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Trophy fish

6/29/2009

So, you want to stand out from the crowd. Leave your mark on the world. Get your name in black and white.

Catch a world record fish and your name can grace the pages of the International Game Fish Association record book.

Oh, you can start big. You could try to eclipse Alfred Dean's 2,664-pound great white shark caught off the coast of South Australia in 1959, the largest saltwater fish ever brought in with a rod and reel.

If Dean's record on a 130-pound line is too much, take a look at the 2,344-pound great white he caught the next year … on 80-pound line.

Or you could begin small. Catch a hickory shad weighing a little more than a pound to nab the 20-pound line mark. You'd have to go 2 pounds, 4 ounces to top the hickory shad record in 6-pound test.

Such are the numerous records available for the myriad of species in saltwater and freshwater and line classes. Find an easy mark in a line class, and your name could grace the pages and pages of world record fish catches.

"It's unbelievable all of the records out there," said Pete Johnson of the International Game Fish Association. "There's always another species waiting to be added and caught."

But before you get that record fish to take a bite, the IGFA has laid out four pages of rules you'll need to follow to be accepted for recognition. Wire lines, "unconventional" rods, power driven reels, and swinging hooks are all prohibited — just to name a few.

Additionally, rods and reels "must comply with sporting ethics and customs." Disqualifying equipment like fighting chairs are even outlined in the extensive list, and 14 angling regulations judge the legitimacy of the catch after the fish takes the bait.

After the monster, or little guy, has been caught and your buddies rush toward you in a wave of high fives, there is still work to be done. The submission process is complete. Photographs of the entire length of the fish, lure, rod and reel, and scale used must be included with the record submission form.

Witnesses are not required but useful in claims that might have questions of authenticity. Line or tippet samples must also be submitted for testing.

The IGFA has a variety of categories for tippet and line strength, which is outlined along with current records and requirements in their annual World Record Game Fishes book.

Over the past few years, the IGFA has had more and more applicants claiming world record fish. In 2007, there were 752 record submissions, with 395 from the United States alone. There are approximately 1,100 species of game fish around the world that have records in various tippet classes, line classes and all-tackle categories.

Don't think you can top George W. Perry's world record largemouth bass of 22 pounds, 4 ounces, then catch a largemouth bass weighing more than 14 pounds, 12 ounces and you would have the world record … in the 2-pound line class.

The IGFA has been keeping track of freshwater records since 1978 when it took over for Field & Stream Magazine. Its saltwater records date back to 1939 when the IGFA was conceived by Michael Lerner.

Lerner's dream of an international governing board with regulations for not only world records but also fish conservation have been embedded in the IGFA's mission statement.

With so many regulations in place to make sure catches are legitimate, it can take an angler some time to track down a world record fish. Or in Dr. Martin Arostegui's case, 200 record fish.

With his first record in 1994, Arostegui, of Coral Gables, Fla., has traveled the world compiling records and is the first to top 200.

"I have had a number of fish that lasted more than 2 hours," Arostegui said. "Some fights lasted 4 hours, but I always lost the 4-hour ones."

With three coveted grand slam titles — holding IGFA top angler of the year honors in freshwater, fly, and saltwater records — this retired Florida doctor knows where to go for exotic challenges. Some of Arostegui's favorite fishing destinations include rainforest rivers in Brazil and Suriname.

In 2007, he reeled in a 385-pound lemon shark with a 12-pound tippet off Key West, his largest record. After catching the trophy fish on a fly rod and weighing it on shore, the doctor resuscitated the fish and released it.

Many would have mounted the giant soon after the catch, but Arostegui's catch-and-release policy expresses a growing trend with fish conservation in mind.

"When I was young, a great fishing day meant filling the cooler to the top with fish," Arostegui said. "Today, I understand that that was wrong ... I only keep what my family will eat and release the rest."

According to a report by the American Sportfishing Association based on a 2006 survey, $1.2 billion was invested toward fish conservation by anglers through fees like federal taxes and license sales. With an estimated $45 billion in total retail sales toward fishing pursuits, the goals of fish conservation and chasing after the next big one intertwine.

Some species of fish have been so over-harvested in the past that the IGFA has had to put in place certain regulations to foster future generations of anglers and record holders.

"Yes, from time to time management requires certain fisheries undergo a moratorium on harvest, making them exclusively catch-and-release fisheries," said Jason Schratwieser, Director of Conservation for the IGFA. "For example, here in Florida it is still illegal to harvest goliath grouper. This species was decimated in the 80s but we are now starting to see a strong resurgence of juvenile year classes."

The IGFA Offshore World Championship is an invitational saltwater catch and release competition promoting this ideology. In 2007, 336 marlin were caught in the event and successfully released.

Over 130 qualifying events have been held in previous years with sometimes more than 30 countries each year being represented. Proceeds from the event benefited conservation and education programs sponsored by the IGFA.

"The IGFA is working hard to teach children about conservation ethics, but we need more work here," said Arostegui, who is concentrating world record quests on his son, Martini, whom he hopes will become the first with 100 junior IGFA records.

For more information on the IGFA's adult and youth fishing education programs or on world record submission requirements, visit igfa.org. For a world record form, click here.