In the world of freshwater fishing, perhaps no record is more revered than the largemouth bass world record.
Almost every angler is familiar with the story of the biggest largemouth ever caught. It was 1932, and times were tough in Georgia when 20-year-old George Perry lived a dream by catching a 22-pound, 4-ounce fish. It would eventually cement his name in the pages of global angling history.
More than 90 years after his catch, that bass remains tied for first place with Manabu Kurita's giant, 22-pound, 5-ouncer from Lake Biwa in Japan which was caught on a live bluegill in 2009. They were two big bass that made the anglers who caught them legends.
However, we must admit something. We, along with general fishing community, have some questions about the Perry bass and the details of the story behind it. There are some things that simply do not add up in this tale about the biggest bass ever. For the record, we are not saying this fish was a hoax, only that there are some things about this catch that have left us scratching our heads more than 90 years after the fact.
The Story of Perry's Catch
Probably the best account of the catch we have today comes from a 1953 article in Georgia Game and Fish magazine in which outdoor writer Joe Stearns, who had his own suspicions about the story, tracked down and interviewed Perry. Most anglers have likely heard the tale of this legendary record fish, but we'll recap it quickly for those who may be unfamiliar.
In 1932, Perry was working on a farm with his family near McRae, Georgia in Telfair County. It was during the Great Depression and money was tight. Perry had done extra work in addition to his farm job to earn money to buy a rod, reel, and one lure, a Creek Chub Fintail Shiner. Like many anglers in those days, Perry wasn't fishing for fun. He was hoping to land something that could feed his family.
On June 2, 1932, Perry and his friend Jack Page (sometimes called "J.E. Page") headed to Montgomery Lake, a small oxbow lake formed off the Ocmulgee River. Bassmaster.com fills in a few more details to the story as well, namely that the two decided to fish that day because rainfall made the fields too soggy to work.
The two anglers kept a small boat at the lake, and would take turns fishing while the other rowed the boat.
According to the Game and Fish article, it was a miserable day for bass fishing. The two fished for hours with not so much as a nibble. Finally, as they were about to head back to shore, a bass ate and spat out the bait as they were trying to land it. The two were convinced to stay just a little longer.
At around 4:00 p.m., Perry decided to throw the Creek Chub bait next to an old cypress log when he got a massive strike. What followed was a long fight as the fish peeled line off the reel. Perry has said many times he wasn't worried about losing the fish so much as he was the lure, because it was the only lure they had.
Fortunately, the two men were finally able to get the giant fish into the boat. According to Bassmaster, Perry wasn't thinking about records when the fish was landed. He was thrilled he'd landed a big fish for the dinner table.
That may have been the end of the story had the men not detoured on the way home to Helena, where they stopped at a store to show the fish off. It was there that the bass was measured at 32 ½ inches long with a 28 ½-inch girth. It prompted them to take the fish to a nearby post office, which was the closest place a set of certified scales could be found. There the bass was officially weighed at 22 pounds, 4 ounces.
It was around this point that someone allegedly told Perry there was a big fish contest being hosted by Field & Stream magazine. He sent off an entry form right away. After that, Perry went home with the big fish, where it was filleted and served as dinner. By all accounts, the family ate meat taken off the big catch for two nights in a row!
The Rest of the Story
There isn't a whole lot else to the story of the Perry bass. We can confirm that Perry won the Field & Stream contest, allegedly receiving some hunting clothes, a shotgun, and some shells.
Here's the important factor: in 1932, there were no official fishing records being kept. There was no designated process, verification procedure, or official record book listing the biggest fish catches.
The fish was not officially declared a world record until Field & Stream started keeping records two years later. Coincidentally, it's reported that Perry won their big fish contest a second time in 1934 with a 13-pound, 14-ounce bass.
In any case, his now-recognized world record brought him fame, but not much else. Field & Stream was the keeper of freshwater fishing records until 1978, when it transferred their records over to the International Game Fish Association. The large bass caught by Perry was recognized by the IGFA and still stands at number one.
By today's standards, the Perry bass would not be eligible for the IGFA record books since there's no confirmed photos and a lack of witnesses. It's been grandfathered in under Field & Stream's less stringent requirements for documenting a record catch.
