How One Man’s $100,000 Fish Became Another Man’s Dinner

How One Man’s $100,000 Fish Became Another Man’s Dinner

Someone once said that of all the liars in the world, fishermen are the most trustworthy.

Chris Larkins understands the truth of that backhanded insult better than most. At a recent bass fishing tournament on Lake of the Ozarks, the Missouri native had found a fish that would have netted him the $100,000 grand prize. But trusting another angler proved costly, and he went home without the fish or the money.

“It’s definitely the fishing story of a lifetime, I can tell you that,” he said in an interview with MeatEater.

First Try

The day on the lake started out like any other. Larkins had fished the Big Bass Bash in years past, and the avid amateur tournament fisherman had won boats and cash prizes at other competitions around the country. But the purse for this two-day tournament was especially large: $100,000 for the heaviest largemouth, smallmouth, or Kentucky spotted bass.

Larkins and his 21-year-old son were trolling along a bank in a cove he’d fished before when he spied a male and female largemouth guarding a spawning bed. Larkins reeled in the male, put it back in the water, and started casting towards the female with a white Sweet Beaver soft plastic lure. He caught her, but not in the way that he’d hoped.

“The first time was my fault. I set the hook too quick and got her right on the top of the head,” he explained.

This was a problem because according to tournament rules, a fish that is “foul hooked”–defined as not having at least one hook inside the mouth–is ineligible for the weigh-in and must be released.

Larkins knew the catch wouldn’t count, but he reeled it in, took a few pictures, and weighed it. When he saw the scales, he knew he wouldn’t be leaving that cove until he caught that fish fair and square.

The fish weighed 7.98 pounds, and, according to Larkin, “it’s never taken one that big to win the Big Bass Bash.”

He’s right. Since 2014, the heaviest fish caught at that tournament clocked in at 7.96 pounds, but about half the winners caught fish weighing less than seven pounds. On that particular weekend, the winning fish ended up weighing 7.63 pounds.

$100,000 bass

Second Try

Larkins switched lures to a Rapala CrushCity crawfish and kept at it. But the fish was understandably gun-shy after getting hooked in the head and hauled up into the boat. She took the lure five or six more times but spat it out before Larkins got a chance to set the hook.

Finally, after about two hours, Larkins says she swam off the bed with the bait in her mouth, and he set the hook.

“I told my boy, ‘Get the net, I’ve got her in the mouth,’” he said. “We netted it, and he says, ‘Dad, it's outside the mouth.’ I’m like, there’s no way.”

Larkins thinks the hook was facing down and outside the fish’s mouth when he set it, so it wrapped around her bottom lip.

When asked whether he considered bringing the fish back and entering it into the contest, Larkins denied it.

“I honestly didn’t. I fish tournaments, and the last thing a tournament fisherman wants is questions from somebody,” he said. “You fail a polygraph test tournament fishing, and you’re done. I’ve turned multiple fish loose. It’s part of event fishing. It happens.”

If he could do it again, knowing how the story ended, he thinks he may have tried calling the tournament director to explain what happened. But he doesn’t regret his decision, especially with his son in the boat with him.

“I want everybody out there fishing to know…you can still do the right thing. It’s not the end of the world. People around here get caught cheating all the time for four or five hundred dollars, it drives me nuts,” he said.

“Are You Freaking Kidding Me?”

Fish aren’t known for their intelligence, but almost anything would lose its appetite after being hooked once in the head and once in the mouth. Larkins and his son kept after it for another hour and a half, but the big female had zero interest in eating any more plastic.

They decided to pack it in before the final weigh-in at 3 pm and come back on the next (and last) day of the tournament. But they had a problem.

Their attempts to land the lunker had attracted a small audience. Larkins’s son had been holding the boat against a dock for the previous four hours, and two men had been sitting on the dock, drinking beer and chatting with the anglers. Before he left, Larkins decided to have a quick word.

“When we got done fishing, I told him it was a $100,000 fish. Chances are, it’ll be here tomorrow and I’ll catch him. He was like, ‘I wouldn’t mess with that fish, I wouldn’t do that to you, blah, blah, blah.’ I even shook the guy’s hand,” Larkins said.

The men on the dock couldn’t have entered the tournament, so they weren’t competing with Larkins for the prize money. But to paraphrase a Pat Durkin quote about whitetail deer, big fish make people stupid.

“I felt pretty good. The guy was pretty cool about it,” Larkins recalls. “Then I see the picture on Facebook that night, and I’m like, are you freaking kidding me?”

A friend of his was part of a local Lake of the Ozarks Facebook group, and he saw someone had posted a picture of what he claimed was a 7.9-pound largemouth.

“I instantly recognized the guy,” Larkins said. “Hell, I stood there next to him for almost four hours talking to him. I’m like, surely not. The guy promised me he wouldn’t catch that fish or even mess with it.”

The post has since been taken down, but MeatEater reviewed a screenshot and reached out to the gentleman in question. He didn’t respond, and so we won’t be revealing his identity since he hasn’t been accused of doing anything illegal. But we did speak with the Big Bass Bash tournament director, Charlie Terrell, who confirmed Larkins’s account. The story had spread on social media, but it didn’t reach a wider audience until Terrell told a reporter at LakeExpo about the story.

“Chris wasn’t trying to get any notoriety or make it go viral or anything,” Terrell said.

bass eater

Third Try

Larkins returned to the cove the next morning, hoping the man on the dock had returned the fish to the water. He and his son fished for two hours until one of the men came back down to the dock.

“I said, ‘Please tell me you didn’t filet that fish.’ He said, ‘Well, I didn’t, but my buddy did,’” Larkins recalled. “The first thing I said to him was, ‘I can tell you’re not a man of your word.’ He didn’t say anything. He seemed embarrassed about it. I don’t even remember exactly the words I said to him, but it wasn’t nice, I’ll put it that way. I probably flew off the handle.”

A group of crappie fishermen had been there the day before and were fishing again that morning. They told Larkins that he hadn’t even left the cove before the dock watchers were casting towards the big largemouth.

Larkins is the first to admit that those men had every right to catch that fish, but he thought they had come to an understanding.

“If he had a Missouri state fishing license, he’s entitled to that fish just as much as I was. I understand that. It’s a public lake. But for him to stand there and tell me that…he wouldn’t have even known the fish was there had he not seen what I was doing. He had no idea the fish was there,” Larkins said.

Larkins and his son continued fishing but never caught anything big enough to compete for the top prize. He acknowledges that he had lots of opportunity to catch the lunker, though he does chalk up the second foul hook to good-ol’-fashioned bad luck.

“People have said, well, you had the opportunity to catch it. I did. I screwed the opportunity up. First time was my fault. Second time was out of my control,” he said.

Last Cast

The prize money would have been split between Larkins and his son, which, he says, is the toughest pill to swallow.

“Fifty thousand dollars for a 21-year-old boy starting off in life? That would have been a good chunk of money. He was excited. In his head, he’s paid off his truck,” Larkins said.

Still, if there’s a silver lining, the experience offered a life lesson neither angler will soon forget.

“It teaches the kid you gotta do the right thing. You can’t look at the money. You gotta do the right thing,” Larkins said. “What a lesson. At 21 years old, you have to give up $50,000.”

That silver lining has lessened the sting when he thinks back on the incident.

“I still think about it, don’t get me wrong. But it hasn’t bothered me that much because I did the right thing. That’s the main thing,” he said. “It would be like if you poach a 200-inch deer, you’re not going to feel very good about killing it. When you kill it legally, in the right way, then that deer means something.”

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