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Investigative report: Perry's bass

Updated: June 5, 2006, 9:00 AM ET
By Bill Baab | BASSMASTER Magazine, June 2006
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George Washington Perry's world record largemouth bass has nearly come back to life. More than 70 years after the 22-pound, 4-ounce fish was caught in Georgia's Montgomery Lake, it seems we have photographic proof that this fish existed, and that it was, in fact, world class.

The photograph was discovered in 2005 by Jerry Johnson of Waycross, Ga., in the effects of his late aunt, Mildred Johnson of Alma, Ga. The photo shows a man helping a little boy hold up a huge female bass, its belly distended by unspawned eggs. While the people in the photo remain unidentified, there is little doubt that this 20-pound-class bass is Perry's fish. Research has connected the Johnson and Perry families, while a pair of palm trees in the photo's background positively identify the site where the fish was weighed.

"Those palm trees still exist next door to the Helena, Ga., post office," said George L. "Dazy" Perry of Hiawassee, Ga. "Everybody familiar with my father's record knows he had the fish weighed at the Helena post office. A more modern building has replaced the original, but it's on the same site as the old one," said Perry, a retired Delta Airlines pilot.

His nickname was bestowed upon him by his father. "He called me 'Lazy Dazy' because I slept a lot as a kid," Perry explained. The "Dazy" part stuck with him throughout his 38-year career as a pilot; even today, his wife, Debbie, and friends address him by that moniker. The snapshot could be just one of many taken that late spring day. After all, the fish was the talk of the tiny town of Helena on June 2, 1932. And human nature being what it is, Perry's friends and neighbors probably came to the area to pose with the fish. The little barefoot boy, who appears to be 5 or 6 years old, remains unidentified, but could be a neighbor's child who came over to see what all the fuss was about. As for the man, he could be Jack Page, who was Perry's fishing partner on that historic day.

Little is known about Page, other than that he was older than George Perry and owned a Model T truck the pair used to drive to Montgomery Lake some 20 miles from Helena.

The shape of the fish, when matched with others in the 20-pound-plus class, is consistent with those caught by Californians Ray Easley in 1980, Bob Crupi in 1990 and Mike Arujo in 1991.

Perry family recollections always indicated that no photos of the fish were known, but a 2003 discovery of correspondence between Perry and the Creek Chub Bait Co. of Garrett, Ind., revealed that the world record holder had mailed photos to the firm. He had caught the fish on Creek Chub's Fintail Shiner. The letters are now the property of Bassmaster Senior Editor Ken Duke. "You will remember that in 1932 I landed the present worlds record Large Mouth Black Bass that weighed 22 1/4 pounds," Perry wrote to the company in a letter dated June 3, 1935. "You will also remember me sending you a photo of the 22 1/4 lb. Bass. The photo was, however, not a real good photo. I now have a real good picture of myself and the big Bass togather (sic), so if you would like to have a copy of the photo, I will be pleased to let you use it in your advertiseing (sic). In return for the photo I would like to get some of your good Baits."

The photo might not have surfaced had it not been for the curiosity and perseverance of Lee Howard, a one-time professional bass fisherman who is head guide and manager of Upper Hi Fly, a fishing and outfitters store in Hiawassee, Ga.

"I've always had an interest in the world record bass and when I saw the photo, I thought it could have some possibilities," said Howard. The fact that the photo was even in the public domain was the result of a bizarre set of circumstances.

Johnson e-mailed the photo to Jimmy Jacobs, editor of Florida Game & Fish. Jacobs published the photo in the July 2005 issue with a note asking for help in identifying it; he later sent the photo to the International Game Fish Association in Dania Beach, Fla. It was published in the association's magazine, International Angler, in October 2005, and IGFA member Lee Howard spotted it.

"I called Jimmy Jacobs and asked him to e-mail the photo to me," said Howard, who used genealogical records on the Internet to connect the Johnson and Perry families. "I first perused cemetery records, but kept reaching dead ends, no pun intended, and finally paid $40 to join Genealogy.com."

One of the first items he found was a message from a David E. Johnson asking for help concerning "the Perrys from Telfair County Georgia. My grandfather was James Bowen Perry, whose brothers were John S., Edward and George Washington."

Once Howard made the connection, he contacted his friend, Dazy, whom he had met when the latter visited the store a few years before, and showed him the photo. Later, Howard took a copy of the photo and had it published in The Telfair Enterprise in McRae-Helena, Ga., with a plea to readers to help identify the man and boy.

"When I saw the cigarette in the man's mouth, I knew it wasn't my dad because he didn't smoke," Perry said. "I believe the picture was taken by Aunt Mae (the former Lelia Mae Walden who married James Bowen Perry in the early 1930s, according to family records). I don't know who the little boy might be. "When I was growing up, I rarely spoke to my father about the fish. Not getting the story from his own lips is something I'll always regret," the 62-year-old Perry said. "I'd always meant to, but never got around to it and then he was gone," he explained, referring to his father's death in a January 1974 plane crash near Birmingham, Ala.

Although he never heard the story firsthand, Dazy can now take a look at what he believes is the fish his father caught — the bass that has become the Holy Grail of bass fishing. And if the evidence stands true and this is the Perry bass, the many questions surrounding the integrity of the world record fish have been answered. The fish was not a striper, as some have thought. And the weight of the fish was not grossly exaggerated, as some have thought. It seems the Montgomery Lake bass deserves the recognition of being the biggest largemouth ever officially recorded, and George Washington Perry still deserves to be recognized as the angler who caught it.

Lingering questions

Only two other mysteries surround the world record bass: First, what happened to Jack Page, Perry's companion on the trip to Montgomery Lake? There are no Pages in a list of surnames in the Telfair County History, 1807-1987. Unfortunately, the Telfair County courthouse burned in 1934, destroying records that could have helped identify the man who witnessed the catch.

Secondly, who is the boy pictured holding the bass? Although he may be too young to remember the day the world record was caught, he might be able to point to other witnesses of the weighing of the bass. If you have any information leading to information about Jack Page or the boy pictured, please e-mail editorial@bassmaster.com.

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