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What are the chances of breaking Connecticut’s largemouth record?

The largemouth record in Connecticut is 12-14 and has stood since 1961. For all intents and purposes, it will take a 13 pound bass to beat the existing record. How likely is that to happen? A handful of relatively giant bass caught in Candlewood this spring have gotten the the record juices flowing in the imaginations of a number of bass anglers in the state. EIGHT AND NINE POUNDERS! Wow! Lunkers for sure. But to put it in perspective, the largest of those giants was only slightly better than 2/3 the size needed to break the existing record.

To start with, just to get into “lunker” size range, a bass must do one of two things. It must either grow faster than its yearmates, or it must outlive them. Either one of those might get a fish into the 7 to 9 pound range — if it lives in an environment with enough protein rich forage that doesn’t require too much energy to capture.

But we’re not talking 8s and 9s, here. We’re looking for a fish that’s within a hair’s breadth of 13! That’s almost 50% heavier than the 9 pound bass that would set most Connecticut bass anglers’ hearts aflutter. Remember, anecdotal “evidence” aside, we often go entire seasons without seeing an officially weighed 9 pounder out of Connecticut waters. So how likely is it that we’ll see one almost half-again as heavy?

This fish would not only have to live in the perfect environment for growth, it would need to grow faster than all the other bass in the lake and live longer. Growing fastest pretty much requires aggressive feeding behavior. First fed, best fed, is an axiom of life in the aquatic environment. Aggressive feeding for an opportunistic predator like the largemouth equates to indiscriminate feeding, as in attack now, check it out later. But except in the case of a total absence of fishing pressure, aggressive feeding is counter to long life. Many fish with the right kind of feeding instincts certainly end up in a frying pan before they ever get a chance to exceed normal sizes. Others no doubt end up hanging on someone’s wall at 6 or 7 or 8 pounds. But even if there was 100% catch and release, our lunker’s rush to be the first fed, best fed fish in the lake is going to get her caught pretty frequently over her lifespan. And every time she’s caught, the chances of her living longer than her year class go down. Every time she’s lifted from the water and held up for the camera; every ride she takes in a livewell; every time she’s stuck with a hook and had her protective slime coat disturbed by the handling attendant to being caught by an angler; every time she breaks some unlucky angler’s line and swims around with a hook in her jaw for a few days, she is physically stressed, and her chances for infection or fungal attacks go up.

Unless we’re talking private waters, where a fish of this magnitude could likely be raised on purpose, we’re talking about a fish that feeds aggressively, and somehow manages to avoid capture and live years longer than the typical bass in the same lake.

So how does she feed aggressively and avoid shortening her life? Of course if she lives in an unfished environment, she doesn’t have that kind of problem to deal with. But you’re not likely to find an abundance of the kind of high protein forage that this fish will require in an unfished body of water, simply because in Connecticut, that’s almost got to equate to alewife and stocked trout. For the most part, the DEP doesn’t stock trout where they can’t be fished, and they tend to start landlocked alewife programs only in lakes that support brown trout.

To me, this suggests that we’re talking about a fish that doesn’t act like a typical bass. Bass anglers have honed their skills at finding and catching bass that live and feed within a certain set of parameters. The fish we catch are fish that are going by the book. If our potential record acted like all the other bass in the lake — frequented the same areas, ate the same forage, etc. If it went by the book. it would get caught just about as often as all the rest of the bass in the lake. Actually, with the aggressive feeding nature we already know it has, it would be even more likely to get caught than the average bass.

Look at the story of “Dottie”, the world record sized bass that was snagged off a bed in California’s Lake Dixon a few years ago. Obviously, she had substantially outgrown the typical bass in that 100 acre lake, so she must have eaten well and frequently over her long life. Like all the San Diego reservoirs, the lake is heavily fished by trophy hunters. Yet the only time she was seen or caught was in the spawning season. I’ve fished Dixon. There’s not that many places for a bass to hide. No weeds to speak of. No backwaters, no standing timber or fallen trees. Except for the rental boat area, the few docks are fishing piers. Yet this bass lived a very long life, and was only seen or caught when she was forced by instinct to sit on a visible nest in shallow water a few days each year. The only way she escaped that pressure for so long had to be that she either wasn’t living her life in ‘typical bassy’ areas, or she didn’t eat the things that the bass fishermen were using as bait or imitating with their lures.

