I wonder if George Perry had any idea then, just how popular bass fishing would become and how coveted his record would also become.
Bridging the Gap
About the time Manabu Kurita was stretching the limits of his Toray line on a potential world record, another individual, thousands of miles away, was remembering with nostalgia, her family and the changes her grandpa’s world record bass would bring their way.
Since childhood, Alison Perry has treasured the original photograph of her grandfather with his famous fish. Shortly after the picture of George and his fish was taken her grandfather, an accomplished pilot, died in a plane crash during a storm in Birmingham, Alabama.
Greatly missed, the family spoke of their grandpa with reverence. “Growing up, there was little talk about Grandpa’s fish but when the topic was brought up, was always with pride. In the beginning, I was too young to understand the significance of my grandfather’s accomplishment”, remembers Alison.
“I recall one summer, (I must have been 9 years old), my (younger) brother and I were exploring when we came upon a man fishing quietly enjoying his serenity. Without any restraint I proudly asserted ‘my grandfather is the bass world record holder!’ The poor man stared at us incredulously and responded with disbelief. This prompted another reckless statement, ‘How would I know such a thing if it weren’t true?’ The man finally rescinded his position, maybe just to expedite our departure, but I was officially crowned proud granddaughter.”
It wasn’t until a few years later that Alison would truly feel the weight of her grandfather’s historic day. It was June 2, 1932 on Montgomery Lake; George Washington Perry and his friend, J.E. Page went fishing and Perry caught a twenty-two pound four ounce largemouth bass. The catch bested the earlier largemouth record by over two pounds.
In 1984, the State of Georgia provided a ceremony, honoring George Perry. That was a day Alison will never forget. “Our family drove out to the area. Dad parked several feet from where the historical marker was erected. All of us dressed in our Sunday’s best. Dad led us out onto the dark red clay. I remember feeling like we were out in a vast desolate land as we traipsed out. My attention to the details solidified as I stood with rapt attention during the ceremony. Someone from the state spoke about my grandfather with such respect. I was proud of my grandfather and my father for bringing us.” remembers Alison.
The historic marker cites the 19-year-old George Perry and his friend, Mr. Page who ventured a couple miles from where the marker stands to catch what is still considered America’s most famous fish. The lure description and measurements of the fish were etched in gold lettering and $75.00 in prizes was given from the Field and Stream magazine to Mr. Perry. Also noted was Georgia’s pride in making the largemouth bass the state fish and designating Montgomery Lake as part of the Department of Natural Resources wildlife management area.
Fast-forward a few years and Alison, now grown, still appreciated the outdoors and found herself falling in love with the green Pacific Northwest. Her brother entered the Army’s 101st Airborne Division and was deployed as an Apache helicopter pilot to Kuwait in 2003.
During her education and internship Alison relocated to Oregon. As her brother was shipped out, she went through a range of emotions. She was proud of her brother for his service to America but she also felt fear for her brother’s safety. “Those feelings ignited my desire to give back and support families and service personnel that have sacrificed for our country. I obtained my masters degree later family counseling certification and went to work for the VA Medical Center in Portland,” Alison said.
While friends tired of the world record tale, Alison would take every opportunity to share her grandfather’s story. When she met someone new, (preferably a fisherman) Alison would tell them about the largest bass ever caught. Her efforts and enthusiasm for the world record story were not in vain.
One gentleman, a clerk who worked for the VA, loved to bass fish and found the Perry story enthralling. He and Alison’s friendship strengthened and many conversations took place. Alison admitted to her friend that she had no bass fishing experience and that she wanted to start, in part to connect with her family heritage.
These plans were detoured when Alison left the VA for an opportunity several hours from Portland to work in a community-based veteran’s clinic. But before she left, she gave her dear friend a subscription to the Bassmaster Magazine.
Alison’s new home became central Oregon, a hot bed of outdoor recreation and leisure activities. Skiing, white-water kayaking, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, hunting and fishing were all nearby.
At her new job, Alison met friends and new victims, as her friends would call them. She immediately gained the ear of veterans who enjoyed the outdoors. One gentleman in particular was captivated by her grandpa’s record catch. So impressed, her comrade researched the historical story and gifted her with a copied picture of the bass. His admiration didn’t stop there; he contacted a local newspaper leading him to outdoor writer/editor Gary Lewis. Gary authored Black Bear Hunting along with Lee Van Tassell. He has been published in magazines and periodicals like Sports Afield. Gary recently launched a TV Show called High Desert Outdoorsman. The news of Alison and her grandfather piqued Mr. Lewis’ interest.
“…last year I received an email from a reader who knew both George Perry’s story and his granddaughter, Alison. I called her (Alison). I was surprised to discover, although she had been fishing, she had never met a largemouth face to face.”
Gary decided to contact his friend, David Swendseid of Jackall Lures. Swendseid had dedicated several years in pursuit of trophy bass in the Pacific Northwest and had established an Oregon Smallmouth state record. The goal was to give Alison the best shot at catching her first bass. Central Oregon is not known as a world-class bass fishery so timing and opportunity were everything.
