Crowder Won't be Cashing In: Just How Important is a Record Fish?

There's an old fishing quote that goes like this: "No man, having caught a large fish, goes home through an alley." I don't know who wrote that originally. It's most often attributed as anonymous. But bragging rights have doubtless been a part of fishing for as long as fish and fishermen have existed.

Which brings me to the sad tale of Paul Crowder and what was, briefly last week, the Arkansas state-record largemouth bass. It turns out Crowder caught the 16-pound, 5-ounce fish while fishing illegally because he didn't have a fishing license. So the record was rescinded, and Crowder now faces a court date.

There's another point here beyond Crowder's thoughtless stupidity. Just how important is a record fish? For popular species such as largemouths, it seems records have become a very big deal--not just for notoriety, but for money, too.

It's often been said that the next world-record largemouth would be a million-dollar fish, the payout coming to the lucky angler by way of tackle endorsements, paid interviews, and so on. The dollar emphasis is really unfortunate.

That drastically changes the face of fishing. Various professional bass anglers have told me that when they speak with kids and answer questions, those questions are often not about how to become a better angler or how to enjoy fishing more. What the kids want to know is how to get sponsors and where to get those fancy fishing shirts. I'm not knocking pro bass fishing per se--if those guys can make a living at it, more power to them. But the kids' attitudes toward fishing are, I think, kind of sad.

Various media obsess over record fish, just as they do with trophy whitetails. As others have noted at Field & Stream and elsewhere, the overwhelming emphasis on monster bucks, giant elk, and--yes--lunker largemouths sort of detracts from the traditional outdoor experience. We've entered an age of immediate gratification, one in which trophies are taken as a gimme.

So when I read about Crowder's illegal catch and all the publicity it inspired, I have to also think about sportsmen in the modern era. What have we become?