It’s been nearly 40 years since the IGFA began maintaining and recording freshwater world records, previously the responsibility of Field & Stream. When the torch was passed in 1978, there were current freshwater records handed over to the IGFA. Presently, the IGFA maintains over 2,000 approved freshwater world records from 67 different countries.
But this isn’t a lesson in stats. This is an article dedicated to 10 incredible freshwater world records; records that have not always received the same exposure as say, George Perry’s largemouth or Cal Johnson’s muskie, despite being comparable in significance.
Selecting only 10 catches from a list of over 2,000, and leaving out the two all-time greats mentioned above, will clearly omit many noteworthy catches — but that’s for another article.
Smallmouth Bass — David Hayes, Dale Hollow Reservoir
In the world of freshwater fishing, especially in North America, there are few species more heavily targeted than the smallmouth bass. So it is no surprise that David Hayes’ celebrated 5.41 kg (11 pound, 15 ounce) smallmouth has seen its share of controversy over the years.
Hayes caught his record fish on July 9, 1955 while trolling a lure in Dale Hollow Reservoir, Tennessee, USA. Hayes held the All-Tackle title for 41 years, despite swirling rumors denouncing his catch. These rumors, coupled with an affidavit stating that the dock owner added lead weight to the catch (unbeknownst to Hayes), resulted in the temporary ousting of Hayes’ record.
However, nine years later, it was proven through multiple polygraph tests that the sworn affidavit that denounced the legitimacy of Hayes’ smallmouth, had been falsified. Thus, returning the All-Tackle title to Hayes.
Despite the controversy surrounding Hayes’ smallmouth, it has withstood the test of time — and it’s fair share of polygraphs, too.
Walleye — Mabry Harper, Old Hickory Lake
The folder in the IGFA’s Record Department designated Mabry Harper’s world record walleye is chock-full of articles and letters related to the controversy that has followed this catch over the past half century. It has been more than 50 years since Harper pulled his 11.34 kg (25 pound) walleye from Old Hickory Lake, near his home in Tennessee on the morning of August 2, 1960.
Harper was an avid angler and had caught many large walleye, and catfish, in his angling career. Luckily, Harper’s wife (seen in the photo) realized the significance of the catch and took it to be officially weighed-in at the Second Creek Resort, before Harper cleaned the fish for dinner (which he later did).
Harper’s fish was submitted for record consideration, and was quickly approved by Field & Stream as the new world record walleye. But as time progressed, questions began swirling about the legitimacy of this record claim — particularly the reported girth measurement of 29 inches.
Numerous organizations and individuals investigated Harper’s catch, hypothesizing that the fish couldn’t possibly be the reported weight due to size of Harper’s hand, in relations to the size of the fish. In 1996, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame decided to remove Harper’s catch from the record books, due to “persistent rumors” they had received.
However, the IGFA, who had inherited all original documentation and correspondence from Field & Stream in the 1970’s, still recognizes Harper’s walleye as the heaviest ever caught on a rod and reel.
Pike — Lothar Louis, Lake Grefeern
Despite the millions of diehard pike fishermen around the world, Lothar Louis remains the envy of them all due to the 25 kg (55 pounds, 1 ounce) northern pike he pulled from Lake Grefeern, Germany nearly 30 years ago. When Louis arrived at his local fishing hole on the morning of October 16, 1986, his plan was to target carp and roach — not northern pike.
However, Louis, like many of us anglers, was an optimist. It was Louis’ habit, at the start of each fishing day, to make 15 casts with his “pike rod” – a spinning outfit spooled with 8 kg (16-pound) mono. On just his third cast of the morning, Louis’ optimism was rewarded. The monster pike inhaled his spoon and Louis was hooked up to the fish of a lifetime.
Unable to net the fish due to its tremendous size, and worried that he would lose the fish, Lothar had no choice but to plunge his hands inside the gill covers to land the fish. In an interview after the catch, Lothar is quoted as saying that he “was so excited he did not feel the pain as the huge teeth sank into both hands as he lifted her up on the bank.”
Certainly a desperate move, given the serious dentition of the northern pike, but with a fish like that on the line can you really blame him?
Nile Perch — William Toth, Lake Nasser
For many anglers, catching a perch is not something found on your angling “bucket list” — unless you’re talking about Nile perch. Unlike their smaller relatives, Nile perch grow to incredible sizes and have earned a reputation as a vicious, no-nonsense adversary. These mighty fish are widespread throughout Africa, bringing anglers from around the world with hopes of landing one of these trophies.
On December 20, 2000, California angler William Toth landed the heaviest Nile perch ever recorded on rod and reel — a 104.32 kg (230 pounds) fish that crushed the Rapala Fire Tiger lure he was trolling in Egypt’s famous Lake Nasser. After a fight that lasted almost an hour, Toth and two local guides were able to weigh the fish in a sling and then released it alive.
Now 14 years after the catch, Toth’s fish still remains the All-Tackle record despite the ever growing popularity of the Nile perch — a testament to the impressive nature of this catch
White Sturgeon — Joey Pallotta, San Pablo Bay
As Joey Pallotta, III motored his 18 ft. fiberglass boat towards San Pablo Bay, California on the morning of July 9, 1983, little did he know that in just a few minutes, he would be fighting the biggest freshwater fish ever recorded on rod and reel. Just five mintues after casting a live grass shrimp into the water (remember that saying “elephants eat peanuts”?)
