Admit it: At some point during your angling lifetime, you’ve daydreamed about catching a world-record fish. Perhaps you’ve set out to try. A few of you might even have succeeded.
Hats off to you if you count yourself among that latter group. Setting an IGFA world record — whether all-tackle, line-class, fly or the relatively new category, all-tackle length — is no minor feat. Great investments of time, energy and yes, in some cases, money, are often required to land that dream fish.
But many records are completely within the realm of possibility. And that’s the beauty that inspires and drives many anglers in their quest.
Preparation Is Key
| |Jack Vitek, IGFA’s world-records coordinator, carefully tests a line’s breaking strength on an Instron 5543 Tensile Testing machine. (ADRIAN E. GRAY)|
First off, recognize chasing a world record for what it is: a quest. Sure, occasional catches made largely by accident end up as records, but for the most part, record fishing is a game of preparation that starts well before ever hitting the water.
“I’ll generally spend about 10 hours preparing,” says Dr. Martin Arostegui, a retired medical executive who has set more than 400 records around the world over the past 20 years.
Arostegui’s system entails a detailed, methodical process of steps. He starts by discussing the fishing opportunities with his captain, then researches all the various record categories by species that he might encounter, including any pending records (submitted records that have not yet been formally approved by the IGFA). “I study all this to see what opportunities are there,” he says, “and which records are most vulnerable.”
Then he sets out on his quest. Arostegui has been at the game long enough that he’s already intimately familiar with IGFA’s International Angling Rules. But for those new to the world of record hunting, understanding the rules is of utmost importance, says Jack Vitek, IGFA’s world-records coordinator.
“It’s absolutely the most important thing,” he says, noting that anglers also must be cognizant and in accordance with local, federal, and state fishing regulations. “Everything is spelled out clearly in the rules. You can reduce many possible rejections by simply studying these rules, and doing some preparation and homework.”
The Biggest Boo-Boos
There are several important areas to focus on. The first is using a main line or class-tippet material that conforms to whatever pound-test category you’re targeting.
Vitek explains, “If you’re fishing 12-pound braid, and you catch a fish that could be a world record on 12-pound test, chances are that line is going to test at about 20 pounds, and you won’t have a new record.”
Braid notoriously overtests and is not generally used when pursuing records — at least not in the lighter line-class categories. But many monofilaments also overtest (if by lesser amounts), according to Vitek, who advises anglers to contact him prior to setting out for a record for guidance on lines that have been proved to test at certain breaking strengths. Indeed, Vitek often tests lines submitted by anglers before they ever set out to try to break a record.That’s how important this step is.
But it doesn’t stop at lines; that’s just the beginning. Tackle must conform to specific, time-honored IGFA rules. Specifications for lures, hooks, hook arrangements, leader lengths and much, much more are all chronicled in detail in the official rules.
“But probably the biggest rule infraction and reason for a rejection is when someone else touches the rod, or if a rod and reel are left for an excessive amount of time in a rod holder once a fish hits,” says Vitek.
These are all infractions, of course — but this particular area is incumbent on the angler himself to tell the truth about a catch.
“It’s an honor-based system,” says Vitek. “We have a lot of checks and balances, we conduct lots of interviews and take testimony from many witnesses, but at the end of the day, it’s about the angler’s integrity.”
The Weighing Process
With regard to weighing fish, however, there are no gray areas.
| |Vitek measures a leader that was submitted in a record-application package that also included notarized paperwork, a Boga-Grip scale and appropriate pictures of the catch. (ADRIAN E. GRAY)|
Fish must be weighed on an IGFA-certified scale either on solid land or from a firmly fixed structure attached to land, such as a dock.
“Weighing a fish on a boat won’t work,” says Vitek. “If you’re bouncing around, you won’t get an accurate reading.”
While scales must be certified, they can — and often are — certified after a catch is made, according to Vitek. In such cases, the angler generally mails the scale to IGFA headquarters for certification, usually along with a record-application package that includes the original, completed and notarized application; the full length of leader, including hook and lure arrangement; the full length of double-line, still connected to and including 30 to 50 feet of main line; and photographs of the catch (more on that later).
Scales cannot be off by more than one increment of weight. A 15-pound Boga-Grip, for instance, displays weight increments of 4 ounces; so, if that scale measures accurately within 4 ounces or less of true weight, it’s certifiable by IGFA standards.
“If it’s a digital scale,” says Vitek, “we do a consistency test. We’ll put a weight on the scale three different times, and we need to get the same reading each time. If it’s inconsistent, we can’t work with that.”
A Game of Conservation
Firm rules also apply to photography. Three images are required by IGFA: a picture of the angler with the fish, a shot of the rod and reel, and a shot of the fish on the scale. Often, it’s possible to capture all three of these requirements in a single shot.
But that brings up a question: What if you’re fishing alone? Furthermore, what if you want to release your catch?
Both are fine. With the influx of digital, mountable cameras like GoPros, it’s relatively easy to capture shots of yourself holding a big fish on a scale with rod and reel in hand. And while most people think that killing a fish is required to establish a world record, that’s simply not the case, especially when dealing with inshore species that can be quickly and easily weighed on land (whether on shore or in shallow water) before release.
In fact, Vitek says that over the past two years, approximately 50 percent of all record submissions were released fish.
Arostegui has been among the leading proponents of releasing records. He even weighed and released a 385-pound lemon shark to establish a new 12-pound-tippet fly-rod record several years back.
“I am very proud of that fact,” he says.
Indeed he should be — and it just goes to show that nothing is impossible when it comes to fishing for world records. It’s a time-honored angling tradition that epitomizes the best in sport fishing, and will never go out of style.
About the experts
Jack Vitek is the IGFA’s world-records coordinator. A graduate of Stetson University in Florida, he can be reached at 954-924-4246 or [email protected] to discuss all things world records.
Dr. Martin Arostegui has been one of the most prolific world-record hunters over the past 20 years. A retired doctor from Miami, he holds more than 400 IGFA world records.