When Marvin Bushong went bass fishing on April 21, 1961, he had no illusions of greatness.
He fished on the new Bull Shoals Lake nearly every day, and he was merely hoping to catch a few keepers.
But on his second cast of the day, all of that changed. Something attacked his Helldiver spinnerbait and fought hard — so hard that the reel came off his fishing rod. Bushong held onto the reel and kept fighting until he got a huge bass to the side of the boat.
The fish was too big to fit in his net, so he reached down and grabbed his catch by the lip. And in the process, he made Missouri fishing history.
Bushong’s largemouth bass weighed 13 pounds, 14 ounces and became a Missouri state record. Today, that mark still stands. It is the oldest rod-and-reel record in the Missouri books, and some wonder if it will ever be broken.
“I don’t think any of us figured Dad’s record would last this long,” said Mike Bushong, Marvin’s son, who lives in Gainesville. “At the time, there were a lot of big bass in Bull Shoals. The next day, dad’s friend went back to the same spot where dad caught his fish and got one that weighed 10 pounds.
“But no one could break Dad’s record then — and no one’s been able to do it since. Our family hopes it will last forever.”
Marvin died doing what he loved — fishing. He became tangled in a trotline, fell out of the boat and drowned. But his legacy lives on.
The monstrous bass Bushong caught that spring day is the holy grail of Missouri bass fishermen, but it isn’t the only mark in Missouri’s record books that has withstood the test of time.
• The 3-pound bluegill state record was set in 1963 by an 11-year-old boy fishing the old-fashioned way — with a Zebco reel, a cheap rod and a can of worms — on a farm pond. Despite modern advances in fishing equipment, no one has come close to matching that mark over the years.
• The spotted bass record of 7 pounds, 8 ounces was caught in April 1966 on Table Rock Lake. That reservoir has been hit by thousands of bass fishermen since then, but the record has survived.
• It’s not hard to see why Missouri’s green sunfish record of 2 pounds, 2 ounces has stood since June of 1971. That’s an unheard of size for a green sunfish. To draw it into perspective, that fish, caught at Stockton Lake, is also a world record.
• The goggle-eye record of 2 pounds, 12 ounces was set in 1968 on the Big Piney River.
• The channel catfish is a popular fish in Missouri. But the state record for the species — 34 pounds, 10 ounces — has stood since October 1976
Are these records untouchable?
Over the years, some of the marks have come close to being broken, but still, it’s going to take a good mix of skill and luck to bring one of them down.
A bass for the ages
It’s not like Bushong’s record hasn’t been challenged.
In 1985, Jay Koran, of Rockdale, Illinois, caught a 13-pound, 5-ounce largemouth during a tournament at Truman Lake. And in 1998, David Bosley and Gary Sexton found a 13-pound, 15-ounce bass floating near-dead in a northwest Missouri farm pond. Because they didn’t catch the fish on sporting tackle, it wasn’t eligible for a state record.
So Bushong’s name remains in the Missouri record books.
He was a contrast to today’s bass fisherman. The fisherman from Gainesville fished out of a small boat and motor and didn’t have the high-tech electronics or equipment that anglers use today. But he knew where to fish. On that fateful April day, he headed to the Cow Pens area near the Arkansas line on Bull Shoals, a spot known for big bass.
The Ozarks reservoir had plenty of them in those days. Because it was in its infancy, Bull Shoals had plenty of trees, vegetation, soil and nutrients in the water — ideal growing conditions for bass.
“There were a phenomenal number of bass 7, 8, 9, 10, even 11 pounds in Bull Shoals back in those days,” said A.J. Pratt, a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, in a video on the agency’s website (mdc.mo.gov).
A rare bluegill
Anyone who fishes has to love the way the state-record bluegill was caught.
Instead of being landed by some crusty old-timer who fishes every day, it was caught by a 11-year-old named Robert Giovanini, who was fishing with an old rod and reel and a worm for bait. He caught it on a farm pond where he fished almost every day during the summer.
Sounds like something out of the old TV series “Andy of Mayberry,” doesn’t it?
In a video on the Department of Conservation’s website, Giovanini recalled, “I didn’t even know it was a record fish. I just knew it was a big fish — probably bigger than anything I had ever caught before.”
Giovanini’s dad immediately knew his son’s catch was rare. He brought the fish to a game warden, who weighed the bluegill and found that it was a state record.
The Giovaninis had the trophy catch mounted, and the family still has great memories of that summer day in 1963.
“To catch a record fish, it takes a lot of luck,” Robert said in the video.
An unmatched channel catfish
Gerald Siebenmorgen, 81, was fishing for a state record channel catfish when he cast out his lines at Lake Jacomo on a cool October morning in 1976.
He caught a 28-pounder a year earlier at the Kansas City-area lake. And his friends had landed fish in the 25-pound range.
At the time, Jacomo was a big-cat factory. And Siebenmorgen just knew there had to be a state record out there.
He was right. In the early-morning hours, he landed a channel cat that weighed 34 pounds, 10 ounces and set a state record that has stood for almost 42 years.
“After I got off work at the Ford plant at 3 a.m., I would always head over to Jacomo, and I would fish from the bank until the sun would come up,” said Siebenmorgen, who lived in Independence at the time but later moved to Sunrise Beach. “That’s when the big catfish would move in — after the boats left the lake and everything calmed down.”
Fishing with a frog for bait, Siebenmorgen knew he had something big when he set the hook. Still, he didn’t think he had anything extraordinary.
“It didn’t fight as hard as that 28-pounder I caught the year before,” he recalled.
But he soon found he had underestimated what he had. Friends urged him to have the fish officially weighed, and he did. Soon, he and his mighty channel cat were in the Missouri record books.
Much has changed since that day. Lake Jacomo no longer produces the extraordinary channel catfish it once did, and Siebenmorgen hasn’t fished there in years.
Instead, he fishes at Lake of the Ozarks and occasionally pulls in a big one. But nothing like the one he landed in his younger days.
“I can’t believe my record has stood that long,” he said. “But it was one heck of a fish.”