A bit late as usual, we call attention to a significant date on the calendar – March 2.
It could be labeled a red letter day.
For starters, it was David McCollum’s birthday. Some comments can be made about his arrival into this world at a time of state high school basketball tournaments, of the pushing and shoving and speculation of the NCAA’s Big Dance.
March 2 is Texas Independence Day. It’s something of a big deal down there the other side of Texarkana, and if you know Texas history, you can smile a bit on this particular topic. The Texans of old declared independence from Mexico when they, the Texans, were on the ropes and running away from Santa Anna and his army.
March 2 was when the Arkansas state record largemouth bass was caught on Mallard Lake.
The year this bass was landed was 1976, and the event grabbed major attention in Arkansas and across the nation. A 16-pound, 4-ounce largemouth in Arkansas? Who ever heard of Mallard Lake?
That was just for starters. When Aaron Mardis pulled the big bass out of little (300 acres) Mallard Lake, it weighed more than 16-4.
Mardis and his brother had no idea how big the fish was except it was the largest bass they had ever seen. They caught the bass early in the morning, literally minutes after they put their boat into the water. They trolled back to shore and tossed the bass in the back of their pickup truck and went back to fishing — the rest of the day. Then they drove home to Memphis.
By the time they rounded up some buddies and took the fish to a Memphis supermarket, it had been out of the water and in the back of that truck more than 12 hours. On certified scales at the supermarket, it weighed 16-8.
Mardis took the fish home, put it in a freezer and waited until he could make contact with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission on the state record procedure. A friend had verified that the Mardis fish was far larger than the existing Arkansas record of 13-4.
The supermarket weighing did not count, the AGFC folks told Mardis. Bring it to Arkansas and weigh it with an AGFC person present. Mardis met wildlife officer Paige Miller at West Memphis, and they located certified scales. The official weight then was 16-4.
We can only speculate how much weight the bass had lost, but likely it weighed in the neighborhood of 17 pounds when it came out of the water.
As soon as the news got out about the record bass, the naysayers hit full stride.
Photos of the fish looked like it was frozen. It was. The doubters claimed that Mardis changed his story about what lure he caught it on. What happened was AGFC’s Miller asked Mardis what lure he had used, and Mardis could not remember the name. A buddy standing near said, “Strike King,” a Memphis-made spinner bait.
The next day, Mardis, on a tape recorder of this writer, “It was a Vibra Queen. I couldn’t remember the name yesterday, but it was a Vibra Queen.” That was an Arkansas-made spinner bait, a Cotton Cordell product.
More than an hour of tape was used in the session in Mardis’ Memphis living room. He told every detail and answered every question. He was not a tournament bass fisherman, but he was an experienced bass fisherman. He had hooked and lost a big fish in Mallard Lake in November 1975, and he and his brother went to the same spot four months later. He caught the fish “on the third or fourth cast. I can’t remember exactly how many.”
The late George Purvis of AGFC made a phone call to this writer. “Joe, may I borrow that tape?”
Purvis returned the tape a few days later and said quietly, “We don’t have a problem with making this the state record.”