19.6 lb. bass at Lake Perris???


Mar 11, 2001
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Jim Matthews Column


It's the season: Big bass, big controversy

Serious bass fishermen are a fun crowd. Well, sort of.

The phone has been jingling and the e-mails sizzling for the past two weeks since the first reports hit of the new lake record largemouth bass caught at Lake Perris -- an 18-pounder landed by Will Steele of Salmon, Idaho, while fishing with well-known big fish angler Jerry Rago of Independence.

Then there was last week's report of a 19.6-pound largemouth, also caught at Lake Perris. That one was never weighed on a certified scale, and no pictures of this fish have surfaced yet, so no one is calling it the new lake record.

In fact, anglers are calling both catches a lot of other things -- and legitimate is rarely a word you hear for either one.

This should come of no surprise to anyone who's followed the big bass scene, or bass fishing in general for that matter. This is a crowd that will accuse anyone who catches a big fish of being everything from a snagger to a dynamiter and all stops in between. Mostly I am amused by how all the guys who've caught big fish -- legitimately as far as I can tell -- are suspicious of all of the other anglers who catch big fish.

I've yet to decide if it's because all of these guys just have such a high regard for themselves that they don't believe anyone else can figure out how to catch the bruisers; or its that these anglers know that those big boys can't be caught legally -- know that from personal experience -- and figure, like themselves, everyone must be fishing illegally.

Knowing many of them, I believe its the former. They all believe its the latter and they are the only legal fisherman out there.

Steele and Rago did everything right when they weighed in the lake record 18-pounder. Lots of people saw the fish, saw the weighing, and took photos. Then the fish was released. There really was an 18-pounder caught. It was caught legitimately. Will you bass guys quit whining?

The 19.6-pounder might be another story, however. As I've been able to piece it together, without talking with the guy who supposedly caught the fish, an angler was trolling with a nine-inch Osprey Lure -- a big trout-like swim bait -- and caught the big boy. One angler, who posted a message on a San Diego-based fishing web site, witnessed the catch and even saw the guy weigh it on his boat scale (which are pretty darn accurate). He even took photos, he said in the post. A couple of other anglers, who also saw the catch, told the marina staff about the big fish. Everyone waited for the guy to show up and weigh the bass on the certified scale.

But then the mystery began. This fish was never weighed on the certified scale at the marina to claim the new lake record. No one seemed to really know who caught the fish, and people who said they did know the guy said he was a well-known poacher who used live trout for bait. Using live trout is illegal and ranks right next to dynamite on an ethical scale of minus one to minus 10.

I'm not sure I buy any of the accusations.

I'd like to think the guy just knew it wasn't a world record, wasn't in the national big fish contest that makes the biggest bass in the nation worth $25,000 each year if you're entered, didn't care about the lake record, and let the fish go. Heck a guy in Northern California did this with a potential world record 24-pounder a couple of years ago because he was more concerned about the health of the bass than the world record. All he got for it was flack.

I did check Bart Crabb's book, "The Quest for the World Record Bass," and for those of you who like conspiracy theories, tarot cards, and want to draw conclusions where none exist, the 19.6-pounder would be 13th on the all-time list. Twilight Zone music, please.

Apparently all this doesn't matter much whether you were for the guy who caught the 19.6 or against him; whether or not you believe Steele caught his 18-pounder on Rago's home-made Generic Trout swim bait. Virtually all of the anglers who called or sent e-mails, or who responded to my calls and e-mails, said the same thing about Lake Perris. It was going to pop a 20-pounder this year, and with a trout plant slated for this week, it was likely to happen just any day now.

A bigger miracle would be having anglers believe the catch was legitimate.


Well-known member
Mar 13, 2001
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Spectr  A 19.6 lber is ok but I got a 20 lber and I threw it back in too.                 Fubar


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Sep 5, 2001
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The guy who holds the #2 spot at 22.01 lb lives a few houses down the street from me.  Good guy, smart and ethical.  He spends a lot of time on Castaic.  He's got a wall of fish that are over 15lbs.  Probably 30+ fish.  He knows what he's doing as I know about 2 other people who have ever caught one bass over 15 lbs in their lifetime.  For him it seems like it's just a matter of doing the right thing over and over again until he finally hits it...

If he ever does catch the world record, he can honestly say he worked for it and deserves it.

(Edited by songdog at 3:58 pm on Jan. 17, 2002)


Mar 12, 2001
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Fubar, I caught that exact fish, two years later.  He'd put on a couple lbs., but I didn't want the headache of managing all that money I'd have won, so I threw him back.

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