Years ago prior to a story on his state-record bluegill, I interviewed Darren May by telephone. At the time he had his monster bluegill perched on a wall in his home, staring down a mounted 7-pound largemouth bass.
‘‘You know what?’’ May said. ‘‘If they were still in the water, the bluegill could tear that bass up.’’
Crazy as that sounds, May’s assertion makes sense. How else could a sunfish reach the state-record proportions of May’s big bluegill, which measured 13.75 inches long and weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces?
‘‘It was as big as a pan,’’ May said of the fish which had a girth of 16 inches. ‘‘Its eyeball is as big around as my thumb. And the black dot (gill cover) is bigger around than my thumb.’’
A day before he caught the record bluegill—on a chunk of nightcrawler—May thinks he saw the same fish swirling in the water of a Jasper County farm pond.
That night May dreamed about catching a big bluegill. After returning to the same pond the next day, reality exceeded even his dreams.
‘‘I got a hit, yanked, then lost the fish,’’ he told the Decatur Herald & Review at the time. ‘‘But as I reeled the bait back toward the bank, it hit again. Pow. It almost knocked the pole out of my hand.’’
After hooking the fish, May became understandably excited. Once he had it close to shore, he reached into the water with both hands and threw it 10 feet up onto the bank.
Then he smothered the fish with his body, briefly, before calling a quick end to his day of fishing.
‘‘I had no idea it was a record, but I had to take it to show some people,’’ said May, who spent eight hours showing off his big bluegill before getting an official weight. ‘‘I just knew it was big.’’
Big enough to shatter the former state record by nearly a pound and just 1.5 pounds off the world record, caught in Alabama in 1950. May’s fish was also bigger than the records for neighboring states Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Indiana - prompting some to claim the fish had to be a hybrid.
But the Illinois Natural History Survey ran tissue samples of the fish in its laboratory to determine that May’s bluegill was indeed a bluegill.
In the 15 years since, May’s big fish has been on display in bait shops and taverns throughout south-central Illinois. Replicas made by Hidalgo taxidermist Jim Hunsaker are also on display at the Department of Natural Resource’s regional offices.
May thinks those replicas may still be collecting dust years from now.
‘‘I don’t see the record being broken in Illinois,’’ he said.