UPDATE: Arkansas State-Record Largemouth Bass Invalidated

**UPDATE: After we posted this story on Wednesday, March 7, new information surfaced indicating the angler in question, Paul Crowder, was not in possession of a valid fishing license when he caught what would have been the state-record largemouth bass. He did not disclose this fact to Field & Stream or to the numerous other media outlets that reported on his catch. In light of this information, state officials have wiped his catch from the record books and Crowder has been brought up on charges. Steven Hill contacted Crowder and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on Monday, March 12. Click here for the full update. ** For 10 years Paul Crowder has been telling friends that he would catch the next Arkansas state-record largemouth from Lake Dunn. On February 28 he did it, nabbing this 16-pound, 5-ounce whopper that topped the old record by one ounce, almost 36 years to the day after the original mark was set.
"I'm a diehard bass fisherman all the way," says Crowder, of Forrest City, Arkansas. "If I'm not sleeping, I try to fish. I've got suitcases full of reels that me and my two boys have worn out."
Crowder has been fishing Lake Dunn for 25 years. One of two lakes at the Village Creek State Park near Wynne, in northeast Arkansas, Dunn covers only 80 acres. But the little lake has long had a big reputation, according to Crowder, with lots of his fellow bass fanatics speculating that Arkansas' new No. 1 largemouth would likely come from there.
On Feb. 28, Crowder headed to Lake Dunn with a friend. "I told her before we even got in the boat that I was going to get that thing today," he says.
That afternoon, Crowder anchored in a deep cove off a secondary point. The wind was blowing onto the steep bank, and he positioned the boat so his friend could fish off the bow for catfish toward the middle of the lake. He went to the stern and began casting toward the shore for bass.
Crowder used a new 7-ft. medium-heavy Enigma rod-and-reel combo from Bass Pro Shops. The baitcasting reel was spooled with 14-lb.-test Trilene fluorocarbon. He pitched a Texas-rigged 6-in. Mann's Jelly Worm in tequila sunrise into 3 feet of water near the bank. Embedded in the worm was a bullet sinker with a plastic rattle.
"I bumped it twice and that's when the fish hit," Crowder says. "It liked to snatched the pole out of my hands. I nearly lost the fish and the pole too."
"From then on it was a bent double pole the whole time. The fish was so strong it was unreal. It just run I don't know how many times from the boat back out, just stretching that drag, boy. But I had it hooked perfect, in the bottom lip all the way through. She couldn't have shook the hook if she wanted to."
On the second run, the fish surfaced 30 feet from Crowder. "When that sucker came to the top and I seen the spread between the eyes and about a foot of head, I knew in my heart it was the record," Crowder says. "And sure enough it was."
It took about eight minutes to get the fish in hand. Several times the bass was underneath the boat, with only its tail sticking out. "I was too scared to make a grab. Its tail where it come out of its fin was bigger than my forearm. I knew the fish was gonna be too strong to handle by the tail."
Without a dip net, Crowder knew what he had to do. "I kept screaming, 'Bottom lip, I need that bottom lip.'" When he finally was able to lip the fish, he didn't even try to lift it into the boat. "I just laid there for a few minutes and the fish did too. We were both exhausted."
Once he'd recovered enough to haul the fish over the rail, the thrill set in. "I cut the anchor lines; I didn't even take the time to pull them up," Crowder says. "I came straight to shore I was so excited."
Crowder contacted officials with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Dennis Colton, the commission's black-bass biologist, was among those who documented the fish as the new state record. At 16 lb., 5 oz., Crowder's catch just beat the 16-lb., 4-oz. largemouth caught March 2, 1976, by Aaron Mardis on Mallard Lake in Mississippi County.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commissions officials measured the fish's girth at 22 ¼ inches.
The bass measured 26 ½ inches long.
Arkansas Game and Fish also collected fin samples for genetic testing to determine if the bass is pure northern strain or if it has Florida bass genetics. Scale samples were taken to help age the fish. Biologists also hope to analyze the bass's otoliths, a structure in the inner ear that can provide a more precise estimate of age, says Lee Holt, fisheries management biologist for the AGFC.
To ensure the legitimacy of the record, the fish next was taken to Dr. Tom Rountree, a Forrest City veterinarian, for x-rays. X-rays are routinely taken of record fish to prove that no foreign objects have been added to increase the weight.
The x-ray not only proved that Crowder's bass was legit, it also revealed a recent meal in the bass's belly.
Crowder said that before the fish could be weighed it spit out a good-sized bream, evidently the last thing it ate before vacuuming up Crowder's Texas-rigged worm. The fish revealed in this x-ray--the big bass's penultimate meal--may have provided the bulk to push this largemouth to the top of the Arkansas record book.
"I've been saying it for 10 years: 'I'm going to get the next state record out of Village Creek.' And I did it. I don't know if it's really sunk in yet," says Crowder, who has been busy fielding phone calls from tackle companies and news outlets since word of his record catch began to spread.
Is he enjoying his record, despite the stress that comes with it? "Yeah, you know I am," he says. "I ain't lying: You can't grind this grin off my face."

**UPDATE: After we posted this story on Wednesday, March 7, new information surfaced indicating the angler in question, Paul Crowder, was not in possession of a valid fishing license when he caught what would have been the state-record largemouth bass. He did not disclose this fact to Field & Stream or to the numerous other media outlets that reported on his catch.

In light of this information, state officials have wiped his catch from the record books and Crowder has been brought up on charges.

Steven Hill contacted Crowder and the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on Monday, March 12. Click here for the full update. **