NOTHIN' SPECIAL--

NO BIG DEAL--

JUST ANOTHER WORLD ANGLING RECORD

I've been on a quest for over a year to find the mount of this world record hybrid striped bass. It's not the kind of thing you'd think would be hard to track down. It was in all the papers, it's listed in the official records. There are pictures and affidavits and witnesses and everything you'd want, except I could never get a definite answer as to the location of the actual mount. The photo at the right here was taken from the Department of Game and Fish website.

First I'll give you the particulars on the catch, and then I'll go into my search for the present location of the mount. The answers to the usual questions are:

27 pounds, 5 ounces. The previous state record was 22 pounds.

14-pound test line.

45 feet deep trolling a crank bait.

Northeastern bank of the Narrows at Greer's Ferry at 11:45 am on April 24th, 1997.

Caught by a fishing guide named Jerry Shaum of Shirley.

There must be something in the water, because this is the third world record, along with the walleye and the brownie, to come from the Little Red River and its impounds. The stories tend to run in the same currents as well. The recordholder in all three stories is a lifelong angler familiar with the waters on a routine fishing trip. At first, they usually think they've hooked something else, like a log or a gar or a carp or catfish.

Mr. Shaum took his catch in to the Fairfield Bay Marina, and it was so out of proportion to any expected fish that there was some question as to exactly what this thing was. It seemed too big to be a hybrid or a white bass, too deep-bodied to be a striper. Maybe it was a drum. Donna Kredel at the marina called Jack Burbage, who was having lunch at Fran's Cafe, to come in and look at "the biggest, ugliest walleye" she'd ever seen.

The scale at the marina was broken, so they called up Don Pennington at Game and Fish to meet them at Reaves IGA to witness and identify the catch. He identified it provisionally as a hybrid even though the stripes on a hybrid are usually broken and these were largely intact like those of a white or striper. Still, a striper is more cigar shaped while hybrids are flatter, more deep-bodied. The grocery scales tipped at 30 pounds, a record for either a white or a hybrid, so they drove to the certified scales at the Shirley post office for an accurate weight.

The identity question had to be decided by genetic testing at Auburn University. The results of that test arrived a week later and identified this as a hybrid striped bass and therefore a world record. Yaaaay!

Mr. Shaum told me in a phone conversation last year that he had given the mount to the Arkansas Department of Game and Fish. The people I contacted there knew they had the mount, but didn't know exactly where it was. Further, the museum at the Little Rock office was undergoing renovations, so a lot of stuff was in storage. Also, there were several new nature centers under construction at the time, so any one of those might have been designated to have the big hybrid on display.

So over the months I visited the nature centers and waited for the construction and renovations to be completed, and as specimens appeared on walls and in display cases, I saw several large striped fish, but none labelled as the world record. I assume one of the fish on display is the record, but there were several that could be imposters; and I would have to arrive at a conclusion by some clever and indirect means.

I'm no big fan of discovery by indirect means. Ask Desdemona or Malvolio about how clever and indirect means can lead to false conclusions. But that's what I've got, so here goes.

Using the technique outlined in debunking the Tennessee Walleye from the walleye story, assuming the width of a man's hand across the knuckles at about 3-1/2 inches, we estimate the length of the Shaum record at 32 - 35 inches as illustrated in the photo on the left. The dashed line indicates hand widths.

Okay, so we're looking for a big stripedy fish about that long. Trouble is, there are lots of big stripedy fish about that long. Striped bass of that length are common, yet are impressive enough to take to the taxidermist. Here's a big stripedy fish on dispolay in the AGFC Nature Center in Pine Bluff. It was right over a door, the width of which I could measure. I used that measurement as a guage to estimate the length. What do you think? It's got a lot of girth, like the fish in the upper photo, but it's rounded like a striper and not flattened like a hybrid. Also, the stripes are unbroken, and we can see in the record photo that the stripes of the Shaum fish are broken, as is typical of a hybrid. And compare the taper of the body from the anal fin to the tail. They don't look the same.

