Home General Freshwater Fishing

World-Record Smallmouth Bass Rejected By Illinois DNR

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rejected a controversial application for what would be a new world-record smallmouth bass, caught in Lake Michigan on May 15th 2014. On that same day, I was fishing for smallmouth bass less than a quarter mile away from where that fish was caught. :banghead Before we get into the details of the disputed catch, I'd like to say a few words about the smallmouth bass in general.

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.


  • capt louiecapt louie citrus countyPosts: 10,673 Moderator
    Interesting . I agree with not confirming it as a record. Seems if your knowledgeable enough to rig and fish a dropshot rig correctly you would know what to do with the fish. Especially one of that size.
    "You'll get your weather"
  • mjnmjn Posts: 1,576 Captain
    Nice fish. Also with those measurements in the article it should be just over 9lbs.

    My dad caught an 8lb 15oz smallie that had just spawned. Belly was completely empty with an empty flap where the eggs were. released it.

    I caught a Spotted bass well over 5lbs, with freaky blue eyes. released it.

    A buddy on our boat caght a 26.75lb steelhead in the port of indiana, we knew it was near or over the record, but you cant submit(successfully) a fish caught in the port.

    Imagine how many huge fish are caught and just released or eaten. I wouldn't stop a fishing day to turn in a state record in the past, but these days, I might, you can make some money and maybe use it to fish more often. world record of popular fish like largemouth I would probably run for a certified scale.
Sign In or Register to comment.
Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.


Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now