World-Record Smallmouth Bass Rejected By Illinois DNR
Being a blue-blooded Northern Great Lakes angler, I grew up catching smallmouth bass. After nearly 30 years of chasing these fish, I am of the opinion that the smallmouth bass is the hardest fighting freshwater fish, pound-for-pound. That may seem like a slap in the face to you southern largemouth anglers, but I am of the opinion that smallies are the best game. They are a fish for all seasons, and can be caught by anyone - from the cane-pole angling youngster fishing a farm pond to a rapala-throwing Lake Erie pro in a tournament Walleye boat. :grin
According to wikipedia, the smallmouth bass is native to the northern waters of the Mississippi basin, the Great Lakes, and southeastern Canada. Because of its food and sporting value (and hardy durability), the smallmouth bass was transplanted (in buckets) across North America by railroad trains - and did exceptionally well in new environments. Because of this man-made migration in the 1800s, its popularity exploded.
The IGFA recognizes the current world record as an 11lb 15 oz monster :cool caught in July 1955 by David Lee Hayes. Hayes caught the fish trolling a 600 series bomber in legendary Dale Hollow Lake, and claims to have caught the fish within 100 yards of the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. Both states have argued over which should be home to the record, but one thing is not debatable: Dale Hollow reservoir is the El Dorado of smallmouth bass fishing. 6 of the 10 largest smallies ever recorded (according to Bassmaster) were caught in Dale Hollow.
Hayes' record has stood firm for almost 60 years, but bigger fish are out there. Some of the reports are
believable, others seem too good to be true. For example, agents from the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources were gillnetting Laurel River Lake for walleye research purposes, when they caught a 12lb monster that would have beaten the record. The fish was photographed and released in 2012. Elsewhere, on the mighty Madawaska River of eastern Ontario, 57-year-old Steven Grail reportedly caught a 12lb 4oz smallie, only to fillet it and eat it.
But back to the topic at hand: May 14th, 2014. Downtown Chicago, the shores of Lake Michigan. A cold front had passed, and the wind shifted directions mid-day. It was overcast and cool. While I was casting my crankbaits along the seawall, Doug Busch caught a big smallmouth on the other end of the harbor. I didn't see it happen, but the Chicago Sun-Times later published this article (with a picture of the fish):
Is it just me, or does the story not make any sense? :huh Had I caught that fish, it would have immediately gone into my 5-gallon bucket with enough lake water to hopefully keep it alive until I got to a place where I could have weighed it, with witnesses. While it has been long-speculated that the next world record smallmouth bass would rise like the phoenix from a great lakes livewell, I certainly would have liked to have seen it come from my home waters of Lake Michigan. Moreover, to wastefully kill a large breeding female bass during the spawn is not only egregious but also illegal. :nono The Illinois DNR did not recognize the record, and I agree. The process should be structured and scientific, and anglers should have to submit more than one small photograph of a fish for it to be considered a world record. Catching a record fish is a huge achievement not only for the sportfisherman and his pursuits, but also for the fisheries biologist and his scientific research.
So perhaps that world record lunker is out there still, cruising the rock reefs 25ft below the choppy Lake Michigan surface, dining on gobies and alewives. Or perhaps he is under a log stump in Dale Hollow or one of the other man-made reservoirs of the old TVA days, growing fat on shad and shiners. That dream bass may even be closer to home, in a far less exotic and mysterious location. As famous fishing writer Zane Grey once wrote:
A mile or more from its mouth, the Lackawaxen River leaves the shelter of the hills and seeks the open sunlight and slows down to widen into long lanes that glide reluctantly over the few last restraining barriers to the Delaware. In a curve between two of these level lanes, there is a place where barefoot boys wade and fish for chubs and bask on the big boulders like turtles. It is a famous hole of chubs and bright-sided shiners and sunfish. And, perhaps because it is so known, and so shallow, so open to the sky, few fishermen ever learned that in its secret stony caverns hid a great golden-bronze treasure of a bass.