Leroy Brown

                World's Most Famous Bass!

"Most bass are just fish, but Leroy Brown was something special."
This is a reprint from the Nov. 21, 2002, Montgomery Advertiser. Used with permission.

By Rick Harmon
Montgomery Advertiser

Most fish stories are about a fish that got away, not about the men who got away with a fish. Of course, it wasn’t just any fish. It was Leroy Brown.

Leroy Brown, Alabama’s most famous bass — if not the world’s — was special. If you want to know how special, you can read the clipping hung on a wall at Tom Mann’s Fish World in Eufaula.

Of course, to do that you would have to read Russian. Mann displays the clipping to show just how widely followed the life and death of Leroy Brown was.

Of course, if you can’t read Russian, or even if you can’t read at all, you can still get an idea of how special Leroy Brown was by viewing his statue on the grounds of Fish World.

Fish tales are hard to document, but it is claimed that this is the only statue in the world dedicated to a bass. Mann, the 69-year-old founder of Fish World, confirms that so far, there have been no counterclaims to the title.

Still, the easiest way to find out how special Leroy Brown was is simply to ask Mann.

After Mann hooked Leroy Brown in 1973 with a strawberry jelly worm lure, he noticed Leroy Brown was different from other bass. The fish had “intelligent” eyes that seemed to perch near the top of his head.

Leroy BrownThe Leroy Brown statue in Eufaula is a tribute
to the world's most famous bass.

Picture by Tamika Moore, Advertiser

But he soon discovered the fish was special in other ways.

"I put him in a 40-foot-long aquarium, and he ruled it from the first day. For eight years nothing came in his part of the aquarium but female bass. Catfish, turtles, anything else at all, he ran off."

What’s more, while Mann had hooked Leroy Brown once, the fish seemed to have learned from the experience.

"It was a testing tank he was in, so we would drop lures in there to test them, and for eight years not only didn’t he bite, he would turn and hit the lures with his tail. And when a female bass started to go for one he would bump it away from the lure."

"I must have seen tens of thousands of bass, and I’ve never even come up with one that looked like him, let alone could act like him. I had him where he would jump through a hoop like a porpoise and then would come and eat out of my hand."

If you know much about bass fishing, you probably know about Tom Mann.

Mann has a nationally syndicated fishing show, "Tom and Tina Outdoors," and a popular autobiography titled "Think Like a Fish." He has designed more than 3,600 lures and invented the Hummingbird depth finder.

Fishermen from around the world visit Fish World, which Mann built in 1969 so enthusiasts could research the art of bass fishing.

But while Mann may be well known, he says Leroy Brown was downright famous.

"He had more press than any bass in the world," Mann said. "It started with a full-page story in the Atlanta Journal and then Southern Living ran a big spread, and it just kept going on and on."

"Germany, Japan, England, Zimbabwe, Australia — that fish was known all over the world. Sometimes I got jealous of him because he got more coverage than I did."

Eight years after Mann found him, Leroy Brown died of old age. Gov. Fob James sent a telegram with his condolences. So did Hank Williams Jr., Porter Wagoner, Jerry Reed and Sonny James.

More than 700 showed up for funeral. The Eufaula High School band performed the Jim Croce hit "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" as the famous fish was laid to rest.

Leroy Brown’s tiny coffin was carried by some of the world’s elite fishermen, who were there for a bass tournament. Ray Scott, the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsmen’s Society, read the final words.

"AP picked up the story, and it ran all over the world," Mann said.

But then things turned from colorfully quirky to downright weird.

During the night, Mann said someone dug up the body of Leroy Brown, stealing both the fish and his coffin.

"We got a call from someone saying they’d contact us about a ransom, and then nothing," Mann said.

"After a while, we put ads in the paper, offering a $10,000 reward."

Weeks later, a man called wanting the reward. He said he was in an airport in Tulsa, Okla., but when he was asked for his name, he hung up.

After several calls from Fish World asking people at the airport to look for Leroy, Mann got a call the next day from someone at Braniff Airlines.

"He said, ´We have a box back here that smells pretty bad,´ and we said ´it sounds like him.´"

And it was.

"They wrapped him up real good, and sent him back and we buried him again," Mann said. "We never found out who stole the body. All these years later, and still no one has owned up to it."

Mann had a statue/tombstone for Leroy Brown made in Germany.

"Now, hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t take a picture of it," he said.

"It cost $4,000, and back then that was an awful lot. My wife gave me a hard time about how much it cost, but I told her I’d made sure there was room for her name on the back of it."

Jokes aside, many a fisherman is touched by the statue and the inscription Mann had placed on it. It reads, "Most bass are just fish, but Leroy Brown was something special."

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