So what we’re looking for, if we expect to catch a record bass from public waters in Connecticut, is a northeastern version of Dottie. A bass that feeds aggressively, and by nature of where in the lake she spends almost all her time, or how and when she feeds, is “immune” to the efforts of bass anglers using accepted techniques. And you wonder why our record has stood this long?

I’m not of a mind to think that there’s a 13 pounder waiting to be caught in very many of our state’s waters. But I do believe that they do exist, and if I had to pick the one lake she’s most likely to swim in, I’d say the Saugatuck Reservoir. It’s got the forage. It’s located toward the southern part of the state, where the growing season might be a few days longer each year. And most of all, it’s open only to shore anglers, on one side of the lake. If she lives in the Saugatuck, all Dottie’s Connecticut cousin needs to do to not face a constant onslaught of potential “mistake meals” is spend most of her time on the east side of the lake. Or more than a reasonable casting distance from the western shoreline, really!

So why don’t I spend all my fishing time plying the waters of the Saugatuck Reservoir, throwing a big Huddleston trout swim bait or a one ounce jig & pig? Well, because even where the chances are the greatest, they are still slim. And because I enjoy fishing and catching fish too much to devote all my fishing time to the pursuit of something that the odds say I’m extremely unlikely to ever encounter. And because the very restrictions that help make it most likely for her to exist in that waterbody, also make it much less enjoyable to fish, at least in my book. I need the mobility to explore the entire lake and to fish where and when my knowledge and experience tell me my catch should be greatest. Being limited to shore fishing — and one shoreline at that — just isn’t going to work for me. It would be like giving up the fun of fishing to chase one magic cast.

I’m not saying it wouldn’t be an admirable undertaking and a tremendous accomplishment should someone find that elusive record bass, whether it’s in that waterbody or another. It’s just that I’m not going to give up everything I enjoy in fishing to concentrate on it. At various points in the 50 years or so that I’ve been a serious bass angler, I’ve gone through several periods where I was obsessed with catching giants. One of the three 9# plus bass I’ve caught in the Northeast was caught during one of those periods. But I enjoyed the other two  — the ones that were caught while I wasn’t in one of my lunker or nothing periods — every bit as much. Maybe more.

1 comment to What are the chances of breaking Connecticut’s largemouth record?

  • I have been asked about how & where I caught the 9-plus pounders mentioned in this entry. So for those who are interested…

    One of them came on a warm, drizzly and calm day in May ’82, from Tyler Lake, and was caught on a 5/8 oz., Black and Red Arkie Jig dressed with a #1 brown pork frog and was caught in the deepest spot on “bog” side of the lake. It was weighed on a Chatillon spring scale that had been calibrated. (At the time, my employment included calibrating commercial scales). It weighed just a hair over 9 pounds on the scale.

    The 2nd came in the late ’80s, on a cold, cloudy, windy day in early November, on Winchester Lake. Also on a jig & pig, although this time, a 3/4 oz, black and green hankie jig with an all green #11 pork frog. It came from a standing tree, just off the channel edge. I had caught a number of bass between 6 and about 8-1/2 pounds off 3 or 4 specific trees the previous fall, when the lake was down for dam repairs. The 9 pounder (9-4, actually) came off one of those same trees the following fall, when the lake was at full pool. The fish was weighed on a commercial scale, at a delicatessen. One of the things I discovered about Winchester back then, was that late in the season, yellow perch would suspend right up against the largest diameter trees, hanging on the downwind side, nose to the tree. The biggest bass in the lake seem to key on this. Presumably, the pike that live there now would key on it as well.

    The third was caught in mid-October at Cossayuna Lake in upstate NY. It ate a 5″, Ayu colored Lunker City SwimFish swim bait, 12 to 15 feet down on a rocky point. An interesting note is that the previous October, on my first ever visit to that lake, I caught an 8 pounder in the same spot on the same lure. The October after the nine, my son caught one around 8 from the same spot on the 3-3/4″ version of the same lure.

    All these fish were released, by the way.

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