Knowing the rules key to record catches

Greta Waits, then 5, set the women's 16-pound line class and female small fry world records in 2006 with this 23-pound, 12-ounce bonnethead shark. Photo by Capt. J.R. Waits.

Every fisherman loves a little recognition. That’s why for years, we always brought back what we caught. Not only would we be bringing back something for the dinner table, keeping the fish also afforded us some recognition.

That attitude has changed with more and more people adopting the catch-and-release philosophy. IGFA allows anglers to weigh fish on certified scales and release them, but the weight must be taken on land. Junior records, however, can be weighed from a boat.

If you are chasing a world record, the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) has a strict set of regulations that must be followed. An application form for freshwater or saltwater record catches can be found at

The basics are knowing the regulations ahead of time, knowing the weight of your targeted species and documenting the procedure with photographs and witnesses.

IGFA recognizes all-tackle records for weight or length, line class records, tippet records for fly-fishing and also has categories for junior anglers as well as its own state record program. South Carolina recognizes only all-tackle records (

If you would like to be a world record holder, you might want to target bonnethead sharks during the coming months (see July-August issue of Tideline). There are 35 IGFA categories for bonnethead sharks, and 20 of those catches were made in the Charleston area.

“The bonnetheads are extra-large in late summer because they are carrying pups. I didn’t like the idea of killing the shark and its young just for a record so we release all of the world records in good condition,” said guide J.R. Waits of Fish Call Charters (

For a fee, IGFA will certify a set of scales, making it easier for record-chasing anglers to practice catch and release.

Occasionally, you will hear that a fisherman has “tied” a record with a heavier catch than the existing record. In order to break an IGFA world record, you have to beat the old record by a certain amount.

An excellent example of this is the tiger shark. Walter Maxwell set the record with a 1,780-pound, 0-ounce catch off Cherry Grove Fishing Pier in 1964; in 2004 an Australian angler landed a tiger shark that weighed 1,785 pounds, 11 ounces – bigger than Maxwell’s but not big enough to break the record. The Aussie’s catch would have to have been 8.9 pounds heavier than Maxwell’s catch to replace it.

IGFA’s record-breaking standards are: for a fish weighing less than 25 pounds, the replacement must weigh at least 2 ounces more than the existing record; to replace a record fish weighing 25 pounds or more, the replacement must weigh at least one-half of one percent more than the existing record. At 100 pounds, the requirement would be 8 ounces.

South Carolina has similar regulations regarding ties for record catches. For freshwater catches weighing less than 25 pounds, the replacement must weigh a minimum of two ounces more than the previous record; for entries greater than 25 pounds, the replacement catch must be at least eight ounces heavier. Those tying the previous record will be listed as co-holders of the record. Fish must be weighed on certified scales in the presence of at least two witnesses.

An S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist must identify all entries as to species. If a biologist is not immediately available, the entry should be weighed, measured and witnessed, then frozen until a biologist can confirm the catch.

The saltwater record process is pretty much the same, although the tie-breaking standards are different. To beat an old record weighing less than 50 pounds, the new entry must be at least four ounces heavier; a fish weighing at least 50 but not exceeding 100 pounds must exceed the old record by eight ounces; and a fish weighing more than 100 pounds must exceed the old record by 16 ounces.

Because of state slot-limit records, the red drum and black drum categories are closed unless regulations change; because federal regulations prohibit anglers from retaining certain species, the listed record remains for: bigeye thresher shark, dusky shark, sandbar shark, sand tiger shark, silky shark and longbill spearfish.