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Follies, frauds and hoaxes

Throw seven figures at something and you're bound to create some interest. That's the way it's been for the world record largemouth bass ever since the mid-1970s when someone decided that a new record would be worth more than $1 million.

In the 77 years since George Perry caught the current record, there have been several claims to usurp Perry's spot. They range from the surreal to the sublime. Here are just a few of the highlights.

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From the realm of good-natured fakes comes none other than A.J. "Junior" Samples and his claimed 22-pound, 9-ounce largemouth bass from Georgia's Lake Lanier in the spring of 1967. As Junior told it, he was out on Lanier fishing with a live spring lizard when the behemoth struck. He battled her to the boat with his little "Zeby-co" reel and managed to lift her aboard. After that, things got a little hazy because Junior had been imbibing rather heavily, but he still had the head of the bass when reporters appeared — and it was huge! Junior couldn't quite remember which marina weighed the bass for him, but he did recall the weight. He had eclipsed the world record by 5 ounces.

Junior had definitely been over-served, but the giant fish head in his yard wasn't a bass; it was a grouper that had been caught by a friend. Samples saw it and decided to concoct the world record story. The funniest part of it was that several lakeside marinas claimed to have weighed the bass for him. When he appeared on the Atlanta television news telling his tale, he was spotted by some talent scouts and parlayed his prank into a long run on Hee Haw.

Everybody doubts Raymond

In 1974, a Pennsylvania transplant living in Madeira Beach, Fla., claimed to have caught a 24-pound, 12-ounce bass from Lake Tohopekaliga on a plastic worm. Raymond V. Tomer reported his catch to the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in order to enter it in the Florida State Fishing Contest. He and his witnesses claimed that the lunker measured 39 1/2 inches in length and 30 inches in girth. Tomer tried to preserve the bass on ice, but his cooler wasn't big enough so he decided to filet it. Unfortunately for Tomer, the bass had spoiled, so he nailed the head to a post where raccoons ate it overnight.

Not surprisingly, state officials did not certify Tomer's catch, citing a lack of remains, indefinite photographic evidence and inconclusive evidence of accurate measurements as their reasons. Applying some well-regarded formulas to the claimed dimensions of Tomer's bass indicate it would have weighed at least 35 pounds! Taking a look at the photographs, it seems unlikely that his fish weighed more than half what he claimed.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Catch a big enough bass and someone will surely assume you stuffed the fish full of lead. Well, when Sandra W. DeFresco caught a largemouth weighing 21 pounds, 10 ounces from Lake Miramar in March of 1988, no one suspected a thing ... at first. After all, Miramar had produced giants before, including a 19-8 just two weeks earlier from the very same area.

But when DeFresco sent her bass out to be mounted, the taxidermist found a 2-pound, 8 3/4-ounce diving weight inside the bass.

How did it get there?

No one fessed up to any wrongdoing, but area biologists surmised that the bass had swallowed (or, more likely, been force-fed) the weight quite a while before DeFresco "caught" it since the fish was regenerating tissue to hold the weight in place. Suspicions eventually died away, and the bass was certified at 19 pounds, 1 ounce — the original total less the diving weight.

But if speculation is your thing, you could take the weight of the bass that had been caught a few weeks earlier (19-8), add the diving weight plus a baitfish (trout) or two (that might have been regurgitated during the fight) and conclude that it's at least possible someone thought it would eclipse the existing world record.

Mystery of the Nile

Do you pack a rod and reel with you when you're vacation? If you're like a lot of anglers, you try to schedule your vacations near great bass fishing destinations like Orlando, Fla., Birmingham, Ala., or Cairo, Egypt.

Well, according to the tabloid Weekly World News, Fred Crellon, an insurance salesman from Atlanta, Ga., was ready for any fishing opportunities when his tourist group went to visit the Great Pyramid at Cheops.

"And while everybody else was gawking at the pyramid, I sneaked down to the bank of a little lake that formed when the Nile flooded a few weeks earlier," Crellon was quoted as saying. "I had a plastic worm on the end of the line and flicked it out about 35 yards. As God as my witness, the lure had not even hit the water when that bass came up like a rocket."

"That bass," said Crellon, "fought like nobody's business," weighed 24 pounds, 8 ounces and cost the angler $75 — the fine for fishing without a license.

Although the wildlife officer who ticketed Crellon was there to witness the catch (he also forced him to release the fish) and a British tourist snapped a photo of the leaping largemouth, no other images of the catch exist, and Crellon's application for world record status apparently never made it to the International Game Fish Association.

Next week there's more. We'll tell the story of an April Fool's joke, a catch that went foul and a man without a scale.