California extended its lead in the big bass race last last month when Jed Dickerson of Carlsbad caught a 21.7-pounder from Lake Dixon, a 76-acre water-supply lake near San Diego.
Dickerson's fish is the fourth-heaviest largemouth bass ever documented, and it's still out there for someone else to catch.
Dickerson released the fish, which may have been caught and released in 2001 by Mike Long, a Southern California big bass angler of note. Long's fish weighed 20.75 pounds and measured a robust 27 by 27 inches.
Dickerson's fish was a tad longer at 28.5 inches and a tad thinner at 26.75 inches. When Long studied photos of the fish he caught two years ago, he noticed a distinctive spot of color on the right side of the fish's cheek. Dickerson's fish had a similar mark.
Record still 22.25
Maybe another lucky angler will catch the fish two years from now, and it will be even bigger. It doesn't need to be much bigger. Since 1932, bass fishermen have chased the scaly world-record grail of 22.25 pounds caught from Georgia's Montgomery Lake by George Perry.
The Great Depression was on when the record bass tried to eat a Creek Chub topwater plug, and Perry was tickled to have a big fish to eat. Luckily, Perry realized his catch was exceptional and weighed it on postal scales in front of witnesses before taking it home for dinner.
Those were the days when largemouth bass fishing was dominated by the deep South, mostly Florida and Georgia. Both states had a native strain of bass that seemed to grow larger than fish in other states. In those days, it was believed that the Florida-strain bass thrived in the shallow, weedy waters and temperate climate.
California proved otherwise. Fisheries biologists in California and Texas were among the first to believe that Florida-strain bass have the genetic composition to reach exceptional size. These days, at least 14 states outside of Florida supplement their native bass populations by stocking Florida-strain bass.
With its Bud ShareLunker program breeding big-bass genetics in a hatchery, Texas Parks and Wildlife has declared its intention of producing a world-record largemouth.
California cool about it
California is more laid back about it all. In San Diego, Jed Dickerson's catch got about the same newspaper play as it's getting in Dallas.
California has two things Texas doesn't have. One is clear, deep water that makes the fish extremely difficult to catch. Lake Dixon is 80 feet deep in places. In some of the West Coast big-bass hot spots, you can see your anchor lying on the bottom in 80 feet of water.
The other thing California has that Texas does not is a hatchery program that stocks rainbow trout into the big-bass hot spots. The trout are stocked for fishermen, of course, but big bass eat stocker trout as though they were popcorn.
That's why the California giants are shaped like basketballs. Dickerson's fish bit a plug that looked like a rainbow trout.