Pallotta came tight on the massive 212.48 kg (468 lb) white sturgeon that immediately surfaced, and began tail walking just a few yards from Pallotta’s boat. Stunned by the massive size of the fish, Pallotta radioed a nearby friend for assistance, as attempting to land such a fish on his boat was simply out of the question. Pallotta boarded his friend’s vessel, unassisted, and proceeded to fight the massive sturgeon for another five hours on 37 kg (80 pound) tackle, before it was finally subdued.
There had never been an All-Tackle record for white sturgeon before Pallotta’s, and there very well may never be another. Given the massive size of his fish and the strict regulations on the species, it is quite possible that Pallotta’s fish will never be surpassed.
Arapaima — Jakub Vagner, Ecuador
The vast Amazon rainforest is home to some of the most unique and mysterious species of flora and fauna in the world. It is also a dream come true for adventurous anglers who thrive on the rush of targeting exotic species in uncharted waters. No species better represents the mystery and power of the Amazon than the arapaima – one of the largest freshwater fish in the world.
One of the allures of targeting arapaima is that nothing about catching them is easy. They are hard to access, hard to feed, and hard to fight. But that is exactly why adventurer and angler Jakub Vagner ventured into the dense jungles of Ecuador on February 18, 2010. Vagner’s efforts were rewarded in the form of a 154 kg (339 pound, 8 ounce) beast that took him nearly two hours to land, after eating the live baitfish he was using.
In addition to the amazing catch, Vagner was able to release the highly prized fish alive — thanks to a little help from his local guides and a certified scale. Adding to the mystery of the species, as arapaima continue to grow in popularity among recreational anglers, stories of 400+ pound specimens have surfaced, but no record applications have been submitted.
Peacock Bass — Andrea Zaccherini, Santa Isabel Do Rio Negro
Peacock bass are the iconic fish of the Amazon, and rightfully so. Celebrated for their aggressive strikes, rugged fights, and beautiful coloration, it is no surprise that peacock bass are the target of millions of anglers around the world. Although there are several different species of peacock bass, none grow as large as the speckled peacock – the true king of the peacock basses.
On November 3, 2010, Andrea Zaccherini became the envy of anglers everywhere when he landed the heaviest peacock bass ever recorded by the IGFA — a 13.19 kg (29 pounds, 1 ounce) speckled peacock he pulled from Santa Isabel Do Rio Negro, in his native country of Brazil. Despite the immense size of Zaccherini’s fish, the fight lasted only 3 minutes — most likely a result of the adrenaline rush Zaccherini experienced after watching the massive peacock explode on the Pavon Prop topwater plug he was casting.
The All-Tackle record for speckled peacock has been broken three times in the past ten years, and the reports of anglers encountering fish in the 30-pound range are numerous. But do they get bigger than Zaccherini’s trophy peacock? With plenty of virgin water left to be discovered in the Amazon, it certainly seems possible. But until then, the All-Tackle title belongs to Zaccherini.
Barramundi — Dennis Harrold, Lake Monduran
Aussie angler Denis Harrold caught his massive 44.64 kg (98 pound, 6 ounce) barramundi while fishing from his kayak Australia’s Lake Monduran on December 12, 2010. Harrold was able to subdue the All-Tackle record fish in just 15 minutes, after it crushed the Squidgies Slick Rig he was casting. In the southern hemisphere, especially in Australia, few species are as coveted and as highly regarded as the barra.
These amazing fish are not only exceptional fighters and great table fare, but they will also take a variety of baits, lures and flies — making them a supreme game fish. Although they can be caught in brackish water, the larger specimens are usually found in landlocked freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs where they are not exposed to as many natural pressures.
Given the large following these fish have and the potential for them to grow to exceptional sizes, it will be interesting to see how long Harrold’s barra holds the title.
Chinook Salmon — Les Anderson, Kenai River
Chinook salmon are the largest species of salmon, earning them the popular nickname of king salmon. Because kings grow large, fight hard, and taste great, they’ve been targeted by recreational (and commercial) anglers for centuries. Yet, despite their immense following, Les Anderson’s 44.11 kg (97 pound, 14 ounce) king has held the highly coveted All-Tackle title for nearly 30 years.
Anderson pulled the record Chinook from Alaska’s famed Kenai River on May 17, 1985. Equipped with 15 kg (30-pound) tackle and only 21 inches of leader, Anderson needed 40 minutes to subdue his world record fish, after it ate the Spin Glow lure he was casting.
Although trophy kings are caught every year, Les Anderson’s fish is one of only two Chinook salmon recorded by the IGFA weighing greater than 90 pounds. In short, Les Anderson has set the bar high with his record king — the heaviest salmon ever recorded by the IGFA.
Although it was originally founded as a saltwater angling organization in 1939, the IGFA is proud of its rich 36 year history in the world of freshwater fishing. As the IGFA continues to adapt its programs and rules, in order to remain pertinent to recreational anglers around the world, it is exciting to think about the amazing catches to come.
New records are caught every day and as these 10 records illustrate, you never know when your chance at a world record will arise. Whether you fish freshwater, saltwater, or both — make sure you’re aware of IGFA rules, so you too can become part of the rich history of sport fishing when you’re opportunity arrives.