The biggest bass ever caught in Arkansas

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In March and April, thousands of Arkansas anglers have big bass on their minds. Largemouths spawn in shoreline shallows this time of year, making the fish easier to find and catch. And because the big sows are full of eggs, they weigh more. There’s no better season to catch the bass of lifetime.

For most Natural State anglers, a 10-pounder would be the fish of dreams. But some Arkansas waters have produced bucketmouths half again that size. Here are the stories of those fish.

No. 5: Maners’ monster

Located in Village Creek State Park near Wynne, Lake Austell covers only 85 acres. Despite its small size, however, in 1987, 1988 and 1989, this Cross County impoundment produced six largemouth bass weighing between 10 and 11 pounds, five between 11 and 12 pounds, and five from 12 to 13 pounds. An even bigger fish surfaced on Jan. 31, 1989.

Around 2 p.m. that day, Jimmy Maners of Wynne was working a crawfish-colored crankbait through a deep hole, when there was a sharp tap on his line. He set the hook and found himself fighting the biggest bass he’d ever seen.

“I knew it was a monster as soon as I saw it,” he said. “I figured right off it would go at least 13 or 14 pounds. I couldn’t get it in my net, so I hung one foot out of the boat and grabbed it with my hand. I’d had some big bass break off in Austell before, and I didn’t want this one to get away.”

Good fortune smiled on Maners, and in short order, he was headed to a store to weigh his catch. “The first store I weighed it at, they said it weighed 15 1/2 pounds,” Maners said. “But when it was weighed by the game warden later that night at a different store, the scales said 15 pounds, 12 ounces. That was the official weight.”

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No. 4: Billy’s big bass

Greers Ferry Lake near Heber Springs isn’t usually thought of as a lunker largemouth lake, but in 1988, it gave up the fourth largest bass ever caught in Arkansas.

Billy Glaze of Bald Knob and his brother-in-law David Padgett were fishing for walleyes and hybrid stripers near the dam around midnight on Jan. 1. It was 30 degrees outside, but fishing was hot. The anglers landed two nice hybrids and three big walleyes. Then something huge hit Glaze’s CC Spoon.

“I told David I thought I had a catfish or something when it first started fooling with my lure,” Glaze recalled later. “It tapped the lure about five times before starting to pull straight down on it. I gave him a five count and then hit him as hard as I could.

“When I finally saw what it was, I got pretty nervous. I’ve caught 8-pound bass, but this thing made them look like babies.”

The fish eluded the net twice, but the men finally landed it. Even after drying out on the drive home, the fish still weighed 16 1/2 pounds on a tackle-box scale. Glaze wanted to get the fish officially weighed but decided not to wake anyone because it was then 2:30 a.m. He packed the fish on ice and went to bed.

The bass was frozen solid the next day. When an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officer officially weighed the fish, it had been out of the water 13 hours. It still weighed 15 pounds, 15 ounces. Only three heavier largemouths have ever been documented in Arkansas.

No. 3: Caught in a net

In January 1979, a commercial fisherman pulled in a net placed in Millwood Lake near Ashdown. He’d caught big fish before — mostly catfish, buffaloes and carp. But the giant he found in this net was special. It was a largemouth bass weighing 16 pounds, 2 ounces.

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We know little about this fish. It is believed to have been confiscated by wildlife officers because it was kept illegally. (Commercial fishermen cannot possess largemouth bass.) Biologists determined it was a pure northern-strain largemouth, one of the biggest ever documented. Every other Arkansas bass exceeding 15 pounds has been a Florida-strain bass. For many years, the mounted fish was displayed at the AGFC office in Little Rock.

No. 2: A record to beat

Until March 2, 1976, a 13-pound, 4-ounce largemouth caught in Franklin County’s Charleston Lake was the Arkansas state record. But on that day, Aaron Mardis from Memphis, Tennessee, would obliterate that benchmark while fishing in the 300-acre Mallard Lake near Manila.

Mardis and his older brother Troy were on a return trip. They’d hooked and lost some real hawgs in late 1975 and early 1976 and wanted to try for them using bigger tackle. Aaron tied a chartreuse spinnerbait on his 30-pound-test line, then made his first cast.

“I felt him as soon as I got the bait down,” he said. “I set the hook, and over there, you can’t just set the hook once. You have to double clutch them, hit them twice. He went to open water, and I knew I had a chance to get him. I don’t know how long it took to land him, maybe two, maybe five minutes.”

The fish was huge, but the Mardis brothers never considered it might be a state record. Aaron thought the fish weighed 10 to 12 pounds and wanted to release it. But Troy believed the fish weighed more and convinced his brother to keep it. They trolled back to the bank, tossed the bass into the back of their truck and returned to fishing.

“We really fished hard then,” Aaron said, “because we were trying to break the state record. We didn’t have any idea we already had the record in the truck.”

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Thirty-six hours passed before the fish was officially weighed, yet it smashed the old record by 3 pounds. AGFC wildlife officer Paige Miller certified the fish’s weight at 16 pounds, 4 ounces, a record that still stands 40 years later.

No. 1: Un-Dunn

On Feb. 28, 2012, word got out that Mardis’ record had finally been broken. That day, Paul Crowder of Forrest City caught a bucketmouth weighing 16 pounds, 5 ounces in 80-acre Lake Dunn, a sister lake to Austell in Village Creek State Park. Crowder and his fish were instant news sensations.

On March 9, 2012, however, the AGFC issued a press release that said, “The AGFC discovered that a license was purchased for Crowder three hours after he claimed to have caught the bass. Crowder’s fishing license expired in April 2011. Under AGFC regulations, it is illegal for any person 16 years of age or older to fish without possessing a current Arkansas fishing license. State-record fish rules require that an angler hold a valid license at the time of the catch.”

Wildlife officers seized the fish as evidence, and Crowder was charged and convicted for fishing without a license.

Mark Oliver, then fisheries chief for AGFC, said he was disappointed that a bass large enough to be a state record couldn’t be certified because of illegal activity. “We are still confident in the size and weight of the fish and proud that such a monster was produced in Arkansas waters,” he said.

Someday, that lunker of lunkers is sure to wind up on the end of an angler’s line, and the record books will have to be amended to reflect a new champion. Until then, Aaron Mardis’ monster bass will stand as the biggest ever legally caught in Arkansas.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>