Ohioan’s record quest comes too late

New Lebanon, Ohio — Is the 7-pound, 2-ounce bass that Nathan Biggs caught in 2006 actually a spotted bass, meaning it would have been a state record?

Biggs, a West Carrollton police officer and the personality behind a TV outdoors show, believes that might be the case.

In any case, though, it’s too late to have the fish certified.

He caught the bass in question in a farm pond in the spring of that year and had the fish mounted. It has hung from a garage wall in his New Lebanon home.

“At the time, I really didn’t know the difference between the two species,” Biggs said. “To me, they were all the same.”

But Biggs, who’s since become an avid outdoorsman and launched an outdoors online TV show that is set to begin airing on Dish Network’s Hunt Channel in January, said he thought otherwise about the fish after watching another TV show recently.

In that show, the hosts were getting overly excited about what appeared to be average-sized largemouth bass. But, Biggs said, he realized all of the fuss was because the fish were actually spotted bass, which are  smaller cousins of the largemouth bass. It was then, after doing a little bit more research on the Internet, that he came to the realization that his bass was a spotted, not a largemouth.

And then he realized that his fish, as a spotted bass, would have been a state record.

While the state record for largemouth bass stands at 13.13 pounds, the state record spotted bass is only 5.25 pounds, a record set on Lake White in 1976.

According to the Ohio DNR’s web page dedicated to the species, the mouth of spotted bass “extends to the eye but not beyond the rear edge when the mouth is closed.” With largemouth bass, “the back of the mouth does extend past the eye.”

Spotted bass also have a patch of small teeth on the center of their tongue, according to the DNR, while largemouth bass do not; though other authorities on this subject claim that, on occasion, some largemouth bass can also have these teeth.

Though the DNR page doesn’t mention it, the notch between the spinous and soft dorsals, “is quite shallow in a spotted bass but very deep in a largemouth,” said Fred Snyder, a retired OSU Extension fisheries specialist and current chairman of the State Record Fish Committee, which was formed by the Outdoor Writers of Ohio.

Snyder, who reviewed the only available photograph of Biggs’ bass taken while it was still fresh, noted that, “in the photo, the insertion of the soft dorsal (the front edge) appears to curve right down to the skin of the back rather than connecting with a broad band of tissue to the spinous dorsal.”

One other clue: “More characteristically, this bass appears to have a uniform dark coloration on its back, whereas a spotted bass has more diamond-shaped markings,” Snyder said.

He added, “certainty is an elusive thing when you can’t examine a fish having close relatives.”

“There are too many things that can’t be examined from the photo – the relative length of the jaws, the anal ray count, the dorsal fin separation – to give an absolute guarantee,” he said. “But after a long career in this business, I feel I’m looking at a largemouth.”

Biggs isn’t convinced it is a largemouth bass.

“I still think it’s a spotted,” Biggs said, upon hearing Snyder’s diagnosis.

Biggs had been so sure his fish was a spotted bass that he contacted the DNR once he realized his fish was larger than the standing state record spotted bass. They put him in touch with Snyder.

Regardless of whether the fish was actually a spotted bass or not, there was no way to certify the fish as a state record, as several criteria could no longer be met, Snyder said.

The application for a record fish in Ohio has a dozen bullet points, including one stipulation that “violation of any of these rules will lead to invalidation.”

For one, the application had to be mailed within six months of the catch.

“Still, let me congratulate you on a great catch, and hopefully there will be another bass, even bigger, waiting for you out there,” Snyder wrote.

Spotted or largemouth, the fish stands as the largest bass Biggs has landed.

Though he still wants to believe that the fish was a spotted, he admitted that, perhaps his perception was based more on the markings on his mounted fish.

Now, he’s much more aware of the differences between these two species.

And he’s hoping to catch many more spotted bass, with his mind on the state record.

“I would love to catch one now knowing what I would need to do getting it certified,” Biggs said. “It has added a personal goal that I would love to meet, as far as getting my name on those record books. It’s added one more challenge.”

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