marvelous catch to swim again and contribute to the gene pool.

    "I support their decision. It's a shame they aren't going to get credit for it, because I think they deserve it," said Tony Smock, 52, Ranger Superintendent at Dixon Lake, who has worked here for 22 years and has known Weakley, Winn and Dickerson since they started fishing the city-owned facility as 7-year-olds. "They have integrity."

    "I'm really happy for Mac and really pleased to see all the notoriety coming his way, even if it doesn't count as a world record," Smock said.

    Weakley said the various pressures he's been under since the catch was made public have been surprisingly intense.

    "We're dealing with everyone out there and the respect of the sport," he said. "It's been tough."

    But, ultimately, Weakley and Winn said, it wasn't their time to lay claim to such a hallowed record, and they're OK with it.

    "I don't feel bad; it's part of life," Winn said. "You get people on the hate bandwagon and the people who approve it.

    "Next time there won't be any controversy."