Out of Bounds

Ball Bearing Brains

There’s a long history of fish-stuffing corruption in the angling world

By Rob Breeding

In the latest episode of one of my favorite shows, “Dead Fish, Dumb Fisherman,” a Kansas state record white crappie caught last March was disqualified because it appears the wily angler cheated.

The fish was declared the new state record crappie at 4.07 pounds, or as the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks wrote in a press release in April 2023, “the equivalent of six cans of soup.”

Never before in the annals of record-setting denizens of the deep has a whopper been described in more grandiose language.

Then again, we are talking about a crappie, from Kansas, caught in a body of water named Pottawatomie State Fishing Lake No. 2, so maybe “six cans of soup” is somewhat lyrical.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with a 4-pound white crappie. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle record is 5 pounds, 3 ounces, so that Kansas fish caught by angler Bobby Parkhurst was pretty impressive, even before it was “enhanced.”

At the top of that April press release, which still appears on the Department’s website, an update tells us that the crappie’s record status was revoked in November because the weight of the fish “could not be confirmed.” 

Further reporting by “Outdoor Life” and “Field and Stream,” revealed why the weight of the fish could not be confirmed: the crappie had been stuffed with ball bearings.

You might wonder why Parkhurst, or any angler determined to scheme their way into the record books, would choose the Kansas white crappie state record as their mark, but then maybe you don’t have the proper level of devious intellect to mastermind such a plot.

Parkhurst knew he had a whopper because he took the crappie to a nearby bait shop, where the 18-inch fish pushed the scales at 3.73 pounds. Like I said, even unenhanced, that’s a mighty fine crappie. 

But it was no state record.

So it appears Parkhurst then shoved just enough weight down that crappie’s throat to nudge it past the previous record — a 4.02-pound white crappie caught by Frank Miller in 1964 — then drove to another bait shop with a certified scale.

Parkhurst must not have considered the possibility that the first bait shop owner might catch on to his scheme. And once the new state record was announced — Kansas regulations require a one-month waiting period before records are official — that bait shop owner called the Department of Wildlife and Parks and ratted out Parkhurst. State officials then visited the cheat at his home and confiscated the frozen fish, used a metal detector to determine something was afoul, then took the crappie to the Topeka Zoo where an X-ray revealed steel ball bearings in the fish’s stomach.

Well, dang, there went Bobby’s dream of living out his days basking in the reflected glory of Kansas’ finest ever white crappie, stuffed and mounted above the mantle.

There’s a long history of fish-stuffing corruption in the angling world. With the financial stakes on the rise, duplicity designed to topple a record, or pocket tournament prize money, is increasingly common.

Back in the late 1980s, at a time when a lot of folks said a new world record bass would come from one of the reservoirs near San Diego, an angler there caught a hefty largemouth that had been stuffed with a lead weight from a diving belt. The contraband was discovered when the angler took the fish to the taxidermist. 

Another angler likely stuffed and released the bass, hoping to catch it later. 

More recently, a pair of anglers pleaded guilty to stuffing walleye with lead weights to win $28,000 in prize money at a 2022 Ohio fishing tournament.

Parkhurst didn’t cheat for money, however. There was so little fortune at stake the county attorney decided there wasn’t crime enough to prosecute. 

Kansas even gave him his fish back, while returning Frank Miller to the record books.