Was this the world’s largest smallmouth bass?

Learn more about the legend of the largest smallmouth bass ever caught.

The world record for a smallmouth bass is 11 pounds 15 ounces, and that record has stood for more that half a century. But is this really the largest smallmouth bass ever caught?

David Lee Hayes lived with this wife Ruth, and their young son, in Leitchfield, Kentucky. For the past three years the family had been traveling regularly to Dale Hollow Lake, on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, and David was well know by the locals for his skill at catching both smallmouth bass and walleye.

On this particular day, 9 July 1955, the fishing was slow and, despite using his favorite pearl bomber diving plug, the fish were simply not biting. So, at about 10 o’clock that morning David decided to pull his boat into a section of water just to the north of Trooper Island, and between Phillips Bottom and Illwill Creek. This was not an easy spot to fish because it was lined with weed beds. However, David knew that if he lined himself up and cast into the right spot, he could fish between the weed beds and keep his plug bumping happily along the bottom of the lake.

Fishing with a Tru-Temper rod, a Penn Peer 209 reel and with 20 pound test line, David thought he had snagged the weed bed until he felt the power of the fish and the fight was on. After several very exciting minutes the fish finally came to the net and was safely in the boat.

DAle Hollow lake

When he got back to the shore people came to take a look, since this was the biggest smallmouth bass that any of them had ever seen. The fish weighed 11 pounds 15 ounces, and was 27 inches long with a girth of just under 22 inches. At this point David did not even think about the record, but the resort’s owner did and, a few weeks later, David was officially named by Field & Stream as the world record holder for smallmouth bass.

Was This The World’s Largest Smallmouth Bass?

That should have been the end of the matter, until somebody caught a bigger fish, but forty years later, in 1996, an affidavit was discovered filed away in a drawer in one of the offices at the lake. According to this document the record fish had in fact weighed only 8 pounds 15 ounces, and a dock worker had weighted the fish down with motor parts and sinkers to create a false record.

David was immediately stripped of his record by the International Game Fish Association, who had taken over the task of keeping records from Field & Stream, and was also stripped of his record holding status by both the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and the State of Kentucky. Only Tennessee continued to honor his accomplishment, while the claims that this record had been falsified were investigated.

The dock worker, who had filed the affidavit, was quickly discredited, and indeed there was even considerable doubt about whether he was actually present at the lake on the day of the record catch. Nevertheless, it took some time for the record to be put straight.

Coutesy KY FWS

Courtesy KY FWS

The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame reinstated David in 1999, but it took another 6 years before the International Game Fishing Association and the State of Kentucky finally put David’s name back into the record books in 2005.

Since that time there has only been one serious attempt to claim David’s record, and that came in 2012 with a fish of just over 12 pounds. The claim failed, however, because the fish was caught using a gill net. Nevertheless, this does show that there are still some very big smallmouth bass out there, so maybe David’s record will not survive for another half century. Only time will tell.

Everything Smallmouth Top Stories