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Gronaw: Looking for that state record bass

Gronaw: Looking for that state record bass
This 24-inch Piney Run largemouth had the length, but fell way short of weight requirements for state-record proportions. Still a giant by any measure. (Jim Gronaw photo)

It is literally every bass fisherman’s dream — to one day catch a state record largemouth bass.

A fish of a lifetime. No, two lifetimes!

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A bucket-list thing. Something that goes beyond epic, beyond the dream, beyond the actually “catching” of the fish. Can words possibly describe it? And, how realistic is it to even consider it happening to the average angler?

In reality, most state record bass catches, nationwide, are achieved by average, everyday anglers like you and I. The current Maryland record largemouth bass was caught in August, 2013 by Colton Lambert from a Southern Maryland farm pond. That fish weighed 11 pounds, 6 ounces, and measured 26 inches long.

The photos of the fish appear to be that of a huge female that had lost weight from the spawn (eggs) and could have been heavier if caught in early March before depositing her roe. Still it was a phenomenal catch, eclipsing the former title holder of 11.18 pounds taken from the tidal Potomac River in January, 2008 by Justin Riley.

Prior to that, the record was 11 pound, 2 ounces caught by Rodney Cockrell in September, 1983, again from a Southern Maryland farm pond. Until Riley’s fish, Cockrell’s bass held the top spot for almost 25 years.

It takes many factors to grow a bass that large in Free State waters. One, you need optimal conditions with abundant high-protein forage such as various shad species (a tidal water plus), golden shiners (native to many Maryland waters) mummichogs or bull minnows and in some instances, stocked trout.

Every so often we will see a huge largemouth registered from one of our inland lakes or reservoirs that receives stockings of rainbow and golden trout. Let’s face it — 10- to 12-inch stockies are big bass candy. That California/trout/giant bass gig is not a west coast exclusive.

I am a firm believer that wherever bass and stocked trout cross paths that giants are a possibility.

Angling pressure could also be a factor. However, with the on-going tendency for anglers to release even the biggest bass they catch, one might surmise that an 8-pounder could make nine and a ten could become an 11-pounder, if not kept for a trophy. But with today’s taxidermists doing such great replica work, it seems literally senseless in keeping a giant unless it is mortally wounded or stressed during capture. Angling pressure makes bass more difficult to catch but doesn’t keep them from feeding and growing larger.

One might consider the Baltimore and Washington area water supply reservoirs for a possible location for a record catch. Although they are all fished heavily, they all have boating limitations, trolling motor only regulations and host a variety of forage options. In the years gone by the classic “Fishing In Maryland” publication would list many, many citation largemouths exceeding the five-pound minimum in their annual magazine.

This vintage photo shows my son Matt with a monster farm pond bass. Will the next record be taken from a similar small, secluded water? Odds are that it will.
This vintage photo shows my son Matt with a monster farm pond bass. Will the next record be taken from a similar small, secluded water? Odds are that it will. (Jim Gronaw photo)

To my knowledge, only Loch Raven, Liberty, and Prettyboy ever yielded bass that hit the 10-pound mark — huge fish by anyone’s standards. And at that, this was not a yearly occurrence. Often, the largest reservoir bass on any given year was a fish in the upper eight to perhaps nine-pound category, still trophies.

I’ll admit that I have weighed precious few bass other than those I officiated over in local tournaments. In my own angling experiences, I have caught and released five or six largemouths that were legit 23-, 24-inchers.

Some of those fish were heavy and other were on the slim side. The Potomac bass that Riley caught back in January, 2008 was 24.25 inches and weighed 11.18 (11 pounds, 2.88 ounces), very heavy for that length.

The 24-inch fish that my son Matt and I have caught may — may — have gone eight pounds and not much more.

Abundant preyfish options can put tidal fish on the big end, despite battling tidal currents every 6½ hours.

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Could the Potomac yield yet another champion? It is certainly possible as fish in the 26-inch range have been reported in recent seasons. Get one that is heavy and we could see a new record.

Smaller, fertile lakes could be high on the hit list for a possible giant. Lakes like Greenbriar, Cunningham Falls and Rocky Gap get a truckload of hatchery trout each spring and fall — something that could nourish a new record.

In fact, Rocky Gap, aka Lake Habeeb, once held the state record at 10-9, and I have been informed that a few other double-digit bass had been electro-shocked there.

But more than likely, the next Maryland record largemouth bass will come from another Southern Maryland or Eastern Shore farm or mill pond that receives little or no angling pressure, has a large population of golden shiners and enjoys a longer growing season simply by being 100 miles further south than the Mason-Dixon waters. Anglers may argue that private water fish are not legitimate for record consideration.

Perhaps the state could adopt a system like Texas or Iowa where the authorities keep records for both public and private water catches. What ever the case, big, trophy, even record-class bass are indeed fish that dreams are made of.

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