A Brief History
On July 3, 1969, Mark Sosin was fishing off Bermuda when he hooked, fought and landed the heaviest Yellowfin Tuna ever captured by sporting methods with fly fishing tackle. His record catch of 53 pounds 6 ounces took 40 minutes of line ripping fight to finally land, put Mark and his fish in the record books for nearly 50 years now, an impressive amount of time to hold a World Record. Considering that Yellowfin Tuna can grow to weights in excess of 300 pounds, this record for fly tackle is quite possibly within reach of some lucky angler. Other World Record catches may be much harder to beat because of depleted stocks of a particular variety of fish. Today we list 10 remarkable catches that we think are among the hardest for any current or future fisherman (meaning men, women, girls or boys) to ever top. What fishing records do you think will be the most enduring? Which records impress you the most? (Note: World Records for fishing is a tricky business! Various rules and regulations and requirements for documentation have prevented many records from reaching the books, as have unwitting anglers that did not realize they had a World Record catch and either let the fish go or took it home to eat. Other problems with the keeping and reporting of World Record catches are those unscrupulous anglers that falsify the details of their catch. Sometimes the fraud is caught, and other times it is only suspected, but not proven. Sometimes acknowledged records have been erased after later investigation proved the details of the catch as problematic.) Feel free to post photos of any monster fish you would like us to see. (The first 5 fish listed are Freshwater species, the last 5 record fish are Saltwater varieties.) Bonus Fish: The smallest World Record fish is a Pygmy Whitefish weighing only 3.7 ounces caught in Little Bitteroot Lake, Montana. In fact, that record ties the previous record set twice in 2005 of the exact same 3.7 ounces. The tiny jumbo fish was caught at a depth of 80 feet and measured less than 9 inches long.
NOTE: Images below are of the species named and not necessarily of the actual record fish as it is simply not possible to find free images of all of the world record fish discussed in this list.
1. Yellow Perch, 4 pounds, 3 ounces, Bordentown, New Jersey, 1865.
The fact that this record fish was tallied over 150 years ago makes it the longest held Freshwater World Record fish. Dr. CC Abbot is the angler reported to have caught the whopper perch, but we do not know what bait he used. Perch of 12 inches in length or more are considered “Jumbos” and this author has caught many such monsters, up to about 14 ½ inches long. A friend fishing with me caught an enormous 15 incher (Lake Erie), and even that gigantic Perch would not have approached 4 pounds. (Maybe 2 ½ pounds?) It is hard to imagine what a Yellow Perch the size of the record fish would look like. It would undoubtedly look deformed, as it would have to be extremely heavy for its length.
2. Muskellunge, 67 pounds, 8 ounces, Lac court Oreilles, Hayward, Wisconsin, July 24, 1949.
The mighty Muskellunge may not be the largest freshwater fish, but in North America it is pretty much regarded as the King of Fishes by anglers. Called “the fish of 1,000 casts” because they are so hard to hook, they fight long and hard and their sharp teeth make short work of any non-metallic leader material. With such a high prestige attached to owning the record, there have been fraudulent attempts to claim the World Record for this large member of the Pike family. After outdoor writer Cal Johnson landed his monster muskie (60.25 inches long), another local angler, louis Spray, laid claim to the World Record Muskellunge with a claimed 69 pound 11 ounce mutant with a length of over 63 inches. That record was “eclipsed” by Art Lawton who was fishing in the St. Lawrence River when he reportedly landed the new record fish, a 69 pound 15 ounce behemoth. Lawton’s record was ruled to be fraudulent in 1994, and the record he and his Muskie had held for 37 years reverted back to Louis Spray. Oh well! In 2005 analysis of photographs of Spray and his fish revealed the “record” fish was actually less than 57 inches long, probably about 53 inches in length. The false Lawton “record” fish was found to be the exact same fish he had caught that was “only” 49 pounds. Lawton took 2 pictures of his big Muskie, one normal perspective photo and a second with the fish closer to the camera to make it appear larger, a common technique. (I’m guilty!) The bait used by Johnson was a “chub finished Pike-Oreno” and the line was 30 pound test. His rod and reel were both by South Bend, of the bait casting type.