“This was one of those situations you just know… it was meant to be. Alison was meant to bass fish and if I can assist her pursuit, well… that’s simple, and an honor! I can’t think of any accomplished angler that wouldn’t consider George Perry a hero to our sport and in some way, an inspiration to us all, this is how memories are made!” said Swendseid.
Soon industry chatter began to surface. Companies that heard about the endeavor wanted to contribute. Frank Jones of Carolina Electric Boat Company supplied a Twin Troller electric boat. The boat is design to ease into extremely shallow areas, turn 360 degrees, and travels silently at better than 5 mile per hour. “You can cover a large pond in seconds.” mentioned Swendseid.
Mr. Don Kuroye, president of Blackwater International, the North American distribution for Toray Fishing line, heard about Alison. “As an angler the world record held by Alison’s grandfather is the single most significant record in pursuance today. It has been chased and challenged for almost 80 years. Alison’s innate disposition to partake in her grandfather’s expedition is honorable. She is part of a legacy. We (Toray) want to help. I think our lines have recently proven they can hold potential world records, just in case the Perry household decides to trump their existing record,” said a smiling Kuroye.
Blackwater furnished two rod-combos laced with their Toray Fluorocarbon. Alison wouldn’t have an excuse for not matching up to the bass!
Gary Lewis contacted two Central Oregon guides familiar with some of the backwaters of Central Oregon. Damien Nurre and Ross Walton with Deep Canyon Outfitters, pursue largemouth with a fly rod and popper (a fast-becoming trend in bass angling) who gave graciously of their time and equipment to assist the party.
All Hands on Deck
With the convoy equipped they headed to Buckhorn Lake. It took an act of God to bring the unit together because all members had prior business commitments so the event was confined to just a few hours on an unfamiliar lake. The party members divided into boats. Gary, his daughter Mikayla and Ross were situated in one boat to gain front row seating. Damien, David, and his wife Bryn were deck hands for Alison.
They arrived at beautiful Buckhorn Lake nestled in central Oregon’s desert. Outlined by sage brush and juniper, the sanctuary could be described as an oasis. Buckhorn’s gin-clear water was pristine. Submerged trees flanked the lava rock on the east bank.
Upon arrival, Alison was given a crash course on lure presentation and bass habitat. “I was so nervous; I know everyone was there for me. I felt included in this group specifically designed to aid me but would I really, truly catch a largemouth bass,” recalls Alison
Swendseid equipped Alison with a Jackall 5.8 Flickshake worm and a 1/16th ounce wacky jig head. “I chose the Flickshake because it catches fish anywhere. It is one of the best baits on the tour,” he stated.
Evening approached as the boats slipped into the water. The glassy lake surface had calmed just moments before. Deep humming sounds from bullfrogs rose in chorus. Bats appeared, flying by radar in the twilight. “We’re losing light- we better make a go of this” commented someone.
Time seemed to stand still with no obligation but to arrange a meeting between Alison and destiny.
With a quick instruction on presentation, it only took Alison moments to enthuse about the moment, she leaned toward her fishing instructor and whispered, “…This is fun, and it’s so beautiful and peaceful here.” It was clear that she was enjoying the same elements all
Alison raised her rod and shot her rig straight and true. The fluorocarbon coils cascaded from her reel to the target, Swendseid smiled with anticipation, “ I remember thinking: ‘Great cast!’, watching it as if it was on instant replay. The rig descended slowly, giving off a flickering motion and then suddenly changed direction. I looked at Alison to see if she knew what was happening,” remembered Swendseid. “Her line tightened and her rod tip took a bow”. “I think…I…got…. I got one…I got one…Uh, Oh!” Alison yelped. Her line cinched tight, the direction of her hidden opponent had changed. Alison was in a fight that she had picked, there would be no retreat. Beneath the surface, the fight intensified. Without warning, Alison’s fish erupted from the surface as if to take a look at who had initiated the challenge. Seconds evaporated, hearts raced but Alison’s rod maintained leverage on the quarry.
Forces abated and respect was given to the challenger as he came slowly near the boat's hull. With no additional strategy available, the tired bass surrendered.
Alison Perry held up her first bass and her heart spoke: "He’s beautiful!” she murmured.
Cheers pierced the silent reverie, and all present knew the Perry family legacy was in good shape. With his arm around the angler, a jovial Swendseid teased Alison with: “I told you it was genetic.”
The celebration continued as others recalled their first fishing experience. About 20 of Buckhorn’s largemouth came over the party’s gunnels that evening.
As the sky’s red glow faded behind the mountains, smiles and departing gestures were extended, more importantly, new friendships were fostered, no surprise, bass fishing is good for that.
Days later, Gary Lewis said it best: “ The thing I like best about fishing is that a 19 year old farm boy can set a record that bridges the gap between nations, and 77 years later, connect family, leaving room for anyone to catch the next record…”
SIDE NOTE: Georgia’s Historical Marker that honored George Perry and the World Record Largemouth is situated on Georgia’s route 117, approximately four miles east of Jacksonville, Georgia.