The History of Largemouth Bass in the Northeast

A historical dive into why Northeast anglers are so obsessed with largemouth bass.

The largemouth bass is an anomaly. The majority of gamefish species that have become popular targets are (or were) highly valued for food, are renowned for their size and strength, and are notoriously difficult to land—or some combination of the three. When thinking about fishing here in the Northeast, it is easy to put most of our gamefish in these categories. Flounder and cod became popular within the angling world because of their value on the plate; false albacore because of the difficulty associated with landing them.  The dream of landing a striped bass over 50 pounds has brought generations of anglers to the water. The same is true of our freshwater species.  Trout are stocked across New England to be caught for the table, and pike are targeted because they are the biggest, hardest-fighting freshwater fish in the northeastern United States. And then there is the largemouth bass, a fish that is not, and never really has been, widely considered as table fare in the United States, yet they are the most targeted gamefish in the United States, with an army of devoted anglers. What makes the history of largemouth bass even more interesting is the fact that it is not a native species here in the Northeast.

The fish was originally native to the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basin. However, largemouth bass do not face the same vitriol and population-control efforts as many other “invasive species”. Instead, they are, and have long been, more beloved than any other freshwater fish. 

On June 2, 1932, George Perry caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce largemouth bass that still holds the world record to this day. News of the record catch spread across the country quickly, and helped invigorate America’s obsession with bass fishing.
This historic photo wasn’t discovered until 2013, when it was found in a tobacco shed in Florida by the son of a close friend of Perry. It was sent to Bill Baab, author of the book Remembering George W. Perry, on the 81st anniversary of the historic catch.
For decades, many experts were suspicious of Perry’s record, as there was no photo evidence, and Perry did what most people did back in the 30’s; he fried the fish up and fed it to his family.
There is speculation that the person holding the fish in this photo isn’t George Perry. He was only 19 years old at the time, and according to his son, he never wore a hat.

A 1952 article by Henry Moore in the Boston Herald chronicled the story of Micajah Pond as an example of success for the “reclamation projects” by the Massachusetts Fish and Game Commission, which were intended to bring back largemouth bass to “ponds formerly capable of producing little more than stunted panfish.” These reclamation projects, which took place all over the state, consisted of “removing all fish life prior to restocking” and “seining out over-abundant pan and weed fish” to ensure optimal conditions for the bass. It is also worth noting that we have been comparatively fortunate here because in other parts of the world, the introduction of largemouth bass has had a devastating impact on local species. The fish are considered responsible for the extinction of Atitlan grebe, a shorebird native to Guatemala. In Europe, the fish are so popular and such prolific feeders that other invasive species, namely the bleak (Alburnus alburnus), were introduced to waterways to serve as forage for the largemouth bass. 

The introduction of largemouth bass to Northeast waterways began as early as the 1800s and was driven by their popularity as a game fish. In Maine, the first recorded introduction was in 1897 in Forbes Pond, located in Gouldsboro. Similar stocking efforts were taking place in Massachusetts, New York, and other states in the region at the same time. Given the lack of aquaculture technology available at the time, stocking these fish required significant financial and physical effort to transport them alive across state lines and introduce them to new bodies of water. This level of investment in a fish that was widely considered to be purely recreational shows how beloved the species already was more than a century ago. However, we are still left asking the question, “Why?”

The sport of largemouth bass fishing has been putting smiles on faces for generations of anglers.

As time passed and the species spread across the Northeast, the bass’s popularity continued to increase. Newspaper articles from the early 1940s chronicle their introduction into ponds and lakes across Massachusetts as game wardens urged anglers to get out and take advantage of these new opportunities the state had made possible. A 1943 article from the Boston Herald provided a detailed process for distinguishing between largemouth and smallmouth bass in anticipation of the season opener. Despite America’s entry into World War II, the author noted that “Maine fishing camps are enjoying surprisingly heavy patronage,” and that “fishing is one of the best antidotes for war nerves.” Countless tales of triumphs and state records littered local papers throughout the Northeast in the 20th and 21st centuries, illustrating that landing largemouth bass was newsworthy to the larger community.  Articles with tips, tricks, and lists of the best lakes to find these fish were published on a seemingly annual basis in papers across the region.

The popularity of bass fishing exploded during World War II, as people sought an escape and a way to save money by putting food on the table.

In more recent years, bass tournaments have played a large part in popularizing the fish, with organizations such as New England Bassin holding 150 events a year, while membership of Facebook groups devoted to largemouth bass tournaments in New England number in the thousands. In Massachusetts alone, the Office of Fishing and Boating Access has over 60 tournaments listed on their website. These local events, in addition to televised, nationwide tournaments, have made the largemouth bass synonymous with the sport of fishing. 

Such events received extensive coverage in the Northeast as early as the 1990s, with winning anglers such as Craig Henry of Connecticut having features written about them in newspapers like the Boston Herald. One piece detailed everything from his day on the water to the seasonal tendencies of the fish. The fish has become so popular here in the Northeast that real estate advertisements in newspapers often reference a home’s proximity to local bass ponds and use a property’s location near premier bass lakes as a feature to drive up the price. 

So, why is more money and more time spent by anglers each year to target these fish? The answer, I believe, is that the largemouth bass is a great equalizer in the fishing world. It can be found in nearly every pond, creek, river, and lake in the Northeast, so it is easily accessible to many anglers. It is also unique in that it can be successfully targeted with minimal investment: a $20 rod-and-reel combo and a couple of lures are all that is needed to chase after the fish, increasing its accessibility. At the same time, passionate bass anglers invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in boats, electronics, and top-of-the-line gear to hunt their trophies. In other words, there is a place for everyone in the bass-fishing community regardless of investment in the sport. 

Given the comparatively low barrier to entry, largemouth bass are often the first true game fish that young anglers are exposed to, hooking them on fishing.  The seemingly endless amount of gear and methods to catch these fish means that an angler can have a lifetime of new experiences while chasing just one species. 

As Peter Kaminsky describes in The Catch of a Lifetime, largemouth bass are a “blue-collar” fish, one that does not delicately slurp a fly like a trout but instead explodes on a topwater lure. It is a hardy, adaptive, hard-fighting, and unabashed fish that is fun to catch, which is the best reason of all. 

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3 on “The History of Largemouth Bass in the Northeast

  1. will

    good read ,well done…..theyre the gateway fish to becoming a striper fisherman.

  2. Jake Miller

    Need to know more location of largemouth bass in the Colorado area. Including ways to increase the bass population in the Colorado.

  3. Joseph Dial Jr

    Excellent article, love it, the same can be said about the South. I have been doing it for 39 years.

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