Florida’s fabulous bass - Major League Fishing

Florida’s fabulous bass

January 19, 2001 • Jeff Schroeder • Archives

When it comes to record bass, look no further than the state of Florida

The Sunshine State’s official largemouth bass state record stands at 17.27 pounds, or 17 pounds, 4 ¼ ounces. That mark ranks Florida fifth among the 50 states for largemouth records. A man named Billy O’Berry caught the record fish in August 1986. He took the largemouth from an unnamed lake in Polk County that has since dried up.

But that is merely the official Florida state record. Unofficially, bigger bass have been pulled from Florida’s waters, like W.A. Witt’s 19-pound lunker that he caught on Lake Tarpon in Pinellas County in the `40s. Then there’s a fabled photograph from 1923 that shows a man named Frederick “Fritz” Friebel holding a largemouth said to weigh 20.13 pounds.

But both of these fish were caught before the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) implemented modern record-keeping practices to keep track of Florida’s biggest bass, so they remain unofficial records in the eyes of the law. But state records – especially fish records – are generally open to much interpretation. In fact, while the FWC maintains O’Berry’s 17.27 as the official largemouth record, it pays homage to Friebel’s 20.13 by listing it below O’Berry’s and marking it with an asterisk – a la Roger Maris’ old record of 61 homeruns.

So, if we were to abide by the spirit of the record and not so much the law, Florida’s 20.13 would move the state up to third on the state-record largemouth list – behind only California’s mark of 21.12 and Georgia’s 22.40. And, from a certain unique perspective, that puts Florida on top in the largemouth category. Here’s how: California’s oversized-largemouth population was imported from Florida, so that 21.12 – caught at Lake Castaic by Michael Arujo in post-Florida-strain-introduction 1991 – really belongs to the Sunshine State as well. And Georgia’s 22.40 pounds? Well, that’s the hallowed mark for the world-record largemouth bass set by George Perry on Montgomery Lake back in 1932. That record is 69 years old and it is virtually untouchable.

So Florida’s top notch as far as big bass go. In America, if you’re looking for world-class largemouth bass, heading to Florida is one of your best bets. And chances are, if you catch a world-class bass elsewhere in America – like California, Texas and Louisiana, for example – you’ve caught a Florida-strain largemouth. State wildlife agencies everywhere are utilizing Florida-strain stocking programs to beef up their bass fisheries.

So don’t hedge your bets when the Wal-Mart FLW Tour kicks off the 2001 season at Lake Okeechobee on Wednesday. These are the world’s best professional anglers. They’re fishing, in competition, on one of the nation’s largest bodies of inland water, which holds some of the nation’s biggest largemouth bass. And the 350 competitors collective goal is to bring home the heaviest weight – every day for four days straight.

If conditions were any better for someone to land a state-record largemouth, it would be tough to find them. That’s why the Visa $2 Million Challenge looks pretty sweet right about now. In the contest, if a pro angler catches a state-record bass in competition, that angler and one lucky fan – who’s paired with the angler in the contest – each win a million bucks. The contest is free. The payout is huge.

Again, for the record, here’s the target weight:

Official Florida state largemouth bass record
17.27 pounds, caught July 6, 1986, by Billy O’Berry in Polk County

Sign up for the Visa $2 Million Challenge.