Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

THE BIG ONE THAT STILL GOT AWAY


The World Record Large Mouth Bass


As fish stories go, this is a big one - a really big one.  For more than three quarters of a century, this verified fish story has withstood the test of time, a drove of doubters, and a congregation of cynics,  and though there is no existing direct evidence to prove, or disprove, his claim, George Washington Perry, a former resident of Telfair County and a native of Laurens County, Georgia, still holds the record for catching the biggest large mouth bass in the history of the world.  This is the true story of his catch and how it still got away.

George Washington Perry was born on March 1, 1912 in Dublin, Georgia.  One of six children of Joseph and Laura Perry, George grew up on farms in central Georgia.  When he wasn't helping out with the chores or working in the fields, George dreamed of going fishing, not only for the sport of it, but for something good to eat.  You see, George lived in the days when the boll weevil came and devoured most of the cotton plants which brought money to everyone, regardless of whether or not they owned or even worked on a farm.  This was the Great Depression.  There was little food to eat.  With what little money George and his family did have, it was a shame to waste it on buying food, especially when he  could reel it in out of a stream, creek, pond, lake or a river for free.

It was early on the morning on Thursday, June 2, 1932.  George woke up, saw it was raining and immediately thought to himself - no farming today,  the fields are too wet.  But, it would be a good day for fishing.  Fish usually bite better when the atmosphere's pressure falls during storms.  So, George called upon his buddy Jack Page to join him for a day of fishing.  The pair hoped to catch a mess of fish for supper that night, but just in case they didn't, it would be good for two teenage boys to talk about things teenage boys tend to talk about, not to mention missing a day of toiling in the hot Georgia sun.

With only one lure between them - a Creek Chub Fintail Shiner - George hopped in Jack's pickup truck bound for Montgomery Lake, an ancient ox-bow lake formed over centuries as the meanders of the Ocmulgee River's were cut off from the river's main run.  The 1931 Creek Chub catalog boasted that the No. 2101 Natural Perch fintail shiner with its beautiful, natural colors, scales, fins, with flat sides and a swishing tail and flexible fins was as near like a living, breathing and wiggling minnow as any human could make.  The company guaranteed their lure would make a fool out of any big old wise fish.  Their promise would turn out to be more than mere puffing, more than George could ever imagine or even dream.

George didn't want to lose his prized plug.  After all, it cost him $1.25 - which in those days, was a good wage for a long  day's work.  Perry pulled back his $1.50 rod and reel and carefully cast his lure between two horizontal cypress trees lying on the surface of the once bountiful lake.   Perry saw a splash.  He felt a tug.  He pulled back.  When nothing moved, George feared that he had hung his line on a pesky stump or a submerged log.

But then, the tug became a pull.  The pull became a strain. The strain became a struggle. a Adrenalin gushed through George's veins.   His instincts took over.  George pulled.  He pulled harder. After an arduous fight, George and Jack got the monster bass to the bank and put it in Jack's truck and set off to Helena, the closest town.

George and Jack pulled up to the store of J.J. Hall and Company.  They knew they had something special, certainly the biggest bass they ever saw and naturally they wanted to show it off.   As they strode into the store to exhibit their prized trophy, all eyes turned, gazed and bugged out in disbelief.

George laid the lifeless bass on a pair of scales.  No one would question the accuracy of these scales which were actually the official scales of the Helena Post Office.  The needle stopped at twenty-two pounds and four ounces.  Someone grabbed up a measuring tape and wrapped it around the twenty-eight inches of the fish's girth and then laid it out on the counter and marked off thirty-two inches.

      There were no digital cameras in those days and certainly not any cell phone cameras.  It was more than six decades before any purported photograph appeared.  The one that did showed an unidentified man and an unidentified young boy holding a big fish.  The palm trees in the picture's background still stand on the post office property and lend some credence to its authenticity.

Someone suggested that Perry submit his fish to Field and Stream Magazine as a part of their annual fishing contest.  Obviously George won it  that year.  Though George Perry was a legend in the Big Bend region of the Ocmulgee River, he never received much of any national recognition until later in life and more so after he died.    As a part of his prize winnings, George did receive a shotgun, a pair of boots, a rod and real and a tackle box, a  seventy-five-dollar value, as the catcher of the biggest fish of the year.   Today his picture and story would be all over the Internet and plastered in every fishing magazine in the country.   Just to put the doubters to rest, George went out and won the contest again in 1934, with a bass weighing a mere thirteen pounds and fourteen ounces.

So what did George Perry do with his big fish?  No, he didn't have it mounted and put on his wall.  He did what every country boy of the 1930s would have done. He gave it to his mama, who cut it up into pieces and fried it in a big cast iron pan. Mrs. Laura served the world record fish with some tomatoes and onions she picked out of her garden and a mess of good old fashioned skillet-fried cornbread.  The Perry's finished off the rest of fish the next day, much to the consternation of ichthyologists around the world.

Jack Page seemingly disappeared.  No one ever seemed to know whatever happened to Jack.  Maybe he left Telfair County to see if he could catch an even bigger fish, always regretting the fact that it could have been his turn to cast the lure into Montgomery Lake that day.

George Perry put aside his fishing tackle as a vocation and took up an interest in aviation.  He worked on planes and opened a flying service in Brunswick.  In 1973, at the age of sixty-one and before he could tell the complete story of his world record catch, George Perry crashed into the side of a mountain near Birmingham, Alabama while ferrying an airplane.

No one in these parts ever caught a more celebrated fish.  Kelly Ward of Laurens County did manage to snare the largest striped bass ever caught in Georgia when he reeled in a 63-pounder in the Oconee River in 1967.  Some say it might have rivaled the world record had it been weighed immediately after Ward caught the big fish.

Catching the world's biggest large mouth bass is no secret.  There are some necessary skills; careful planning, good weather, and a lot of luck that goes into landing the big one. In the words of my late daddy, who considered himself a fine fisherman, when it comes right down to it, "sometimes, you just have to hold your mouth right."

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