3. Largemouth Bass, 22 pounds, 4 ounces, Montgomery Lake, Georgia, June 2, 1932.
Considering that the Largemouth Bass is the Number 1 gamefish in the US and that thousands of people fish professionally for these green bucketmouths in hundreds of Bass tournaments each year, you might think that a record for the Largemouth would be broken before 86 years have gone by. Especially since almost every pond in the United States is stocked with these aggressive predators, as are most of the nation’s reservoirs. When George Perry caught his record Largemouth, he was only 20 years old and a farmer in Georgia. He used a Creek Chub Fintail Shiner as the lure of destiny, and the amazing thing is that Perry and his fishing companion had only one rod and reel and one lure between them! They were actually sharing the rod and the lone lure on their bass fishing expedition. Lucky for George it was his turn to use the rod when he hooked and landed the record breaking fish. Although Perry intended to take the fish home for the frying pan, he and his buddy stopped at a General Store on the way home to have the fish measured and weighed. When the tape said 32 ¼ inches long with a girth of 28 ½ inches, and a weight of 22 pounds 4 ounces, the storekeeper recommended that Perry register his catch with Field & Stream Magazine who was running a Big Bass contest. The magazine was also then the keeper of fishing records. His fish being witnessed and documented, Perry took the big girl home for eatin’. The Field & Stream contest netted George a shotgun, ammunition, and hunting clothes, and the following year Perry won the same contest, this time with a bass 13 pounds 14 ounces. Perry never cashed in on the fame of being the #1 bass slayer in the world as he was killed in a plane crash in 1974. (He was the pilot.) Perry did get some promotional lures from the Creek Chub bait company and endorsed Hiram Walker whiskey, but not to the point of getting rich. Any person that beats this Holy Grail of fishing records will certainly cash in with all sorts of commercial endorsements and celebrity appearances. Oddly enough, Perry’s fishing buddy, Jack Page, disappeared from view and there seems to be no record of what ever happened to him. In 2009, Manabu Kurita landed a 22 pound 4.97 ounce Largemouth Bass in Lake Biwa, Japan, but was not recognized as the new record because record keeping rules dictate that a new record (for fish under 25 pounds) has to beat the old record by at least 2 ounces! Sorry Manabu! (The catch by Mr. Kurita is considered a co-record with the Perry catch, but often times you find only the Perry fish listed.) It should be noted that the Japanese anglers have enthusiastically adopted Bass fishing in a big way, and have stocked many of their own lakes with the big green eating machines. (Note: In our own 1 acre pond we have seen a bass gobble up a Canada Goose gosling in the blink of an eye on a few occasions. Several neighbors have reported also witnessing the sudden demise of goslings in our pond.)
4. Walleye, 25 pounds, Old Hickory Lake, Tennessee, August 2, 1960.
Reeled in by Mabry and weighed in at a local resort before becoming table fare, as is the fate of most Walleyes, the Harper fish had a reported girth of 29 inches. Caught almost 6 decades ago, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame decided back in 1996 to revoke the record status from the Harper Walleye because of alleged inconsistencies with its documentation based on “persistent rumors.” The International Game Fish Association (IFGA) which is the official arbiter of World Records for sport fishing still recognizes the Harper fish as the record. The next biggest documented catch of a Walleye (also known as Pickerel in Canada and sometimes as Walleye Pike in some locations, as well as Zander in Europe) was a 22 pound 11 ounce monster caught in Greers Ferry Lake in Arkansas in 1982, a known big Walleye hotspot. Al Nelson caught that Arkansas giant while trolling a Bomber diving plug. Although his fish is not the World Record, it is the World Record Walleye for 12 pound test line. The only other Walleye the author could find that was reported caught by sporting means of at least 20 pounds also came from Greers Ferry Lake. (Twice the author has caught 30 inch Walleyes, probably about 10 or 12 pounds, as well as a 29 ½ inch fish and a 28 inch Walleye, all in Lake Erie on Erie Dearie lures tipped with a nightcrawler.) For a Walleye to weigh 25 pounds it has to avoid being caught and taken home for dinner for many years, and most productive Walleye waters are fished by anglers looking to take home a meal. The lack of catch and release fishing for big Walleyes may keep Harper’s record safe for decades to come. The World Record for Zander, the European version of the Walleye, was caught in Sweden in 1986 and weighed 25 pounds 2 ounces.
5. Atlantic Salmon, 79 pounds, 2 ounces, Tana River, Norway, 1928.
One of the oldest remaining Freshwater Fishing records, this monster Atlantic Salmon was caught by the redundantly named Henrik Henriksen 90 years ago. Habitat destruction and overfishing (mostly commercial fishing) has greatly reduced numbers of this once very important food fish. The range of the Atlantic Salmon has also crept North, with fish no longer going as far South as they used to, probably because of Climate Change and warming waters. Like many other Salmon family members, the Atlantic Salmon spawns in Freshwater and lives to adulthood in Saltwater. It is the Freshwater habitat that has changed and is decreasing the numbers of Atlantic Salmon. Pollution and silt in rivers has hampered Salmon reproduction, and gillnetting Salmon in streams was easy and productive, so much so that stocks of Salmon decreased precipitously. Most Atlantic Salmon consumed as food for people is harvested from aquaculture fish farms. Farmed Salmon that escape into the wild interbreed with wild stocks of fish, reducing genetic diversity and weakening resistance to diseases. The decline of wild Atlantic Salmon may mean the World Record may never be broken. (The Atlantic Salmon is both a Freshwater and a Saltwater fish, but the record listed here was caught in Freshwater.)
