By CAROL BENFELL and BRUCE MEADOWS
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Somewhere in the murky depths of Santa Rosa's Spring Lake prowls a very big bass.
So big, in fact, that it may set a new world record.
The nearly 23-pound behemoth of a bass -- they normally run 2 or 3 pounds -- took the hook of Leaha Trew, 45, in August, and she has the photo to prove it.
The big bass now is a contender for the all-time world heavyweight title for largemouth bass at the International Game Fish Association in Dania Beach, Fla.
If the association accepts Trew's documentation, it will bring fame and the potential for millions of dollars in endorsements to the Santa Rosa woman who has shunned publicity.
Bass fishing is the most popular fishing sport in the nation, and landing the biggest bass brings star status.
"It's the Holy Grail of records. Anyone who breaks the record for the biggest largemouth bass would instantly become famous," said Doug Blodgett, world records administrator for the International Game Fish Association. "A lot of people wait their whole lives to catch an 8- or 10-pounder."
Trew, who owns Trew Land Care in Santa Rosa, declined to be interviewed, but her son, who was on the boat with her when she caught the fish, agreed to speak on her behalf.
J.T. Trew, 21, holds a number of world fishing records, including the heaviest koi ever caught and the longest bass caught on certain classes of line.
He got his mother started on bass fishing about three years ago. "She used to ride along and net the fish, and finally she said, 'Give me that rod,' " he said.
The two were paddling around Spring Lake on their 13-foot inflatable raft Aug. 24 when Leaha Trew hooked the big fish on her 12-pound line, using a 7-inch Wildeye swimbait in a mossback pattern, greenish with a stripe and resembling a small bass.
It took Trew about 10 minutes to net the fish.
They'd caught several sizeable bass earlier in the year but quickly realized this was the biggest they'd ever seen.
Their excitement mounted as Leaha Trew struggled to pull the bass aboard the boat, and they used the last frame on their last roll of film to snap its picture -- and then released it.
The bass turned out to be a world-class contender. It was 29 inches long and weighed 22 pounds, 8 ounces. The current largemouth record of 22 pounds, 4 ounces was set in 1932 at Montgomery Lake, Ga.
"My mother is proud because she's a woman and she caught the biggest bass," J.T. Trew said. "It's mostly a guy thing."
The Trews already have been approached for endorsements by manufacturers of the boat, line and lure she used, and they've fielded dozens of calls from the media.
"It's exciting," he said, "We don't sleep well at night."
If the title comes through, the endorsements would allow them to retire from their tree pruning business and become professional bass fishermen, he said.
Spring Lake is small as lakes go, but three bass weighing more than 20 pounds have been caught there and released in the past half-dozen years.
"It's the best puddle in Sonoma County," J.T. Trew said.
The big bass caught in August already has won Leaha Trew the world record for heaviest largemouth bass ever caught on a 12-pound line from the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis.
She also holds the hall of fame's unofficial record for the biggest largemouth bass caught on any kind of tackle, Executive Director Ted Dzialo said.
The record would have been official, but Trew released the bass, and the organization requires a biologist do a necropsy, Dzialo said.
The hall of fame wants to ensure that a fish hasn't swallowed foreign objects that add to its weight. In one case, a fish that seemed destined to set a record had swallowed a 21/2 -pound diving weight, he said.
"The angling public is concerned that a record be above suspicion," Dzialo said. "It's a shame a fish has to be killed to accomplish this, but there's no other way to do it."
J.T. Trew said he and his mother always release the fish they catch. "I'm not crazy about eating fish," he said.
The International Game Fish Association, which is considering Leaha Trew's bass for its world record, doesn't require a fish be killed and encourages catch and release.
As a result, the association has strict requirements for written and photographic documentation. Because the Trews were out of film, they couldn't meet the association's requirement for a photo of the fish against a tape measure to confirm its size, Blodgett said.
Dzialo said the bass was identified by a state Fish and Game representative and was weighed on a certified scale before Trew released it.
The Trews have submitted the photo and the measurements and they have witnesses, but the records committee is still debating whether that's enough for the prestigious award as the world's heaviest largemouth bass, Blodgett said.
"They weren't able to do what other anglers are able to do, so the application has been here for a long period of time," he said. "We're trying to determine if we have enough evidence to go one way or the other."
He said he expected a decision after the first of the year.
The big bass caught by Leaha Trew in Spring Lake was a Florida-strain largemouth bass, one of two kinds of largemouth bass in the United States. Bass are popular game fish because of their fighting spirit and willingness to attack both lures and live bait.
The average bass caught weighs 2 or 3 pounds. A bass of 10 pounds is considered trophy size. The world record for heaviest largemouth bass is 22 pounds, 4 ounces set in 1932 in Montgomery Lake, Ga.
Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, International Game Fish Association
Fishing columnist John Adams contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writers Carol Benfell at 521-5259 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Bruce Meadows at 521-5263 or email@example.com.