Tom Mann's Fish World (Gone)
Tom Mann's Fish World sits near Lake Eufaula, the "Bass Fishing Capital of the World." It's a place of serious sportsmanship. The bait shop is packed with arcane items for proper bass fishing: racks of lures, lines, and accessories for arming the power-angler. An article posted on the wall warns "Jerkbait must be properly employed." Beyond the comfort of a rack of postcards and a couple of shelves of t-shirts, we know we're in over our heads.
Luckily, right next door is the more light-hearted Fish World Museum, and the grave of Leroy Brown, the legendary large-mouth bass.
Tom Mann is a celebrity in the world of fishing, hosting a regular show on ESPN. The entry wall of his museum is covered with autographed photos of stars and dignitaries, from Dolly Parton to Jimmy Carter to the "fishin' Monkey." Tom is inventor of the original "jelly worm" (not to be confused with the Gummy Worm) and numerous lure innovations.
Tom's daughter takes your ticket at the museum door, near the 38,000 gallon aquarium tank. This is where Leroy Brown spent much of his storied life. Other bass now swim in his place, though they seem somewhat anonymous, unnamed.
The museum is a funny mix of fish esoterica and American Indian items. Galleries showing off glass cases of jelly worms and fancy lures also display arty configurations of arrowheads. Several Indian Love paintings hang over the baitware; an Indian maiden cuddles with a stout warrior in some Happy Hunting Ground. Tom is part Cherokee, which may explain this interesting fusion of hobby and heritage.
The lures are fascinating; who knew there were so many? Every flavor and type of Jelly Worm is shown (at least, the ones created and sold by Tom Mann).
One glass case features yellowing news clips that tell the whole story of Leroy Brown, from funeral to kidnapping and $10,000 bounty.
Upstairs, visitors can gaze down into the tank at the anonymous fish -- and turtles and other reptiles. There is an alcove of fishing trophies won by Tom, and a collection of animal taxidermy apparently on permanent display.
After seeing the entire museum, visitors in the know head out to the observation pond. The gazebo stairway descends below surface level, into an eerie yellow world where fish swim in the cloudy distance. Above-ground dispensers allow visitors to buy "Floating Fish Food" or "Sinking Fish Food."
Our final stop at Fish World is Leroy's grave marker. While we are snapping photos, Tom Mann himself appears! He's still proud of Leroy Brown. It's been nearly 20 years, and Leroy is still a great fish story. He chats for a bit, then heads off to adjust the waterfall. Tom's daughter confides that when Leroy's stolen corpse finally turned up in Oklahoma, the airport official said he smelled real bad and was pretty far gone. Tom figured the stone marker would be enough to remember the great fish...
February 2005: Tom Mann, fishing expert, TV personality, and jelly worm inventor, died on February 11, 2005, of complications from open heart surgery.
As a professional bass angler, Tom developed innovative lures, and sold them in packaging featuring his face, a first in the industry. His television programs helped to promote Lake Eufaula. Mann was buried at the Fairview Cemetery Addition in Eufaula.
May 2004 - We've received reports that Tom Mann's Fish World is closed.