|Sunday, April 16, 2006
World's most famous fish is a boon to Dixon Lake
By: LOREN NELSON - Staff Writer
ESCONDIDO ---- The question keeps coming. All day. Every day. Everyone wants to know one thing. "Where is she?" Ed Cartwright works the main dock at Dixon Lake. That means he's the man in charge of the aluminum fishing boats owned and rented for daily use by the city of Escondido.
The 14-foot Gregor boats, powered by electric trolling motors, are identical except for the numbers spray painted on the bow. They are the only boats allowed on the tiny lake, a 76-acre reservoir that provides drinking water to most of Escondido.
Those not content to fish from shore have only one option. They go see Cartwright.
Then they ask the question.
"Where is she?"
"I tell them I don't know," says Cartwright.
And if he did? "I'd say the same thing," he says with a grin.
"She" is the most famous fish in the world. The Moby Dick of all largemouth bass. Believed to be the biggest bass ever caught. A freak of nature. A freshwater Shamu.
And, some say, worth millions to the person who catches her.
Mac Weakley, a casino gaming worker who lives in Carlsbad, landed the fish on March 20. The bass weighed 25 pounds, 1 ounce on a handheld digital scale. The world record for largemouth bass, the most coveted mark in all of fishing, has stood for more than 70 years. It belongs to a man named George Perry, who caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce monster in the backwoods of Georgia in 1932.
Photos, videotape, witness accounts --- including those of Dixon Lake supervisor of rangers Jim Dayberry --- all indicate Weakley's fish shattered Perry's record.
Problem is, Weakley snagged the bass in its back, hooking it in its left side just below the dorsal fin.
The International Game Fish Association, which applies a stringent set of standards before approving applications for world records, doesn't allow fish that were intentionally foul hooked.
Weakley says he didn't purposely snag the fish.
Still, he never applied for the record. That means the famous fish, which Weakley and longtime buddies Jed Dickerson and Mike Winn released after posing with it for photos, still lurks somewhere in Dixon's clear, cool waters.
So where is she?
"She's gone deep," says Doug Figone of Escondido, a regular at the lake that reaches depths of 80-plus feet.
Figone was among the dozens of fishermen lining Dixon's shores Saturday. He knew all about Weakley's brush with fame. He knew all about the fish. He knew just what he would do if he caught it.
"I would have it weighed," he said. "If it's over 22-4, it's the world record. There are a lot of endorsements that could be made from it. If you get the right people to sponsor you, you know, you could make a pretty good killing."
Tony Smock, one of Dixon's senior park rangers, says business has "doubled and tripled" since Weakley's catch. The park's entire fleet of fishing boats is out on the water by noon on most weekdays, earlier on the weekends.
"We've been getting calls from around the country," Smock says. "Two or three times a week, a major news agency will call, wanting to know if it's been caught."
Cartwright says there have been a lot of unfamiliar faces hopping into his boats lately. Rumor has it some professional bass fishermen flew in from Wisconsin and spent a couple days working the lake.
"A lot of people are coming here hoping to get the big one," Smock says.
On Saturday, a quick tour of the lake, a 10-minute drive from downtown Escondido depending on how you time the stoplights, revealed mostly casual fishermen --- regulars, families and kids ---- more intent on landing one of Dixon's regularly stocked trout than hooking the monster bass. There were more than a few $20 rod-and-reel starter sets getting their first taste of action.
Strange, that little Dixon Lake, an urban lake best suited for picnics and birthday parties, is home to the world's most wanted fish and a handful of big-game hunters who have devoted their lives to catching her.
"I think the conditions are just right, for whatever reason, to produce that fish that is one in who knows how many million," said Dickerson, who during the spring and early summer will fish the lake five days a week and knows every weed bed and drop-off by heart.
"There are a few guys I'd like to see catch it again. Maybe it will be a kid off the pier, but it's pretty doubtful.
"You just don't want to see someone fly out here from who knows where and catch it."
Cartwright says on many occasions Dickerson will rent a boat and cruise the lake without bringing along a rod.
"Just looking to see the conditions of the lake," Dickerson says coyly, not about to divulge any of his secrets. "Kind of looking to see what I can see."
Looking, undoubtedly, for the fish everyone is talking about. And, no doubt, asking himself the same question Cartwright hears over and over.
Where is she?
Loren Nelson is sports editor of the North County Times.