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DECISION COULD BE NEAR ON ALLEGED WORLD RECORD BASS


The bizarre twists and turns of the nation's biggest outdoors story of the year -- an alleged world-record bass caught at a small lake near Santa Rosa -- could lead to a final answer in the next week by the International Game Fish Association.

"I've had 100 calls already this week from all over," said Doug Blodgett of the IGFA in Florida, which presides over world records for fishing. "I want it to be resolved as quickly as possible. There is still information coming in from the confirmation committee."

Blodgett said he hoped for a decision by Christmas.

At the center of the storm is a largemouth bass said to weigh 22 pounds, 8 ounces. That would break the Holy Grail of fishing records, the 61-year-old record of 22-4 caught in Georgia by a postal worker named George Perry.

Leha Trew of Santa Rosa quietly mailed a submission form to Blodgett and the IGFA this fall claiming the record. According to the form, Trew caught the bass at 70-acre Spring Lake in the Sonoma County foothills, weighed it on a certified BogaGrip scale on shore, and then released the fish unharmed. Her son, Javad Trew of Petaluma, and Charles Fleming of Santa Rosa, a picnicker at the park, witnessed the weigh-in, according to the form. One photograph of the fish accompanied the submission.

By IGFA rules, Trew fulfilled requirements for a world-record, believes George Kramer of WON Bass based in Southern California.

Yet hundreds have called the episode the hoax of the year and expect the IGFA to throw it out.

"There's just too many things not right about this," said Terry Knight, of Lakeport, who has worked as a pro bass guide, tournament fisherman and researched the claim. "The worst of it is that her son (Javad) claims to have caught a line-class world record bass the following week, 18 pounds, 8 ounces. A lot of people think it's the same fish used twice."

Leha Trew of Santa Rosa and Javad Trew of Petaluma refuse to talk to media, according to several reports. AttemptsÊ to reach them by phone or in person failed. Neither is listed in phone directories or internet searches. Fleming, who was identified as a witness to the weigh-in, was contacted but did not return calls.

That elusiveness adds to many questions that undermine Trew's signed claims in her submission to the IGFA:

* Length and girth smaller than existing records. Trew's fish reportedly measured 29 inches long with a girth of 25 inches. That is smaller than the current world record (32 inches long, 28-inch girth), the California record of 21.74 pounds (28 1/2 inches long, 26-inch girth), and the unofficial state record (because it was released) of 22.01 pounds (29 1/2 inches long, 27 1/2-inch girth).

* Scarce photographic evidence: Only one photograph of the fish is believed to exist. According to Blodgett, this is another particularly troubling aspect to the IGFA committee, which use photos and videos to help verify size claims.

* No park witness: Rangers at Spring Lake Regional Park did not see the fish or verify the weigh-in.

Same fish used twice?: When most largemouth bass weigh about a pound, what's the chance of a mother and son catching and releasing bass weighing 22 pounds and 18 pounds within a week at a small regional park lake? It would be similar to Boy Scout troop leader Lil of the TV show Survivor claiming to have captured and released Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden on back-to-back weekend camping trips.

Spring Lake seems an unlikely setting for a fracas being debated across North America. This little lake is the centerpiece for a regional park for car camping and picnics, and is stocked with small trout in late winter and spring. However, DFG recognizes that Spring Lake was stocked in the 1990s with Florida-strain largemouth bass, the breed that grows to large sizes.

This story is not the first time that Spring Lake has been the site of an alleged hoax. In 1997, a Santa Rosa angler said he caught a giant bass that weighed 24 pounds on a bathroom scale, then released the fish after it was photographed. The story was reported as fact in magazines around the world, including as a cover feature in Outdoor Life, but also widely disputed as a hoax. That fish was never proposed as a record.
 
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