To IGFA or Not to IGFA?

Following IGFA rules may make catching fish harder, but that's the only way your catch can qualify as a world record.

There is an on-again/off-again debate about fishing according to International Game Fish Association standards that I think can be distilled into two fish catches.

The first comes in the form of the IGFA World Record striped bass caught by Greg Myerson. Myerson was fishing off of the Connecticut coast. Here’s what Myerson said about his 81-pound-14-ounce behemoth striped bass:

“The fish was bigger than I thought. At about 8 p.m. I put the fish into the hold and fished the rest of the tide. As I fished, I repeatedly peered into the hold and asked myself, ‘Is this striper really that big?’”

The second fish represents the flip side of the coin, and that’s Rodney Ply’s catch. Ply was fishing Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas on Feb. 18, 2012, when he landed a 68-plus-pound freshwater striped bass. The fish broke the state record by more than four pounds. Ply tried to have his fish weighed on a certified scale, and for a variety of reasons it was not weighed with an official Game and Fish Commission witness. Ply planned on entering the fish in the Mustad hook tournament, and if certified he would have netted a million-dollar prize.

Where the debate heated up was when IGFA rejected Ply’s custom-made rig for being inconsistent with its rules. Jack Vitek, the world-records coordinator for the IGFA, said, “We consider your lure to be a spreader bar arrangement. IGFA equipment regulations state: ‘Spreader bars are permitted to be used provided that the actual fishing line is attached to the snap or other release device, either directly or with some other material.’ Since the angler’s line is not attached to a release device so that the hook could be disengaged from the lure arrangement, this lure violated IGFA equipment rules for spreader bars.”

Understanding the fishing regulatory body, the IGFA, is critical for any angler, particularly for those who participate in tournaments. IGFA’s Jason Schratwieser said, “We do far more than just certify records. We establish rules that define fishing.

“The IGFA was founded in 1939 in an era that saw a growing number of recreational fishermen. Our modern world is well-regulated, and IGFA simply created rules. Think about it. When driving a vehicle, a red light means stop and a green light means go. Rules add order, and traditionally there is a group that creates and maintains these regulations. In golf, for instance, the USGA and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews maintain the official rules. IGFA is that regulating body for fishing."

When it comes to fly-fishing, the primary regulations are incredibly simple. They are: 15 inches or more of class tippet — no more than 20 pounds; 12 inches or less of shock tippet; no dropper flies; casting and retrieving according to normal customs and accepted practices.

“There are many different sectors within the fishing community, and one sector enjoys fishing competitively. In order to compare catches, the IGFA first sought to create a series of rules and regulations that would allow anglers from different states a base-line method for comparing the weights of their fish. Line and leader materials, rigging and fish-fighting techniques, among other aspects, had to be standardized in order to create a level playing field. If you’re playing a friendly game of softball, you don’t allow a batter four strikes before he is out. It’s just the way you play the game.”


When it comes to fly-fishing, the primary regulations are incredibly simple. They are: 15 inches or more of class tippet — no more than 20 pounds; 12 inches or less of shock tippet; no dropper flies; casting and retrieving according to normal customs and accepted practices.

Vaughn Cochran, the owner of Black Fly Outfitter, has modified his view of rigging over the years. “When I was guiding and fishing in tournaments, I followed IGFA standards perfectly. Many clients booked me specifically to target a world-record bonefish, permit, tarpon, you name it. As an outfitter and a guide I enjoyed the simplicity of the standards, and they created a level playing field. I followed the same rules when targeting bonefish in the Bahamas as I did when targeting bonefish in Florida. The standards made it easy. At Blackfly Lodge in Abaco, some of our anglers rig IGFA while others don’t. IGFA accommodates both types of anglers.

“As my appetite for competitive fishing diminished, I shifted away from the precise rules and rigging. If I land what would be a world record but am not fishing by IGFA standards, I wouldn’t even think of submitting the fish for review. I think tempers flare when prize money is involved. But they shouldn’t, because the rules are simple enough to follow. IGFA is the standard-bearer, but the onus is on every angler to know and to follow its rules.”

Sandy Moret, the owner of Florida Keys Outfitters, fishes by IGFA standards exclusively.

“I fish by IGFA rules every time I’m on the water,” he said. “And when it comes to fly-fishing, I think that anglers need to ask themselves a question: Is fly-fishing a sport or is it a pastime? I consider fly-fishing a sport, and since every sport has rules, I believe it is critical to fish by IGFA standards. Some folks beg to differ, but here’s an example. If an angler uses a live mullet at the end of a fly rod, is he fly-fishing? Most if not all fly-fishermen would say no. But the rules set forth by the IGFA are really the same as they are in any other sport. They are rules of conduct. The IGFA doesn’t consider [using] dropper rigs to be fly-fishing, but just about every guide out West uses a hopper-dropper rig. By the rules, a fly-rodder using multiple flies is not fly-fishing. My approach may be harder and I may catch fewer fish, but that’s OK. I find meaning and substance in tradition.”

While the IGFA certainly sets the stage for rules and for record-keeping, there is a quieter, lesser-known agenda to the group. The nonprofit organization is an advocate for conservation initiatives that maintain healthy fish stocks and ecosystems that provide anglers with trophy fish to catch. Part of its initiatives is to promote ethical angling practices, such as proper fish-fighting techniques, catch-and-release and involvement with other like-minded affiliates.

“At IGFA, we also focus on collaborative scientific research and education just as much as we promote world records,” Schratwieser said. “Our Billfish Conservation Act is a tremendous achievement. It will effectively ban the importation of billfish into the continental United States, ensuring that marlin, sailfish and spearfish stocks will have a chance to rebound. We have also worked in conjunction with other groups such as the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust to gain new insights into some of our favorite species. It’s a very exciting time at IGFA.”

In the end, fly-rodders have but four simple rules to follow. Following those rules means that, when you’re fishing for fun and happen to hook a trophy fish, you can submit it for inclusion in the record books. And if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool headhunter, then the rules are easy to follow.