Why Are There No Authenticated Photos?
Unfortunately, Perry died in 1974 after a plane crash near Birmingham, Alabama. Since then, plenty of questions about the fish have surfaced with few definitive answers.
For one, why are there no confirmed photos of the fish? Well, it seems there were at least two of them according to Perry. Georgia Outdoor News notes Perry had some correspondence with the Creek Chub Bait Company. In at least one letter, Perry says he sent a photo of himself with the fish to the company, although he says it was "not a real good photo."
In that same letter, he says he has a better photo he wants to send the company in exchange for some more Creek Chub baits. The company responded positively to the offer, however that's the last we hear about the photos from either party.
At least two photos have since surfaced that allege to show the biggest bass in the record books, but both have hazy histories and are as yet unconfirmed.
The first photo surfaced in 2006 and it shows a man and a small child with a gigantic bass. It's a tantalizing piece of evidence since it was allegedly recovered from items belonging to a Perry relative. There are, however, a few issues that leave questions.
The first is that the Perry family has stated the man in the photo is not George. Some people believe there is a possibility it is Jack Page, Perry's fishing buddy for that fateful day. However, this fact is unconfirmed. We'll hear more about Page later, since he adds another odd aspect of the story.
It's worth noting that outdoor writer Bill Baab of the Augusta Chronicle, who is often considered the authority on the Perry bass since he wrote the book "Remembering George W. Perry," is convinced the photo that showed up in 2006 is most likely legitimate. Baab also believes the photo does not show Perry. One of the giveaways they say, is the cigarette in the man's mouth. Perry was not a smoker.
Scientific investigations into that photo turned up no positive IDs on either the man or the child. Since nearly 90 years have gone by, it's not likely we're ever going to get to the bottom of it. If only the photo could have popped up earlier than it did, it could have been shown to more possible witnesses or older residents of that area of Georgia. There's a chance they could have possibly identified who was in the picture. In any case, it does seem like it's the most concrete evidence that Perry really did catch a bass of extraordinary proportions that warm June day. We just wish we there was more to go on from it.
A second photo was mysteriously emailed to Baab in 2013 on the 81st anniversary of the catch. You can see the photo and hear him talk more about it in the video above. This photo shows a man on one knee holding a largemouth bass towards the camera. When Baab dug further into the story of the photograph, he learned it was allegedly found in a barn in Florida that was owned by a relative of Jack Page. While Baab and many other experts feel like it's Perry in the photo, many agree there's something that feels off about it.
First, the bass in the photo appears to be in sharper focus than everything else in the picture, almost like it was photoshopped in afterwards. Then there's the awkward open gape of the mouth despite the angler not holding it open. Ever handled a bass without lipping it? Their mouth naturally goes back to a mostly-closed position. In my mind, the bass looks like a stock image crudely photoshopped into the picture.
For me, the giveaway that this is a doctored photo is the hands of the angler. We're talking about a 22-pound, 32-inch fish here. What experienced bass angler would hold a bass of this size like that? The weird black shadow under the fingers seems to further indicate this was a Photoshop job.
Because if the way the angler's hands are positioned, it seems likely the original photo showed him holding a much smaller, rounded fish like a crappie. In fact, just take a moment to look at the pelvic fins of that photo. Don't they seem decidedly undersized for a fish that size? They're also much more pointed than a bass' pelvic fins. In my opinion they literally look like a crappie's fins. It's almost like a hoax artist had too much trouble trying to Photoshop over the fins of the original fish, so they just left them in there.
Again, this is simply speculation on my part. However, the fact that we only have a digital form of this photograph and not the original (or the film negative) makes this one suspicious. Some would say it should not be considered as evidence of the fish unless someone turns up the real photograph one day, and they're probably right.
Jack Page and Other Strange Details
There's another strange thing about this catch. The story's biggest eyewitness, Jack Page, remains shrouded in a cloud of mystery.
As an article from Medium notes, Baab spent a ton of time trying to research Page only to find absolutely nothing. There are no cemetery or census records of the man having ever existed. This doesn't necessarily mean he conclusively didn't exist; Page could have done like many men did during the Great Depression and moved far, far away chasing work. There's also the possibility of records simply being lost to time. Although it seems like someone would have a memory of him somewhere near the part of Georgia where the catch happened. Mysteriously, Baab was unable to uncover any record of a Jack Page connected to the record largemouth.
