Wanted Dead or Alive: The History of Big Bass Bounties

Last week — just before New Year’s — Hale Lures/Stanley Jigs put out a press release announcing that they’re offering a $100,000 bounty on the world record largemouth bass … if it’s caught on one of their lures, of course.

This is not the first time that a tackle company has put a bounty on the record bass, and it’s not even close to the biggest bounty that’s ever been posted.

Plentiful bounties

B.A.S.S. had a $100,000 members-only bounty on the fish for many years through the 1970s, ’80s and perhaps even ’90s, though I haven’t heard anything about it in a long, long time. I bet they’ve forgotten about it, too.

Daiwa had a $1,000,000 bounty on the fish in the late 1990s, provided it was caught on specified Daiwa equipment. They were promoting their Millionaire series of baitcasting reels at the time, so making a lucky angler a millionaire by catching a record bass was a nice tie-in.

Berkley had a modest bounty on just about every game fish recognized by the International Game Fish Association in the ’80s and ’90s — including line class records — but that appears to have gone away. I think they were promoting fishing line that was guaranteed to have the same breaking strength as the number on the box, a handy thing if you’re trying for a line class record.

(Since then we’ve learned that anglers — and especially bass anglers — don’t want lines that break at their rated strength. They want lines that break far above the rated strength. If a line breaks when it’s “supposed to” break, no one wants it!)

Most recently, TTI-Blakemore had a bounty on state and world records of several species about six or seven years ago. Their Road Runner series is always a threat to break a panfish record, and their hooks could break any record.

I have no idea what impact these bounties have on tackle sales. I’m guessing it’s pretty modest. Otherwise, we’d see more of them.

By far the biggest bounty I’ve ever seen on the world record largemouth was the $8 million reward posted by the now-defunct Big Bass Record Club. They also had bounties — $25,000 — on state records, the biggest bass caught in an organized tournament, and so on.

But the goal of the BBRC was not tackle sales. It was memberships. For $10 a year (plus $3 for postage and handling of the membership package), the incredibly fortunate could become the extremely wealthy.

So, I joined! There’s nothing I love more than record bass chases and speculation.

I was living in Georgia at the time, home of the (almost certainly bogus) world record largemouth bass — a 22-pound, 4-ounce giant claimed by George W. Perry in 1932. I didn’t think I had any chance to break the state/world record, but who knows, right? I thought it better to spend $10 and have a chance at the $5M rather than spend the money on gear that might catch such a fish.

That would be too ironic!

Unfortunately, the BBRC folded in the mid ’00s without anyone making a legitimate claim on the record.

The IGFA and big bass records

One aspect of the bounties that interests me now is the role of IGFA.

Twenty years ago, BBRC claimed they had “joined forces with the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) and state & fish agencies across the country to insure the dignity of this great sport and to keep the new world record largemouth bass alive….”

But the IGFA put the brakes on Hale Lures/Stanley Jigs’ bounty, saying in an email that “IGFA will not consider world record applications for fish where a cash prize, reward or bounty is offered, including any fish caught in the Hale Lure promotion.”


Apparently, the IGFA has had problems with companies offering record bounties and using the IGFA’s name in marketing efforts. It seems that some anglers may have brought or threatened suit against the IGFA when the company offering the bounty did not make good on its offer.

IGFA made its position clear in another email to Hale/Stanley, explaining:

“…if someone in Texas caught a 22 lbs. 6 oz. bass and had it certified by the state, they would achieve a new Texas state record. If the fish was submitted for an IGFA World Record and the angler was seeking to collect your $100,000 bounty, we would disqualify the fish, so it would not become a world record. The net effect of your promotion would be to disqualify largemouth bass caught on Hale Lures/Stanley Jigs from IGFA World Record consideration.”

Alrighty then!

If you’re familiar with the IGFA, I bet you’ll agree that they show little interest in freshwater records despite taking them over from Field & Stream in 1978. And don’t take my word for this. Just flip through their commissioned history book, Big-Game Fishing Headquarters: A History of the IGFA (2005).

In 240 beautiful pages (and it is a lovely book), there is exactly one reference to a freshwater record — the smallmouth bass (page 220) and zero photos of freshwater fish.

’Nuf said.

They’ve created a nice Catch-22. To get the money, you have to have IGFA certification; but if you register for the prize, IGFA will not certify the catch.

So Hale/Stanley has modified their bounty. Now, to collect the $100K, you must break a state record with a bass that exceeds the weight of the current IGFA world record (a hair under 22 pounds, 5 ounces).

Not to discourage anyone, but that basically leaves 49 of our 50 states out of the hunt. Californians, get registered now! The rest of us have little or no hope.

And Texas, you need to stop drinking that ShareLunker Kool-Aid!