6. Great White Shark, 2664 pounds, Ceduna, South Australia, April 21, 1959.
Jaws! This 16 feet 6 inch mouthful of teeth weighing well over a ton is nowhere near as big as the Great White Shark can get. Reliable records of about 20 foot specimens exist, and it is believed these prehistoric terrors can weigh up to about 5000 pounds. So why is the Alfred Dean record fish unlikely to be eclipsed? Simply because almost everywhere in the world it is illegal to kill Great White Sharks and even if you can manage to catch such an enormous shark using rigorous “sporting” methods (incredibly difficult to comply with for such an huge fish) you would have a hard time getting it to shore to be weighed and measured properly and still release it unharmed into the wild. Dean is considered one of the great all time shark fishing experts and has written about his techniques. Dean caught his record Great White Shark using 130 pound test line, strong line but puny when the weight of the fish is considered. Dean also landed Great Whites of 2333 pounds and 2556 pounds. The Dean Great White Shark is the largest fish ever caught by “sporting methods.” Alf Dean died in 1991.
7. Manta Ray, 5500 pounds, fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1933.
This enormous Manta Ray had a “wingspan” of 19 feet 9 inches and required a 20 ton crane to lift it out of the water. The first couple cranes suffered stripped gears trying to lift the monstrosity! While not caught by sporting methods, the giant “Devilfish” was caught on a hook and line, the hook being a giant shark hook and the “line” being 1200 feet of half inch diameter rope. Using a similar large shark hook attached by a chain to a heavy tow rope, in 2009 a Great White Shark reportedly weighing 4600 pounds was caught off the coast of California and released unharmed. Of course, this giant shark was not captured by “sporting methods” either. An electric winch was used to reel in the 16 foot 7 inch Great White. The same researchers also caught 2 other Great Whites of 4000 pounds, so those big ones are out there! (Bait for the biggest Great White was a 40 pound hunk of tuna.)
8. Pacific Sailfish, 221 pounds, Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador, February 12, 1947.
The fact that this record fish was caught over 70 years ago is a clue as to how hard it will be to beat the record. Large billfish have suffered terribly from overfishing and water pollution, and the numbers of large billfish are not what they once were. Averaging between 50 and 100 pounds when caught by anglers, the Pacific Sailfish is considered a whopper if over 100 pounds. The lucky angler in the record books is one CW Stewart. Sailfish are not usually eaten by people as their meat is inferior to other billfish, but they are often caught unintentionally by long line tuna fishermen. Commercial fishing fleets are not permitted to sell Sailfish, so Sailfish killed inadvertently are merely wasted.
9. Tiger Shark, 1780 pounds, Cherry Grove, South Carolina, 1964.
We do not really have to wait that long for this record to be tied or broken, because the monster caught by Walter Maxwell of the coast of South Carolina was matched by a 1785 pound specimen landed by Kevin Clapson in 2004 off Australia. The fish are considered “Co-Records” due to IFGA rules. The Maxwell fish was 2 feet longer than the 142 inch Clapson catch, but Clapson’s fish had a girth of 110 inches compared to “only” 103 inches for the Maxwell record fish. (The author remembers a 1200 pound Tiger Shark caught from the shore at Onslow Beach, North Carolina in the early 1980’s. The thought of such a large man eater right where we went swimming was scary.) Even though 1785 pounds is indeed extraordinarily big for a Tiger Shark, there obviously are others out there to be caught to break the record, but in order to break such a record the angler must be quite purposeful about going about his or her shark fishing business and still remain within sport fishing rules. Landing such a large, dangerous creature and getting it back to be measured and weighed takes careful prior planning and willingness to spend many hours and days of not catching the record Tiger Shark while trying to do so. Patience and persistence may be the most important skills in such fishing.
10. Jewfish, 680 pounds, Fernandina Beach, Florida, May 20, 1961.
Caught by Lynn Joyner (apparently a man) using a Spanish Mackerel as bait and 108 pound test line, this giant fish, also called (more politically correct nowadays) the Goliath Grouper, must have felt like reeling up a tank. In recent years these magnificent fish of the gaping mouth (that could possible swallow a smaller human adult whole!) have been protected and interest in fishing for them has been on the rise. Still, even with catch and release, the coral and shipwreck habitat preferred by these enormous predators spells doom for many a fishing line, as does the tremendous pulling power of the gigantic fish. Once considered facing extinction, catching the Goliath Grouper requires releasing the fish unharmed, which means it is unlikely one will be returned to shore for documented weighing and measuring for record purposes in the next few decades. Some nifty video of Goliath Groupers eating large fish being reeled in on the end of a fisherman’s line is almost scary!
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For more information, please see…
Cermele, Joe. The Total Fishing Manual (Paperback Edition): 317 Essential Fishing Skills (Field & Stream). Weldon Owen, 2017.
Kaminsky and Schwipps. Fishing For Dummies. For Dummies, 2011.