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Smallmouth bass
6 pounds, 7 ounces
March 26, 1985

Big Fish Board

Mark Samp’s record smallmouth bass

Tue, March 26, 1985

samp smally

For 20 minutes after he caught his record smallmouth bass, Mark Samp kept fishing.

But the big, bronze-sided fish trailing behind his boat on a stringer weighed heavily on Samp’s mind. Trophy fish have a way of doing that. They get into your head, make you wake early, spend money, eschew comfort and react strangely should you actually hook one.

Eventually curiousity about his smallie overcame the urge to fish.

‘‘I didn’t think it was a record at first, but I knew it was a big one,’’ Samp said.

So he ended his trip early, determined to learn how his fish stacked up against other smallmouth bass caught in Illinois.

The record was a reward for fishing early in the year for Samp, who up until that March did not fish ice-out.

‘‘I’m generally a fair-weather fishermen, not an early ice-out kind of guy,’’ Samp said. ‘‘But I had one of my friends tell me that if I was going to go after trophies I had to get out there as soon as the ice came off.’’

So that’s what Samp did, though he picked a sunny day to make history.

‘‘And we waited until noon before we got started,’’ Samp said.

Samp’s fish hit on a brown jig and a black pork trailer and came out of steep-sided, deep strip-mine lake near Farmington on ground once leased by the Spoon River Valley Sportsman Club.

‘‘Ever since that it always bugged me whether maybe there was one in there bigger than that,’’ Samp said.

Eventually Samp’s smallmouth became one of the best-known state record fish in Illinois history. After all, much of central Illinois got a chance to see the 6-pound, 7-ounce fish before it headed to the taxidermist.

Unlike some record fish, Samp’s smallie was not paraded around town immediately after it left the water. Instead, Samp brought the fish to his Peoria home and placed it in a basement sink, into which he also placed an aerator.

After biologist Wayne Herndon confirmed the fish was indeed a smallmouth, estimating it could have been 20 years old, Samp had an idea.

‘‘That was the first year for an all-sports show at the (Peoria) Civic Center, so I called Tim Presley and asked if he’d want to display the fish in front of his booth,’’ Samp recalled.

Presley, owner of the South Side Worm Ranch, jumped at the chance.

‘‘It was the success of the show. Everybody wanted to see the live state record,’’ Presley said. ‘‘Then after the show we had it in the tank (at the Worm Ranch) and people who hadn’t seen it came from all over.

‘‘We had people come down from Chicago.’’