The One-Pound World Record

By Debbie Hanson

You don't have to land a huge fish to land yourself in the record books.

Debbie Hanson on Oxbow Lake fly castingPhoto: Lee Loveless

Although my grandfather had me trolling for muskie on the lakes of Michigan when I was just knee-high to a grasshopper, it never occurred to me that the pursuit of a record fish was anything I'd ever have the wherewithal or ability to achieve. I mean, weren't world-record fish hooked hundreds of miles offshore in remote destinations? I always assumed that this was the case, because whenever anyone spoke to me of a world record, visions of a 1,300-pound marlin being reeled in off the back of a 60-foot Hatteras swam through my head.

There were those elite anglers — and then there were your average recreational anglers, like me. The majority of my early angling accomplishments consisted of bluegill that rivaled the size of a coffee-can lid. Of course, I was always quite proud of these petite panfish, even though they were brought to shore using a budget-minded rod-and-reel combo from Woolworth. At any rate, the Midwestern summers of my youth were spent either reeling in bluegills from Grandpa's pier or dragging an original Rapala floating silver minnow behind his modest 16-foot aluminum fishing boat with tiller steering.

The world of serious sportfishing was completely foreign to me until I moved to Florida from the Midwest in 1999. Even then, I was a bit too conservative and basic for all that elite stuff. However, one of the most important things I learned as I started to spend more time on the water was that no matter where you go, fishing really is a great connector of people. Anglers just have a knack for finding each other. It doesn't matter if it's in a crowded airport or the dairy aisle at the supermarket. Once two anglers meet, you'll think they've known each other forever, and good luck getting them to discuss anything else aside from fishing or boating.

My point is that this intrinsic gift anglers have for networking can be quite beneficial. I had recently downloaded the International Game Fish Association's mobile app, through which you can access a list of all the current world records for each species. My curiosity took over. I started scanning the list of angler names, class tippet weights, species, and species weights. That's when I noticed that several of the women's freshwater fly-fishing record categories appeared to be vacant. (Plus quite a few for kids. See the sidebar.)

A Network Of Anglers

At the time, I'd been dipping a proverbial toe in the fly-fishing waters with the encouragement of friend and fly-casting instructor Joe Mahler. When I happened to mention the open records to Joe during one of our fly-casting lessons, he told me about the "gar whisperer," otherwise known as Captain Bubba Bedre out of Palestine, Texas, who specialized in pursuing world-record gar. Joe, who'd taken note of several of Bubba's monster gar photos through the FishBrain app, had met him in Orlando, Florida, during ICAST 2015. Joe kindly offered to introduce me via social media to Bubba.

Debbie's seven-pound longnose garDebbie's seven-pound longnose gar was submitted for a line-class record on conventional tackle. (Photo: Lee Loveless)

Just the mere mention of an introduction was all it took to get my mind darting in 10 different directions. I'd never attempted to catch a gar in my life. What kind of tackle would I have to use? Would I need to catch one on a fly rod in order to submit a record for certification? What about all the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) rules? What about the expense of the trip? In a matter of seconds, I had officially succeeded at turning myself into an IGFA-certified nervous wreck.

First, Read The Rule Book

I got to work by downloading IGFA's International Angling Rules. Opportunity often knocks once, which meant that, ready or not, I was going to open the gar-fishing door. While Bubba and I corresponded through social media about dates and travel arrangements, Joe provided me with a box of hand-tied flies and helped me tie a supply of IGFA leaders. My to-do list was growing (see sidebar).

The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a flight to Dallas en route to Palestine, Texas, with a 9-weight fly-rod case carefully situated around numerous duffel bags and backpacks in the overhead storage bin above me.

The following morning, we launched Bubba's 20-foot Triton on a private oxbow lake near the Trinity River. The skies were bluebird clear, and the water was the color of Texas sweet tea, but shad could be seen schooling near the surface, which I took as a positive sign. The plan was to set up conventional rods in the rod holders and along designated spots on the shoreline for large longnose and alligator gar while I worked on casting my fly rod from the bow of the boat for smaller fish. I'd studied which class tippet records were vacant for longnose gar, so I knew that the 12-pound class was open. We needed a fish that weighed at least one pound to fill the vacant record, so I grabbed the 12-pound class tippet leader that I had pre-rigged, connected it to my fly line, and started casting.

It wasn't long before we landed a white bass and a few catfish on the conventional rods that we'd rigged with natural baits, but despite my best efforts at continually casting out my fly line and switching flies, the morning came and went without so much as one hit on the fly rod. I could feel the pressure mounting as I thought about the world-record application that was folded inside my tackle bag. At that point, it was hard for me to determine if the beads of sweat that were forming across my forehead and neck were from the midday Texas heat or merely a product of nervous anxiety.

Bubba moved the boat to a spot on the lake that was about 50 feet from the bank. I decided to switch up my fly again, taking off a blue and purple weighted Woolly Bugger and tying on a white and yellow streamer. Two casts after I made the switch, I felt a hit, then waited 10 seconds or so before I gave the line a firm strip. I didn't know much about fishing for gar, but what I did know was that longnose tend to be particularly difficult to hook given their bony, slender snouts. You can't strip and set the hook too quickly because gar tend to pick up your fly or bait, then run with it for several seconds before they actually stop to eat it.

I spun the reel forward to eliminate the excess line. The line went tight, and then I knew we had our longnose on the reel! It only took a split second to realize that it wasn't a monster, but at least we finally had a longnose gar on fly. If it was a pound or more, we had a qualifying fish. Bubba pulled over to the shore so that we could place the fish on the certified scale, get the length and girth measurements, then capture the required photo documentation — a shot that includes the angler, the full length of the fish, the rod and reel used, and a shot of the scale used to weigh the fish. I held my breath as Bubba put the hard-earned gar on his digital scale. It was close, but our longnose weighed in just above a pound. We had a potential record! My hands were coated in a combination of gar slime and Texas mud as we snapped those photos, but nobody could have wiped the smile off my sweaty face. 

Writer Debbie Hanson, website publisher and avid angler, lives in Florida. Her website offers educational fishing and boating information for women.

— Published: June/July 2016


International Game Fish Association Records

State records are usually awarded for the heaviest recorded fish caught by species; the IGFA has both All-Tackle records for the heaviest fish caught on approved tackle and records for different classes of line strength. So you'll often see very fine lines of small breaking strengths, like the 12-pound tippet described in this article, as vacant or held by what otherwise might be considered a small fish for that particular species. However, when the opposite is true, a very large fish caught on relatively weak line, that's considered quite a feat, as the amount of pressure that can be applied to a fish is limited to about half the breaking strength of the line. You can imagine how hard it is to land an enormous fish on light tackle.

Debbie Hanson Texas fly castingPhoto: Lee Loveless

 

Debbie's To-Do List For IGFA Certification

  • Buy IGFA approved tippet (leader) material. Ande Tournament or Platypus Pre-Test are both IGFA approved.
  • Go to www.igfa.org to print an IGFA world-record application.
  • Make sure all class tippets are at least 15 inches long.
  • Make sure to have access to an IGFA-certified scale.
  • Buy a measuring tape to record length and girth.
  • Bring a camera for photo documentation.
  • Research the target species — in my case, longnose gar and alligator gar.
  • Make sure that if a potential record fish is caught, witnesses are available to sign off on the application.
  • Locate the nearest notary public because each world-record application must be notarized before it's mailed to IGFA.
  • Be prepared to write out a check to cover the $50 application fee for IGFA members. It's $75 for non-members.

 

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