50 Years Ago This Month!

Marvin Bushong hooked up with history!

It was April, 1st 1961 on Bull Shoals Lake.  Gainesville, Missouri’s Marvin Bushong hooked into perhaps one of the longest running record breaking bass in history. It’s not considered to be the largest by any means but for Missouri the record has now stood for 50 years. (left) Marvin Bushong holds the record breaking fish in a rare photo.

T.J. Watreas can imagine the fame that catching a state-record Missouri bass might bring. He came close in mid-March when he landed a giant largemouth at a strip pit and became an immediate celebrity. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Watreas, 39, of Blue Springs. “By the time I went to have that bass weighed on certified scales at a grocery store in Lamar (Mo.), the word was out. “There was a crowd waiting to see that fish. Kids on bikes were even coming up with cameras, wanting to get a picture.” The excitement that largemouth bass created was understandable. The giant weighed 13 pounds, 3 ounces, one of the largest bass ever caught in the state.

It was the latest threat to the oldest pole-and-line fishing record on the Missouri books: the 13-pound, 14-ounce bass caught by Marvin Bushong in April 1961 at Bull Shoals Lake

For Missouri fishermen, that standard has become the holy grail. Not only is Bushong’s record the oldest on the state books, it is one of the longest-standing bass records in the nation. Only Georgia (1932), Michigan (1934), South Carolina (1949) and Tennessee (1954) have older marks. And it’s not because that Missouri bass is one of the biggest in the country. Seventeen states have larger state records. But in Missouri, Bushong’s record continues to be the one that stays just out of casting range.

“In Missouri, a bass over 8 pounds is rare,” said Kevin Richards, a fisheries supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a record fish out there. “It would have to be a freak: a fish that was very old and survived by finding good resting cover where it wouldn’t be bothered by fishermen and boats. And it would have to live where it would find plenty to eat.
“I truly believe bass like that exist. But whether anyone will ever catch that fish, that’s another question.”

Watreas almost provided the answer to that question on March 19, when he went fishing on a strip pit at Angler’s Paradise, a commercial operation near Liberal, Mo., south of Nevada. Watreas, a guide at the camp, had no illusions of greatness when he set out. He planned a short trip to see whether the bass were hitting. But the outing quickly turned into much more. “As I was going down the bank, I saw two big bass suspended near a brush pile,” Watreas said. “I threw a suspending stickbait out in front of them and when I twitched it, one of the fish just moseyed out to take a look. “Every time I would move it, she would follow. But she acted like she wasn’t really interested. “It wasn’t until I gave it a couple quick jerks that she went after it.” The bass became aggressive once it was hooked, jumping twice and digging hard to get back to the brush pile. But Watreas finally landed it and was able to exhale.

His first impression? Well, slight disappointment. “To be honest, when this bass came out, I said to myself, ‘Dang, the smaller one is going for it,’ ” Watreas said. “The other one actually looked a little bigger.” But Watreas’ disappointment melted when he placed his bass on the scales. “I usually release the big ones that I catch,” he said. “But this one was hooked through the gills and died. “So I’ll have it mounted.” And he’ll continue to cast for that other big bass that he spotted. “I caught a bass that weighed 10 pounds, 15 ounces at Angler’s Paradise two years ago,” Watreas said. “And there have been other 9- and 10-pound bass caught there. “It’s just a great place for big bass. We manage it for trophy fish — harvesting the small ones and putting a lot of habitat in the water.

“Still, you never expect to catch a fish like this.”

Watreas isn’t the first fisherman to provide hope that Missouri’s elusive record will one day be reeled in.

Take a look:

• In 1985, tournament fisherman Jay Koren of Rockdale, Ill., was whiling away his time at Truman Lake in what had been an unproductive competition for him when he felt something jolt his white spinnerbait. Moments later, he was shocked to bring in a 13-pound, 9-ounce largemouth.

• In 1998, David Bosley and Gary Sexton found a bass floating near-dead on a farm pond in northern Missouri. The fish weighed 13 pounds, 15 ounces — one ounce bigger than the state record. Because they didn’t catch the fish on sporting tackle, it wasn’t eligible for the record books.

• In 2002, Skip Surbaugh, a guide at Lake of the Ozarks, landed a huge bass and measured it before letting it go. Later, fisheries biologists told him that a fish that long (roughly 27 inches) could have weighed more than 13 pounds. But he’ll never know.

So, Bushong’s fish still reigns.

“I don’t think any of us figured the record would last this long,” Marvin’s son, Mike, told Kansas City Star in 2002. “At the time, there were a lot of big bass in Bull Shoals. The day after Dad caught this fish, a friend went back to the same spot and caught a 10-pounder. “But no one could beat Dad’s record then — and no one’s been able to do it since. There have been bass that have come close over the years and we’d think, ‘Well, it’s only a matter of time now.’ “But Dad’s record just holds on.”

So what would a Missouri state-record bass mean? Fame and fortune?

Well, maybe fame. But don’t count on the fortune.

“These state-record fish are never worth as much to the fishermen who catch them as their buddies in the bar tell them they are,” said Larry Whiteley, manager of public relations for Bass Pro Shops, the sporting-goods giant based in Springfield. “Everyone thinks they will get rich if they catch a state record. “But it doesn’t happen. At the most, it might bring some free products and a replica mount.” Bass Pro Shops does accept donations of state-record fish for display in its aquarium, Whiteley said. But he added, “It’s not like we write a check for thousands of dollars for fish like that.”

Why? Bass Pro Shops wants to discourage fishermen from chasing trophy fish for financial gain. “We do often provide a replica mount,” Whiteley said. “And the companies of the tackle that was used to catch the fish often provide free product. But that’s about it. “The biggest thing the fisherman would get would be his or her moment of fame. But it would be fleeting fame.

“That fisherman would be big news for the moment. But I’m afraid it wouldn’t last long.”

Brent Frazee’s Ultimate Guide to Missouri Fishing

Brent Frazee, outdoors editor for The Kansas City Star, takes you on a guided fishing trip through Missouri. Based on his 22 years of coverage, he will take you to his favorite spots to catch bass, crappies, white bass, trout, walleyes and catfish. He also will take you to scenic float streams, lakes and rivers that offer trophy catches, and waters that offer a variety of species. So put on your life jacket and hop into the boat. It’s time to go fishing in Missouri.

Order your copy


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