The World Record Walleye and the Other Biggest Ever

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It’s spring, and that means walleye and walleye fishermen are starting to get after it, many in the hopes of walleye fishing for their biggest fish ever in the prespawn. I imagine most folks that broke the state record for walleye just hoped they chose the best walleye lures and would catch some. Then they ended up catching the biggest walleye ever in that state and on at least one or two rare occasions, the world record walleye.

Walleyes are a unique type of sport fish and some of the best table fare you can eat. That makes them very popular with anglers. While their distribution has expanded some, and 44 states actually have walleye state records, they are mostly a northern tier fish in North America from about Ohio north. Yes there are some transplants in states like Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and even Texas, but for the most part when people talk walleye fishing, they are talking Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Michigan, Ohio, New York, etc.


A big fish is relative to it’s location. But generally speaking and looking at numerous state record walleye catches, a trophy walleye is generally any walleye weighing more than 10 pounds. In fact 10 pounds would only be the state record in 6 of the 44 states with walleye records. That means 38 states have records weighing more than 10 pounds.

But a 10-pound walleye is going to be something like 28 inches or longer with a big pot belly. So they are enormous fish when they get to that size. And just mutants when you start talking about a couple walleyes that have come to be known as the world records off and on. Yes, as you might guess, there is some controversy around the walleye world record.

harpers wife world record walleye photos
Mabry Harper’s Wife with the world record walleye.


For most of my adult life, the world record walleye was the 22-pound, 11-ounce walleye caught by Al Nelson in 1982 on Greers Ferry Lake in Arkansas during a tournament. That fish was the record largely because the previous record holder was stripped after documentation questioned the validity of the former record walleye allegedly caught in 1960 by Mabry Harper at Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee. Harper’s fish was said to weigh 25 pounds, 4 ounces with an astonishing length of 41 inches and 29-inch girth.

As is the case with the many of the old world records, the controversy came from the photograph. Unfortunately Harper’s photograph was not very good and the fish didn’t seem like it could possibly be 41 inches or 25 pounds.

After years as the record, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame disqualified Harper’s catch after Dick Sternberg wrote an analysis of the questionable photos and documentation of the catch in an article in Outdoor Life in 1996. Harper’s fish was not weighed on certified scales and from the fish compared to the hands subjective analysis, an opinion was put forth that the fish simply could not be 41 inches long. So it could not weigh that much. And the record was no more.

It wasn’t until 2019, when Harper’s relatives decided to do something about the tarnished reputation of Harper and his catch. They found the warden James Spurling’s affidavits as to the weighing of the fish on two separate attempts. However, keep in mind these were not certified scales, so by today’s standards, if that fish were caught and weighed the same way, it would not be recognized today as a world record.

Local Trousdale County historian John Oliver however was able to unearth some additional documentation on the catch, including several other photos of the fish. One such photo was of Mabry’s wife with the walleye. Oliver took that photo and blew it up to life size dimensions because Mrs. Harper was a known size. When they blew the photo up to her life-size aspect ratio, the fish in the picture measured 41 inches. There was also another photo of the fish with the head cutoff after it was cleaned for dinner. The head was placed next to a ruler to show it’s sheer size.

So in 2019, The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame reinstated the Harper Walleye as the world record, and Arkansans were no longer the world record holders for walleye.

Al Harper with the former world record and Arkansas state record walleye
Al Harper with the former world record and Arkansas state record walleye


The mark of 25 pounds is an unheard of weight in the walleye world. You hardly hear of walleyes weighing in the teens being caught much less walleyes in the 20 pound range. In fact only 5 states have walleye state records weighing more than 20 pounds. So the 25-pound, 4-ounce walleye from Old Hickory Tennessee is quite the unreal and impressive fish.

As is the 22-pound, 11-ounce walleye caught in Arkansas. That Greers Ferry walleye continues to be the second biggest walleye ever caught!


The 41 inches, honestly, was the hardest part to believe in the original world record walleye claim. Considering most folks will never see a 30-inch walleye. A 41-inch walleye seems like it would be from another planet. But if it holds true to the scaled up photo, it was probably quite the feat to see that walleye up close and personal. I mean not many people have seen a walleye close to 4 feet long.

I have not seen any mentions of what the world record walleye was caught on or how the anglers were fishing for walleye the day they landed the prized catch.

Al Harper Arkansas walleye record - former world record