Cult 45 and the search for the record limit

5d3_2512.jpg-lee-livesay.jpg

Lee Livesay, 1st (112-5)
James Overstreet

Lee Livesay, 1st (112-5)

Nearly every year the remaining members of the undefeated 1972 NFL Miami Dolphins team collectively hold their breath as some team makes a run at matching their perfect record. When the last remaining unbeaten team gets their comeuppance, the Fins allegedly toast themselves with champagne. The last time they were meaningfully threatened was in the 2007-2008 season, when Tom Brady’s (yes, that Tom Brady) New England Patriots won 18 games before losing to the New York Giants thanks in part to New York receiver David Tyree’s ability to retain possession of an Eli Manning pass by pressing it against his helmet.

I do not know if Dean Rojas drinks champagne, but it appears that his one-day, five-fish record catch of 45 pounds 2 ounces is safe for another week, and likely another year.

That was not a fait accompli heading into the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork. Prior to the tournament Drew Cook told Bassmaster.com writer Steve Wright that he thought this week was a prime opportunity for the record to be broken.

“I’ve got one close to 12 (pounds) that I’m going to start on,” he said. “Another that’s 8 or so, a pair of 7s. If we can get the ball rolling, who knows? I’ve never been in this situation before where 25 pounds a day is not going to cut it at all." 

Once again, the record was not broken. The largest limit of the event was winner Lee Livesay’s final day 42-03. That deficit (“just 3 pounds”) doesn’t sound like much, but he was off the mark by nearly 10 ounces per fish. To beat it, he would’ve needed that across-the-board upgrade, or he could’ve swamped out his smallest fish, a 7-14, for a 10-14, or trade his biggest, a 9-02, for a 12-02. Easy to say, not so easy to do. He had the day of a lifetime and used up everything in the tank and still fell short (to the tune of a $100,000 check). 

Second-year pro Taku Ito’s not-insubstantial Day 2 limit of 33-03 was impressive, but he would have needed a sixth fish – and it would’ve had to be the 12-pounder that Cook had identified, to break the record. Indeed, even if Cook had landed all of those fish he’d seen – a 12, and 8 and two 7s – that still only adds up to 34 pounds. He’d need to find another 11 to challenge Rojas for the crown. That demonstrates exactly why the record, set 20 years ago at Lake Toho, is so hard to beat. You can’t have a single weak card in your hand.

The factors weighing against catching a new record are monumental. First, there are a limited number of bodies of water that have the potential. It’s not just a matter of holding five 9-pounders – it has to hold more 9-and-overs than you can imagine. Second, the time of year and the weather have to be conducive to the fish feeding or defending their territory vigorously, and when they weigh their most.

Could it happen in the right place in the fall? Possibly, but probably not. What if a day is canceled due to weather? There go somewhere between 10 and 100 chances to get it done. Finally, an angler would have to have an area or a pattern almost entirely to himself, the way that Patrick Walters did at Fork last fall (right situation, wrong time of year?). That’s becoming increasingly unlikely as the anglers and their tools get better. It strikes me as ironic that improving angler efficiency may be a strike against the record being broken.

The angler also has to get to fish a maximum number of days. While Rojas caught his record on the first day of the tournament, Livesay caught his big bag on Day 4. If you don’t make the cuts, you don’t get your additional chances. Keith Combs, for example, would’ve been another prime candidate to break the record this week, but a tough Day 1 nearly prevented him from making it to Day 3, and a tough Day 3 sent him home before Sunday’s day of competition. At Fork this year, anglers had a shortened Day 2, so even an angler on the best quality fish had at most 3 3/4 days to get the job done. Furthermore, a 10- or 11-pounder caught on Day 1 would likely not be available on subsequent days, so despite Livesay’s Day 4 heroics, each day the chances decrease – unless, of course, more fish are moving up.

Despite all those things weighing against it, a one-day record is likely easier to beat than a three- or four-day record, if for no other reason than there may be a tinge of luck involved in it. It has nearly happened in competition before Livesay’s monster day. At the 2008 Elite event on Falcon, the greatest slugfest in the history of professional fishing, Florida’s Terry Scroggins brought 44-04 to the scales on Day 4. At the 2014 Toyota Texas Bass Classic, before the event was affiliated with B.A.S.S., Keith Combs caught 42 pounds on Day 1 to set the pace.

So despite all of that negativity, I’m still hopeful and expectant that I’ll see the record broken in my lifetime.

Obviously, if the tour were to go to a slightly off-the-grid lake in its prime, like O.H. Ivie – or like Falcon was in 2008 – at the right time, that would be ideal, especially if it had a bunch of teeners in it. The biggest fish Rojas weighed in was 10-12. Combs had a 10-14. Scroggins topped out at a “mere” 10-06. Needless to say, a 12 goes a long way. Two of them leaves you needing “only” a trio of 7-pounders to get the job done. Fork, which clearly has the potential, is also fairly close to a major metropolitan area and gets a ton of pressure. The schedulers might look for someplace on the cusp of greatness with a little less name recognition. Again, easier said than done, and business comes into play when choosing locations, but as Ivie showed, they’re out there. 

The great news, as far as I’m concerned, is that when the record is broken, I think it’s just as likely to be by a 50-pound bag as by an incremental rise to 45-03 or 45-04. In most sports, by pure logic, records are broken by small amounts. Hank Aaron initially broke Babe Ruth’s home run record by exactly one, and then eventually bested him by about 4%. If you believe that Barry Bonds is now the home run king, he only has approximately 1% more dingers than Aaron.

In many cases, like in track and field, records descend – eventually the record in something like the 100 yard dash will only be able to go down by miniscule fractions. I hold out hope, however, that in bass fishing we could see a day where the Elites hit things right and someone brings in five 11-pounders, or a trio of 12s and a pair of 10s, thus annihilating the record. Will it happen easily? No, but the chance is out there.

I remember being at work in early 2001 and being astounded – like many of you were – by the Rojas catch. It seemed inconceivable. Less than a decade earlier, O.T. Fears had set the five-fish B.A.S.S. record at Santee Cooper with a Day 2 limit that weighed 34-04. I recall him later telling me that the livewell in his Ranger Boat was ill-equipped at the time to hold those five chunks. Even the boat manufacturers weren’t prepared for a catch of that size! Now, 20 years after the Rojas catch, and while the ink of Livesay’s check is still drying, 46 will wow us but won’t surprise us. Fifty, or perhaps 60, that’ll raise some serious eyebrows. 

I’m 51 years old. I hope that I have a lot of runway left in front of me, and I fully expect that if I see another 20 years, and certainly another 30, the Rojas catch will become our sport’s version of Babe Ruth – remarkable, historical, but not the best of all time.