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D.L. Hayes World Record Smallmouth Bass

World Record Smallmouth Bass
David Hayes of Litchfield, Kentucky, with the world record smallmouth bass caught in 1955.
In July of 1955 David L. Hayes, of Leitchfield, Kentucky was fishing with his family caught a smallmouth bass that would remain the world record for more than 40 years.

Hayes caught the bass while trolling Dale Hollow Lake in the mouth of Illwill Creek, near Phillips Bottom. The huge smallmouth was 27 inches long with a girth of 21 and 2/3 inches.

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The majority of Dale Hollow Lake is lies within Tennessee. However, about 4,000 acres of the lake are in Kentucky ( Map of Dale Hollow Lake ). Hayes has stated that he caught the fish in Kentucky water but very near the state line, so both states are nappy to lay claim to the record.

Mr. Hayes smallmouth remained at the top of the record books for more than 40 years. Then in 1996 the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) removed the Hayes smallmouth from it's records after an affidavit surfaced from August 1955 that stated the fish weighed only 8-pounds, 15-ounces. The affidavit stated the other three pounds were metal and lead weights that were placed in the belly of the fish by Barlow without Hayes knowledge or consent.

“The IGFA’s policy is always to investigate standing records when proof is brought forward challenging its legitimacy,” said Jason Schratweiser, conservation director for the IGFA. The IGFA subsequently disqualified the Hayes world record smallmouth bass in 1996. Kentucky followed the IGFA lead and removed the fish from the state records. 

After disqualifying the Hayes smallmouth, the IGFA and the KDFWR recognized another Dale Hollow Lake bass as the all tackle smallmouth world record; a 10-pound, 14-ounce fish caught in 1969 by John Gorman. Gorman's smallmouth was 26 and 1/4 inches long with a girth of 21 and 1/2 inches.

An investigation was launched and by Ron Fox, assistant director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). During the investigation Fox gathered multiple pieces of evidence that suggest Hayes' fish was legitimate.

Although Barlow had died before the affidavit was discovered Fox did locate and interview Barlow's brother Ira. Fox said, "I interviewed Barlow's brother, and he said, 'My brother who claimed to have done this [added the weight] wasn't even there. He wasn't at the dock that night'". Ira Barlow agreed to a polygraph test, and the results were part of the package Fox presented to IGFA officials.

Fox also located several eyewitnesses, including a Tennessee enforcement officer who saw Hayes' fish. "I was also fortunate enough to talk to a guy who worked at the dock and saw the fish that night and had his picture taken with it, and the scale shows 11 pounds, 15 ounces," Fox said. "I interviewed everybody I could find who saw the fish that night."

Some of the most compelling physical evidence were the length and girth measurements of the Hayes' smallmouth. The Hayes bass was 27 inches long with a girth of 21 and 2/3 inches. The #2 smallmouth caught by John Gorman in 1969 was 10-pound, 14-ounce fish it was 26 and 1/4 inches long with a girth of 21 and 1/2 inches.

Finally in December 2005 the IGFA reinstated Hayes's smallmouth bass as the world record.

Hayes Smallmouth Bass Timeline

1955, July 9th - David Hayes of Litchfield, Kentucky is trolling in Dale Hollow Lake in the mouth of Illwill Creek near Phillips Bottom when he caught a huge smallmouth bass.

1978 - IGFA takes over record-keeping from Field & Stream

1996 - affidavit surfaces that had been submitted by fishing guide Raymond Barlow to the Army Corps of Engineers six weeks after the fish was caught. It claimed that it actually weighed 8 pounds, 15 ounces and that Barlow had added weight to it.

1996 - IGFA disqualifies Hayes smallmouth bass and a 10-pound, 14-ounce smallmouth caught by John Gorman in 1969, also on Dale Hollow Lake, was recognized as the new IGFA all-tackle record

2005, Dec - Hayes smallmouth bass is reinstated as world record.


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