A new mystery has emerged that could shed new light on the elusive story of the world-record bass landed in Georgia in 1932. June 2 marked the 81st anniversary of the day a young farmer named George W. Perry cast his only lure into Montgomery Lake, an Ocmulgee River oxbow in Telfair County, landing a 22-lb., 4-oz. largemouth and a place in angling history. It was also the day a cryptic email appeared in the inbox of longtime Augusta Chronicle outdoors writer Bill Baab, whose 2009 book, “Remembering George W. Perry,” included all that had been learned about the famous fish.
Attached to the e-mail was a scan of a faded photograph, with a handwritten date of June 2, 1932, that appeared to show a young George Perry holding a mammoth bass at the edge of a swamp or lake. The e-mail also included a simple message: “Happy Anniversary.” Baab was stunned.
The absence of photos of the giant bass fueled speculation for decades over whether the big fish even existed, or if it was truly as hefty as the record books say it was. It is known that Perry and his companion that day, an older fellow named Jack Page, took the fish to Helena, Ga., where it was weighed on certified scales by the proprietor of a general store. It easily won a monthly big-fish contest sponsored by Field & Stream magazine, after which it was certified as the new world record. But what about photos?
Perry, of course, did what most Depression-era anglers did with their catch: The 20-year-old farmer took it home, and he ate it.
There were photos taken, however, as documented in a series of letters salvaged from the archives of the Creek Chub Bait Company of Garrett, Indiana, maker of the “Fintail Shiner” that Perry used to catch the fish.
Among the correspondence between Perry and the tackle company’s marketing managers was a letter penned by Perry dated June 3, 1935:
“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 Creek Chub. “You will also remember me sending you a photo of the 22 1/4-pound bass. The photo was, however, not a real good photo. I now have a real good picture of myself and the Big Bass together, so if you would like to have a copy, I will be pleased to let you use it in your advertising,” Perry wrote.
All Perry wanted in return was a handful of Creek Chub lures to fish with. In a response later that month, Creek Chub accepted Perry’s offer.
“We would like to have a picture of the big bass you mention for our files and will be glad to reimburse you for it,” the company wrote back.
No such photo ever appeared in the company’s catalogs or advertisements, and the fate of the images Perry referenced remained unknown.
Then, in 2006, a photo from the personal effects of a distant Perry relative turned up, offering the angling world its first glimpse of the Perry bass, and creating yet more mysteries at the same time. The picture, believed to have been taken in Helena, shows a man holding the giant fish as a child poses in the foreground.
Their identities, Baab said, remain a mystery, although there is a possibility that the “smoking man” could be Jack Page, the older companion Perry often named as his fishing partner that day on Montgomery Lake.
If the image did show Jack Page, that could explain Perry’s letter to Creek Chub offering the “real good picture of myself and the Big Bass” to replace the earlier image he characterized as “not a real good photo.”
The young man in the image e-mailed to Baab does appear to be a young George Perry, but without an original print to examine, its authenticity is difficult, perhaps impossible, to determine.
The person who e-mailed the photo identified himself as a relative of Jack Page and said the image was found in a barn the family owned in northern Florida, explaining its dirty, stained condition. Then the sender declined to answer further questions, other than to say Jack Page died in the 1950s. Baab, who could find little information on Jack Page while researching his biography on Perry, repeatedly tried to contact the fellow, with no further response.
Is the image genuine?
Baab isn’t sure. The fish, he said, doesn’t appear to be a 22-pounder. But there is no way to tell.
Perry spent his adult years in Brunswick, where he became a self-taught pilot and businessman. He died in 1974, at the age of 61, when the plane he was flying crashed into a hillside near Birmingham, Ala. With him died many of the details that remain as murky today as the tannin-stained waters of Telfair Lake must have been back in 1932.
Despite the passage of eight decades, Perry’s bass remains the reigning world-record largemouth, although a Japanese angler, Manabu Kurita, landed a fish in Japan’s Lake Biwa in 2009 that was later certified as a tie with the Perry fish.