Bass-O-Matic

How a radical plan for breeding huge fish transformed one of the most popular sports in Texas.
Illustration by Jack Unruh

On a frosty morning on November 26, 1986, a fishing guide named Mark Stevenson took two anglers out on Lake Fork, in East Texas. By the late afternoon, he had found a prime location on the north side of the lake at the intersection of two creeks. One of his clients spotted some commotion under a nearby bush and pitched his jig. The fish bit, but the angler couldn’t hook it. He tried two more times. No luck. Then Stevenson made an attempt, and whammo!

He yanked on his pole and quickly brought the fish to the side of the boat, where his client hauled up the gigantic bass with a net. “That’s a new lake record,” Stevenson said. But when he finally got the fish into a local tackle shop called Val’s, where he could weigh it, he discovered that at seventeen pounds ten ounces, he had beaten more than the lake record—he had beaten the state record. He named her Ethel. (Though one report stated that Stevenson’s inspiration was a member

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