Written by “Bayou Shoal”
Every time I time I open up a pack of Mann’s jelly worms, the smell of that unique oil they drench their worms in instantly bring me back to the year 1975. What’s so significant about 1975? Well, that’s the year I paid homage to a fish on the shores of Lake Eufaula, Alabama. This was no ordinary fish. No, not at all!
It was that magical day in June 1975 that I got to see the biggest & baddest bass that ever swam our waters. This mythical fish lived over in the jelly worm Mecca of the South – Tom Mann’s Fish World. I was in awe when I walked through that door of jelly worm royalty. I almost hyperventilated when I saw the never-ending racks of plastic worms! Had I died and gone to heaven? They had every worm color that you could fathom! They even had my secret favorite color – “Scuppernung”. I was slobbering & drooling as I walked right past a smiling Indian fellow without noticing him. Up until then, this skinny kid from South Georgia had done most of his bass purchases at the sporting goods section at Gibson’s Department Store in Cordele.
After I finally quit breathing hard and wiped the drool from my mouth, I laid eyes on the biggest fish aquarium that I had ever seen. Man, this tank was bigger than my bedroom at home I was thinking. That thought soon faded when I saw Leroy Brown patrolling his corner of the massive fish aquarium. My eyes were big as moon pies! This fish was bigger than any other bass that I had ever seen. All the other fish trembled in his presence! I stared at this fish for at least 30 minutes. Leroy’s eyes sort of ran high up on his head, kind of made him look meaner. I was told that Tom Mann had trained this fish to eat out of his hand and that he could also do other tricks. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness that. I did get to see Leroy Brown chase off some of the other bass when they got too close to his side of the aquarium. That was one bad bass!
Six years had passed since I first visited with a bass named Leroy Brown. I will have to admit, I really hadn’t thought of that fish for some time. Not until one Saturday morning when I was thumbing through the Atlanta Journal newspaper trying to find the Atlanta Brave’s box score from the following day that I noticed that Leroy Brown had been kidnapped. “Grave robbers steal fish’s body.” What, I couldn’t believe it!
It was dark days and strange goings on in Eufaula, Alabama in 1981. After eight years of captivity, Leroy Brown had died of old age. Just can’t imagine the look on Tom Mann’s face when he found Leroy Brown belly up in that massive fish tank. Leroy Brown was put to rest in a velvet lined possum bellied Plano tackle box. Mourners dropped strawberry jelly worms on Leroy as they viewed his coffin. Heck, the local High School Marching Band even played “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” at his funeral.
Later that night, grave robbers stole Leroy Brown from his grave. Soon after, Mann received a phone call instructing him that he would be contacted for a ransom. That call never came, Leroy was gone forever it seemed… Tom Mann put up a $10,000.00 reward in newspapers for the return of his beloved Leroy Brown. Several weeks later a unanimous call came in that Leroy Brown was at an airport in Oklahoma. Sure enough, after calling airline authorities, a conspicuous smelly box the size of a tackle box was in fact at the airport. After verification, poor ole’ Leroy Brown’s remains were never returned to Eufaula due to the smell and decomposition. It still remains a mystery as to who robbed Leroy’s grave.
I revisited Mann’s Fish World in the summer of 1995 while driving to Louisiana on vacation. Sadly, the magic that I experienced 20 years earlier was no longer there. Tom Mann had sold his lure manufacturing company to someone else during that time. The aquarium in the museum was still there and it held a couple of bored looking lethargic bass. With a wet eye, I went over to the side of the aquarium that Leroy guarded so diligently and reflected on my boyhood pilgrimage to visit a bass…
Before I departed Fish World, I came across a gravestone for Leroy Brown that was inscribed: MOST BASS ARE JUST FISH, BUT LEROY BROWN WAS SOMETHING SPECIAL.
Leroy Brown’s Gravestone!