Considering how bass fishermen like to brag about their exploits, it's strange that there are no interviews or written accounts from Page about what happened that day.
We also find it odd there are no other eyewitness accounts from when Perry and Page took the bass to show it off. As Bassmaster notes, there are inconsistencies on the name of the place where it was first measured. Some versions of the story place this as Fowler Grocery while others say it was J.J. Hall's General Store. Name aside, it seems like there should have been plenty of people who saw the Perry fish at these types of locations. There should have been store employees, customers, people just passing by, yet there are no documented interviews with anyone who saw the fish by happenstance.
The measurements of the Perry bass present another opportunity for doubt. It was said to be 32 ½ inches long with a 28 ½-inch girth. Official reports from Manabu Kurita's 2009 22-pound bass from Japan was only 27.2 inches long and had a 26.7-inch girth. It's strange that these two fish are only separated by an ounce, yet that seems like a major discrepancy in length and girth.
Some anglers have suggested this indicates measurements on Perry's bass may have been slightly exaggerated. We cannot truly rule this out based on the lack of eyewitnesses and confirmed photos.
However, this could indicate something else, too. It was June in Georgia, and by all accounts, a warm, humid day. It allegedly took a while for Perry and Page to make the journey from Montgomery Lake to the post office where it was weighed. It's plausible the fish lost a significant amount of weight during that journey. Does that mean the Perry bass was even bigger than anyone has thought over the years? It certainly makes the imagination churn at the possibility.
The Location Equation
For us, the most mysterious part of the George Perry story is the setting, Montgomery Lake itself. If you've never heard of it before, or only know it as the Perry bass lake, no one would blame you. It's not exactly a dream angling destination similar to big bass lakes like Castaic Lake, Dixon Lake, or Lake Biwa. In fact, we were hard pressed to find accounts from anglers who have fished it in recent years. The only YouTube videos of the lake show what appears to be a near stagnant mudhole brushed in on all sides by huge cypress trees. In fact, it's said you cannot even launch a boat on it anymore. Shore fishing is the only way to cast into the same waters where the world record largemouth bass was allegedly caught.
It sounds like the nearby Ocmulgee River from which Montgomery Lake originated has changed course slightly. By all accounts, the lake used to be fed on a more regular basis by the river, but that amount of flow has changed. Some indications are that the lake is sometimes completely dry during the hottest parts of the summer. Largemouth bass populations need room to thrive, and there were no bass stocking efforts bringing prized, trophy fish strains to this lake at that time. Most freshwater biologists would agree that it's strange that such a small body of water produced a bass of such gargantuan proportions in the 1930s.
Consider this: the next largest bass ever caught in Georgia is 18 pounds, 1 ounce, caught by Ron Petzelt in 1987. The third largest fish, caught by Nickie Rich in 1965, weighed 17 pounds, 14 ounces. That bass spent years in the number two spot until the Petzelt largemouth knocked it down a notch. In general largemouth terms, both runner-up catches are huge fish. However, the Peach State hasn't produced any other fish in that 19- to 20-pound mark.
If the weight for the Perry fish is accurate, it was a true freak of nature, and likely a once-in-many-lifetimes type of fish.
Knowing what we know about the lake, we at least understand why many people are skeptical it could from such a small body of water.
The Things We May Never Know
Sadly, too much time has passed at this point. Many of the questions we have about the catch are very unlikely to ever be answered at this point. After 90 years, most of the people who lived it have now either passed on, or they were too young to remember the events in detail.
While we wish we had a lot more confirmations of some of the hazier details of this great fish story, perhaps it's for the better. It adds an air of mystique to the whole thing. And it gives hope to all the average Joes out there who cannot afford all the latest and greatest in fishing gear that a poor young man at the height of the Great Depression caught the biggest bass that's ever lived using limited equipment. One thing is for sure, until a new record bass is caught topping that 22-pound, 5-ounce mark, anglers will still be talking about the George Perry bass.