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Babe Winkelman Fishing Column

Now here's a brain-teaser for you: How many of the new record-holders were caught this decade?

by: Babe Winkelman, Babe Winkelman Productions

(Saturday, September 26,1998 - ) The 1990's saw three of the oldest and most revered records in freshwater fishing erased from the books. Replaced during the '90's were the 1995 smallmouth bass record, the 1957 musky mark and the 1960 walleye record.

Now here's a brain-teaser for you: How many of the new record-holders were caught this decade?

Answer: None. Explanation: The above-mentioned records weren't broken, they were disqualified.

It started with David Hayes' 11-pound, 15-ounce smallmouth bass, recognized by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame since it was caught from Dale Hollow Reservoir in Tennessee back in 1955. A keen-eyed observer saw a mount of the fish at a sport show, questioned its size and started doing some research. His detective work led to the Dale Hollow Army Corps of Engineers office where he made an amazing discovery: An affidavit signed in 1955 by a man named John Barlow admitting he'd stuffed about three pounds of weight into Hayes' fish.

The affidavit had been on file for 41 years and no one from the Corps had bothered to read it. Ted Dzialo of the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Haywood, WI read it, and disqualified the record. Then, with a bit of detective work on his on, tracked down the 10-14 smallie caught by John Gorman of Plainfield, IN., also from Dale Hollow, in 1969. And that's how Gorman, now 84, claimed the smallmouth record with a fish caught 28 years earlier.

Mabry Harper's name had been attached to the all-tackle walleye record since he caught a 25-pounder from Tennessee's Old Hickory Lake in 1960. But photo analysis was used to determine that Harper's legendary fish actually weighed closer to 17 or 18 pounds. That's a huge 'eye, but not nearly big enough for the top spot in the record books. Harper's name was replaced by Al Nelson, who pulled a 22-11 behemoth from Arkansas' Greer's Ferry back in 1982.

Muskey legend Art Lawton fell from grace after photo evidence shoed the 69-15 record-setter he caught from New York's St. Lawrence River in 1957 was a fake. The Hall went "back to the future" to restore Louis Spray's 1949 catch of 69-11 which itself has been the object of some speculation after a 40 year absence. Spray's fish came from Wisconsin's Chippewa Flowage.

The musky division took a real beating credibility-wise. Another New York musky-hunter of lore, Len Hartman, lost his line-class records in the four, six, eight and ten-pound power-trolling classes after he admitted faking his catches.

Then there's the strange case of Sandra DeFresco's off-again, on-again largemouth bass record. DeFresco caught a 21-9 bucketmouth from California's Miramar Lake setting the 15-pound line-class record. Or did she?

When the taxidermist who mounted it discovered a 2 1/2 pound diver's weight inside the fish, Sandy's record was disqualified. But the biologist who examined the bass said that cigarette pack-sized weight had been there for some time. Apparently the fish had eaten it.

This fish tale has a happy ending. DeFresco's place in the record book was restored, her bass listed officially at 19-1, the catch weight less the 2 1/2 pounds of excess baggage.

It's nice to know there are a few honest fishermen in the world.

Tune into Babe Winkelman's award-winning television show, "Outdoor Secrets" on Superstation WGN at 1:00 a.m. Friday night, 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning and 2:30 am Saturday night (all Central). For information regarding Babe Winkelman's new club, "Society of Outdoor Sportsmen," call toll free 1-800-333-0471 (Monday-Friday, 8:00 am - 5:00 pm Central) or write to S.O.S., PO Box 407, Brainerd, MN 56401.