Fly Fishing

Record Breaker

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We’ve got to protect our phony-baloney jobs here, gentlemen. Harrumph! Harrumph!

-Governor William J. Lepetomane

Just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard on July 8, 2005, I broke a world record twice. Fly fishing, I caught the largest tautog on 20 pound test line ever recorded. And then I caught an even bigger one. Luckily I was fishing with a captain, Paul, who knew what the hell a tautog was. He also knew how rare it was to catch one using a fly rod. He suspected the first one I caught could be a record and we kept it. Tautog are good to eat so at least we would be getting a treat after the day’s fishing. When I caught the second one, it was like lightning hit the boat twice. The second tautog on the fly was about a pound and a half larger than the first one. What happened on the water that day was certainly an anomaly. You simply cannot catch tautog using a fly rod and I did it twice. Both fish proved to be new world records. I thought my name would stand forever under “tautog” considering how rare the feat had been. Today however, I received a letter from the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) informing me that they have canceled my world record because of a technicality. 

I am the first to admit that being a tautog world record holder isn’t the most distinguished thing you can be. The world record largemouth bass is said to be worth ten million dollars in endorsements. I wrote G-Loomis about my world record catch using their equipment and they thanked me for being a customer. Still, I’m proud of that day. I love the sheer weirdness of it all. The fact that we were fishing for striped bass and I caught two tautog world records instead. It’s not the world record for number of people stuffed inside a phone booth, but it is a fishing world record, which is pretty cool. Now the IGFA has stolen that from me. If someone caught a bigger fish in that line class, I would take the news in stride and gracefully bow out of the tautog history books. But that’s not what happened. The IGFA essentially highlighted my record and hit the delete button. They broke my record without even wetting a line. 

For a large part of my teenage years I had the pleasure of visiting Martha’s Vineyard to fish for striped bass with a master. Paul and his wife Karen would welcome their nephew Matt and I to their house for a week every summer. The house we stayed in was Carly Simon’s old place overlooking Menemsha Harbor. We would go out fishing with Paul on his big Regulator whenever he could take us. Almost all of my greatest fishing memories happened on these trips to the Vineyard. I learned saltwater fly fishing with Paul. I doubt I will ever have the pleasure to know anyone that knows more about fishing than he does. If it wasn’t for him, I would have had no idea those two tautogs were even worth keeping. 

The reason catching a tautog on the fly is so rare is because they mainly feed on mollusks and crustaceans and live amongst rocks and shipwrecks, making them hard to reach with fly tackle. There were lots of blue fish cutting through schools of sand eels on the day I caught the record fish. They left pieces of eel floating all over the place. I guess the tautog couldn’t pass up an easy meal of floating sand eel pieces and they indulged themselves. Unfortunately for them, my fly was also on the menu for the tautog that day.

The IGFA makes it very hard to certify world records and rightfully so. Otherwise, I could stuff a car battery down a largemouth bass and claim the ten million dollar endorsement. For fly fishing records, they require that the catch be weighed on a certified scale. Then, you have to mail them a two foot sample of your fly line and the entire leader and tippet so they can measure its break strength. That’s what “20 pound test” means for those who don’t know. My line tested how it should, which is how I got the record certified. Oddly though, Paul was captaining another fishermen in the Florida Keys who caught the third largest bone fish on record; the largest in the western hemisphere. It would have been a world record in the 10 pound test class but the line tested at a higher break strength than was listed for the product. Paul sued the line manufacturer; not for money, but to force them to list the proper break strength on their boxes. Some companies will sell a 12 pound test line listed as an 8 pound test line in order to make the product appear stronger.  He won the suit although it cost Paul a world record bone fish; a fish that carries with it a little more prestige than the tautog.  

I have no idea how many records were expunged by the IGFA’s arbitrary change in policy, but it couldn’t have been enough to warrant the heartless form letter they mailed me with  my name and deleted record plugged in. The reason they “retired” my record is because in 2017 at their annual trustees meeting, they passed a new regulation requiring that all records in line classes 30 pounds and lower had to be at least half of the poundage of the line class. Initially, they announced that current records that didn’t meet the new ratio would not be retired. Apparently however, some pompous ass couldn’t stand the “confusion” and so this year the trustees decided to retire all records that didn’t qualify, no matter when they were awarded. My record would had to have been at least ten pounds to qualify for the 20 pound test world record under the new regulation. No one is going to catch a ten pound tautog using 20 pound test fly line because they move to deeper water as they get bigger and catching any tautog on the fly is so rare in the first place. The largest tautog ever caught was hooked in 2015 off the coast of Maryland in 75 feet of water using conventional tackle. It weighed 28.8 pounds. My fish, five times smaller, was caught in 6-feet of water using a Clouser minnow fly that I tied myself. What the IGFA has essentially done is erased the 20 pound test category for tautog. Now because of their new requirements, no one will hold a tautog world record in that category ever again. 

The form letter states that they made these changes to “establish a uniform, basic criterion for Line and Tippet Class records.” Funny, but I thought that the basic criterion was already established given the fact that you must catch the largest fish in the weight class to be awarded a world record. I had no idea that line to weight ratio was so important and neither did the IGFA when they awarded my world record 14 years ago. They also state that they are deleting my record in order to “eliminate confusion in record listings where current records do not meet the minimum ratio.” They are the ones who created the “confusion” in the first place. And believe me, no one was ruminating about my now-unqualified tautog record. No one except nitwit trustees and bureaucrats were confused. 

The IGFA can pass whatever arbitrary rules and ratios they want since they are the sole organization charged with certifying and recording world record game fish catches around the world. How silly though to decertify something they thought qualified 14 years ago? I still caught the largest tautog on 20 pound test fly line on record. I still have the world record certificate the IGFA sent me where they misspelled “Menemsha.” Having that record stand in their online database despite their new regulations hurt no one and cost them nothing. 

“The IGFA appreciates your interest in its World Record program and we hope that you will continue to seek IGFA World Records in the future.” Unless, of course, we decide to delete your name from the record books because a few goobers were “confused.” Then we will be sure to let you know, in form, of our poor decision.

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