Former FLW angler owns state spotted bass record
Last year, anglers broke a remarkable four of Alabama’s state fish records. While they weren’t the kind of records that might interest the participants of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour’s Visa $2 Million Challenge (new marks were set for yellow perch, white crappie, yellow bass and redeye bass), it showed that Alabama is clearly fertile ground for record-breaking fish.
Few anglers are more familiar with Alabama bass fishing records than former FLW Tour competitor Philip Terry. In March 1978, Terry was practice-fishing for a local tournament on Lewis Smith Lake, northwest of Birmingham, when he caught an 8-pound, 15-ounce spotted bass. Not only did the massive fish break the Alabama state record for spotted bass, at the time it established a new world record.
“I knew it was big when I caught it, but I didn’t know how big it was,” Terry said.
While slow-rolling a spinnerbait in about 20 feet of water, Terry felt his line become “heavy,” as he put it, several times. Finally, he gave his rod a jerk and hooked a big bass.
“It got it the third time around,” he said. “That fish dragged me all the way around the boat one time.”
When Terry, who was 14 years old and fishing with his father at the time, landed the beast, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. His dad had just caught an 8-pound, 3-ounce largemouth shortly beforehand and Terry thought he had landed another bigmouth.
Terry talked his father into taking the fish to a grocery store near their home in Decatur that had a certified scale. There, the fish officially weighed in at 8 pounds, 15 ounces.
“I was disappointed when we weighed it,” he said. “I was hoping it would weigh 9 pounds.”
Still, it would have been a trophy largemouth bass for the young angler. He kept the fish in the freezer until he earned enough money to mount it. However, the more Terry and his fishing buddies examined the bass, the more they wondered whether or not it was a largemouth bass at all.
“It had a smaller mouth than most largemouth bass and it had a burr on its tongue, which a largemouth doesn’t have,” he said.
He called the Alabama Department of Fisheries and later took the fish to the University of Auburn to verify that it could be, indeed, a spotted bass. It was. The next thing he knew, Terry was holding onto a possible state- and world-record fish. The previous spotted bass world record weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces and was caught – maybe not so coincidentally – in Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake.
After filling out all the necessary paperwork, Terry’s mammoth fish was officially certified as the world record spotted bass by the International Game and Fish Association. He became a hero among the local fishing circles in and around his hometown of Trinity.
“It’s just something I’ll always remember,” he said.
While the world record lasted a relatively brief nine years, Terry – who eventually went on to fish competitively as a co-angler for several years on the FLW Tour, even placing as high as third at a tournament on Wheeler Lake, Ala., in 1998 – couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding fishing experience than owning a world record.
Said Terry, “The opportunity to tell that story to my friends is priceless. For a lifetime experience, it was extremely valuable.”
The record outlook
Terry’s 8-pound, 15-ounce spotted bass still stands as the Alabama state record. The largemouth record is 16 pounds, 8 ounces, caught in 1987 by Thomas Burgin on Mountain View Lake; and the smallmouth record is 10 pounds, 8 ounces, caught by Owen F. Smith on Wheeler Dam tailwater in 1950.
So how does it look for competitors driven to break these records and catch a million-dollar state-record fish at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour’s third stop at Lake Martin, starting March 21?
Well, good and bad.
First of all, Lake Martin does not host a smallmouth bass population, so that record is out. That effectively lowers the odds, as outlined by the Visa $2 Million Challenge, by a third.
Secondly, and maybe more importantly, state biologists say that while Lake Martin is home to a healthy and abundant largemouth bass population, few, if any, of the full-size adult largemouths are of the larger Florida-strain variety of largemouth that tends to hold state records – including the 1987 Alabama state record. Alabama’s record largemouth heyday came during the 1980s when the Department of Fisheries’ Florida-strain stocking program saw its fish come of age in smaller, private lakes around the state. Assistant Chief of Fisheries William Nichols remembered that two or three subsequent largemouth bass records were set at that time.
“There was a flurry of state-record bass in the `80s that kind of ended with the current record,” Nichols said.
One of the main reasons for a decline in record largemouth bass is that the Department of Fisheries has had to reevaluate its Florida-strain stocking program. Biologists found that it was difficult to introduce the Florida bass fingerlings into large impoundments, like Lake Martin, where already healthy, native bass populations dominated and eliminated the new bass systematically. So they decided to reemploy their Florida-strain bass strategies in just a few smaller ponds around the state.
“The success rate wasn’t very good, so we kind of switched gears,” said Nichols. “You’re talking about really huge systems that you’re trying to impact.”
However, the Lake Martin record bass outlook takes a turn for the better when it comes to spotted bass. Some 70 percent of the bass population in Lake Martin is the spotted variety. With an increased population, the odds of a record spotted bass coming out of the lake during the tournament are increased.
Also, let’s not forget that both the spotted and largemouth bass populations will be in the pre-spawning and spawning stages at the tournament. That will move the big fish up onto the beds and within a much closer range for the anglers. There will undoubtedly be some huge fish pulled out of Lake Martin during the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW tournament.
“It’s not impossible that somebody could catch a state record there,” said Nichols. “The fishery on Lake Martin is a good fishery.”
And if the year 2000 was any indicator of recent fishing trends in Alabama – four state records were broken, after all – maybe 2001 will be more of the same.