Could those attributes be artifacts of the taxidermist's craft? A taxidermist works with skin, fins and a head and hopefully a photo. He stretches the skin around a form that he makes himself and paints those stripes on with an airbrush. Might he have made what he thought were cosmetic corrections to present a better looking display?

That's unlikely. Taxidermists don't take up the profession unless they are also sportsmen who regard these physical distinctions as important. If you've got a world record, you're not going to take it to a guy who doesn't know a hybrid from a striper; and what taxidermist would deliberately modify a record hybrid so that it would be mistaken for a medium-sized striper? The flaws in the natural proportions and paintjob are the marks of the hybrid's authenticity. A taxidermist would retain those characteristics, although he might correct other flaws like physical scars or patches of parasites.

Once the renovations at the Little Rock Game and Fish office were complete, I visited the displays there looking for big stripedy fish and found this one. It's obviously not the one I'm looking for. It's a 64-pound 8-ounce striper, and it's labelled as such. This picture does, however, illustrate the difference between a typical striper and a typical hybrid. Look how perfectly drawn the lines are compared to the lines on the sides of the record fish. Note the gracile taper of the body. This is a textbook example of a striper and obviously not the same kind of thing as the fish in the top picture. And that mount I found at Pine Bluff is a striper with a really full belly.

The newest of the Game and Fish nature centers opened in Little Rock next to the River Market last December, and they put this mount on display. It's another striped fish. It looks like a better candidate, although it also is not labelled as the hybrid record. The display doesn't list the length or weight or any other details.

You'll notice there's a river depth guage in the lower left part of the display case, leaning against the same wall. Conveniently it's marked in inches. Using that we can paste together a rule and use it to measure the candidate. We have to allow for some distortion. I tried to get the camera equidistant from both the mount and the guage, but I can't be be sure how successfully I did that. On top of that, the fish is viewed slightly from the front, so it'll be foreshortened, and you can also discern a taper in the photograph of the river guage, so that will be distorted as well.

All we can tell from all this effort is that this mount is (ballpark) the same length as the hybrid record. About 35 inches. Beyond that we face the same difficulties as the people who caught and weighed and verified the thing to begin with. They were unsure about the variety of the fish and they had it right in front of them in its actual colors with no glass barriers. There must be a great deal of variation among hybrid individuals to allow for that kind of ambiguity.

If this is a hybrid, then it is the record mount. If another hybrid of this size had been caught, it would have made the news.

The main problem we face is how objectively to distinguish a big hybrid from a fat striper. To do that we measure and compare dimensions that don't go across the belly and therefore don't expand with the spawn or a glut of food. So we take a ratio of length from nose to tail and depth from the base of the front of the dorsal fin to the base of the pectoral fin, as shown in the picture. Measuring right off the computer screen and dividing the length (11.9 cm) by the depth (3.7 cm) gives us 3.22 for the record hybrid. (The units in the photo are supposed to be centimeters, not millimeters.)

Doing the same trick with the fish at the Pine Bluff nature center yields a ratio of 3.70, about 15% higher. The striper at the Game and Fish office in Little Rock has a length/depth ratio of 3.56. The mount at the Riverfront Nature center has a ratio of 3.33, pretty darned close to that of the photo of the world record considering I'm working from photos taken at less than ideal angles.

These measurements are not proof that this is the world record mount, but they do suggest that this one looks more like a hybrid than a striper and as far as we can tell without direct measurement this is the same size as the world record. So if you visit the Nature Center at Riverfront Park in Little Rock, you can see what is either the world record hybrid striped bass or a striper that is very close to the same size and shape as the world record hybrid striped bass.

RTJ--2/1/2009

Sources:

Cleburn County Sun-Times, Waterfront Section, May 9, 1997, page 2.

Cleburn County Sun-Times, May 16, 1997, page 7.


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