Friday, August 14, 2009
Holiest of Holies
By Ken Duke Senior Editor, BASS Publications
In the world of bass fishing, there's no bigger tournament than the Bassmaster Classic, no more important species than the largemouth and no greater catch than the all-tackle world record. Yes, the line class records are cute, and the anglers who hold those spots in the books should be proud of their accomplishments, but the world sighs a collective ho-hum until you start talking about the real record, the all-tackle record.
It's really the only one that matters.
So when Manabu Kurita steps into the spotlight with a bass that reportedly weighs about an ounce more than the existing and frighteningly long-standing record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces, the bass fishing world holds its collective breath in anticipation.
No, we don't quite gasp, like we did when Mac Weakley brought a 25-1 to the scales a couple of years ago. And we don't scratch our heads like we did when Paul Duclos claimed a 24-pounder but didn't hang onto it long enough to get a certified weight.
Both those catches were flawed. Weakley foul hooked his giant. Duclos ... well where do you start?
But Kurita's fish seems different, a least at first. It looks ... legitimate, or at least like it might be on the up and up, and that's all the record folks could possibly ask for in this chase that's lasted more than the average lifetime. Over the past 20 or so years, there have been too many close calls, too many hoaxes and too many out and out frauds.
We've got to be sure that Kurita's bass is the real deal.
Yes, it's true that there are more questions than answers about George Perry's longstanding record. What happened to the only witness to the catch? Why do we have no verifiable photos? How could Field & Stream lose Perry's record application?
It's actually the same thing that confounds us about Perry's catch that saves it for most of us. It happened so long ago that we practically expect the story to be full of holes. Besides, by the time the world truly started to care about the record, Perry was dead, the Field & Stream file was lost and the trail was colder than a jigging spoon in January.
No more. Today we have everything we need to get the story right. Manabu Kurita is alive and well. His catch was witnessed and carefully documented. We have photos of the fish and video of the angler.
We even have the International Game Fish Association at the ready to analyze the application, scrutinize the catch, dot all the "i"s and cross all the "t"s. The world is a different place 77 years after Perry's catch, and the angling public has different standards and expectations.
Back when Perry caught his historic bass, all that was on the line was about $75 worth of hunting and fishing gear in the Field & Stream Big Fish Contest. There was no such thing as a "world record" because Field & Stream hadn't thought of it yet. Little glory was on the line in 1932 because trout was the undisputed king of freshwater fishing not bass. Fishing was a popular sport, but mostly because it provided some food for the table. The industry was small, and a catch like Perry's would have gone completely unnoticed if the Georgia farm boy didn't want to win that prize package. In fact, had a witness to the weighing not brought the magazine contest to Perry's attention, it would be someone else's record today and the catch would be the stuff of small town legend.
Things are much different today.
We have a world record that millions of anglers care about and have memorized since they were old enough to hear about it. The bass is now the undisputed lord of freshwater, and Ray Scott kick-started an industry that is now billions of dollars strong.
And that's why great care must be taken with this record. It's why the IGFA must look at Kurita's application through a magnifying glass, and more than once at that. It's why every research tool available must be used to make absolutely certain that Kurita's bass deserves to be on top of fishing's most important mountain 3 not because Perry has deserved to hold that spot for so long, but because we can do the due diligence now.
In addition to all the usual tools available to the IGFA sworn affidavits, scale inspections, eyewitness testimony, line samples and numerous photographs is one that has received little attention in all the coverage, and that is the polygraph test.
Since 2005, at the insistence of BASS founder and then-IGFA Trustee Ray Scott, the record application form has contained the following sentence: "IGFA reserves the right to employ verification procedures such as polygraph tests to determine the authenticity of record claims."
Polygraphs have been around a long time (more than 120 years) and are controversial in many circles. It's well known that polygraph test results are not admissible as evidence in most courts around the world, but that doesn't make the polygraph useless here. In several applications for record catches, the applicant withdrew his application rather than face the polygraph.
That's all we need to know about those record claimants.
In other cases, bad polygraph results might be enough to tighten up the investigation and get to a better understanding of the truth.
Should a bad polygraph test be enough, on its own, to disqualify a potential record catch? Probably not, but it might be the best tool we have to get to the truth.
Whoever is fortunate enough to catch a world record largemouth bass is going to be called a liar, whether it's Billy Graham, the Pope, George Perry or Manabu Kurita. It only makes sense that we use whatever means we can to determine whether or not the accusations are true, especially when these measures are relatively inexpensive and already built into the IGFA Record Application.
And if Kurita passes every test, let no one among us say he doesn't deserve to take his spot atop fishing's loftiest mountain.