If you’re ever driving through downtown Eufaula, Ala., you may notice an interesting memorial in the town square. You may assume it’s for a great historical figure, perhaps an honored community leader or a celebrity hero from the southern state. But you may be surprised to know it’s actually a memorial for a fish.
But not just any fish. The greatest fish that a renowned Alabama fishing legend had ever seen. A fish that would live on in the hearts of Alabamians for decades after he swam up to that big aquarium in the sky: Leroy Brown.
The Big, Bad Bass
Long before Big Mouth Billy Bass ruled the scene, there was another bass making headlines. And this one wasn’t battery operated. It all started in 1973 when bass fishing legend Tom Mann was out on Lake Eufaula fishing with his patented strawberry Jelly Worm. He felt a tug at his line. As Mann reeled the fish in, he felt that there was something special about him. Although the bass was only one pound, Mann took him home and put him a tank with other, larger fish. Perhaps as a sign of encouragement, Mann named the bass after the hugely popular Jim Croce song about a rough and tough character, “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
Leroy Brown soon became known as the baddest dude in the tank. He gave off a naturally combative vibe, letting the other largemouths know he didn’t mess around. Mann eventually moved Leroy to the 38,000-gallon fish tank at Tom Mann’s Fish World, where he became even more of a local fish celebrity. All of Eufaula would visit the aquarium to get a glimpse of Leroy.
Leroy was smart, too. Mann often tested out his new bait concoctions on the fish in the aquarium. While the other fish fell for it, Leroy would swat at the baited hook with his tail.
The bass became world famous, racking up press clippings from publications as far away as Australia.
A Funeral Fit For a King (Fish)
Leroy Brown died in 1980 and a heartbroken Tom Mann decided to give him a burial fit for such an auspicious fish. More than 1,200 people attended the funeral. Hank Williams Jr. and Porter Wagoner sent telegrams expressing their condolences.
But here is where the ride gets really wild. Leroy wasn’t buried on the day of his service because the ground was too wet. He was instead kept in a casket inside a freezer. Before his ceremonious burial, someone stole Leroy in his casket and made a break for it. The perpetrator was never found, but Leroy somehow ended up in the baggage claim of a Tulsa airport.
Thankfully, Leroy was finally laid to rest. Now Alabama’s favorite fish lies beneath a marble headstone and memorial statue that reads “Most Bass Are Just Fish, But Leroy Was Something Special.”
Tom Mann remained a giant in the world of fishing. The legendary angler passed away at the age of 72 in 2005.
The Leroy Brown memorial is located at 100 East Broad Street in Eufaula, Ala.