What to do if You Catch a World Record Fish (5 helpful steps)

There is no denying it, we’ve all dreamed of the day we catch a world record fish.  Who wouldn’t want fame, glory and lots of cash?  Sounds great!  However, there are a million and one ways to mess up your chance of making it into the record books.  

So, what do you do if you think you’ve caught a world record fish?  Quickly return to shore and weigh your fish on an IGFA certified scale with the help of several witnesses.  Make sure to take plenty of photos and measurements so the judges can verify that the catch is genuine.  Then, mail in a completed application form with a 50 foot sample of your line and leader to the IGFA. 

Easy enough right?  Well, there are a lot more details to understand if you want to avoid being denied a world record title, which happens.  Read on to learn everything you need to know before you head out on your quest to catch a record breaking fish.

1.  Know the current records before you go fishing

There have been many stories of anglers catching world record fish and not realizing what they had before releasing it, or worse, eating it.  Only after sharing pictures with friends and family does someone suggest looking up the fish in the record books.  By then it is too late.

Don’t let this be you.  Before going fishing, take a minute to figure out what species you might catch.  Also, determine if your local waters have what it takes to produce trophy class fish.  Then visit the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) website to see what it would take to top the current world record for each species in your fishing hole.  

There are also state records to consider too.  While it may not be as elite a title as world record, it is still a worthy spot to show off your fishing prowess.  Most state fish and wildlife websites will have a listing of current state records, as well as their own requirements for proving the catch and submitting a valid application.

Here is my bonus tip for you.  On a small slip of paper, make a list of species you will most likely catch where you fish.  Then, list both the current state and world record size and weight of each fish type.  Simply keep the paper in your tackle box as a reference should the occasion arise.  

2.  Get your own certified fish scale

Getting the fish properly weighed as fast as possible is by far the most difficult challenge.  Since it is the key factor that determines its record status, the judges of the IGFA are sticklers for accuracy and accountability.  Any small error that causes doubt can disqualify your application.

You can get your own scale certified by sending it in to the IGFA headquarters for a small fee of $40.  It will take some time, but once done you can avoid the mad dash of finding a qualified and certified scale near your location.  You can also have it certified after the catch, but send it in as soon as possible.  

Even if you are prepared with your own certified scale, it is easy to make mistakes that can disqualify your fish from the books.  The IGFA has specific rules for weighing on their website but here is a simplified list of things to consider:

  • Weigh the fish on land.  Fish weighed while in a boat on the water are not accepted.
  • Find someone (or two people if possible) to be “disinterested witnesses” to the weighing.
  • Have your tackle inspected by the witness and/or person weighing the fish.
  • Use a scale with small graduations for best accuracy.  Estimated weights between two graduations are not accepted.
  • Take pictures of the whole process and of the fish on the scale.

3.  Take lots of pictures 

Never leave the camera at home.  Now that just about everyone has a smart phone, that’s unlikely, but without photos there is no proof.  The IGFA judges need photos to verify the species identification and to check the legitimacy of the record claim.  

There are several, very specific, pictures that must be taken.  The following list is a summary of the pictures you should take.  Digital “film” is free so, if in doubt, take more photos.

  • A photo showing the whole length of the fish with no parts of it obscured.
  • A photo of the tackle, rod and reel that the fish was caught with.
  • Take a photo of the scale used to weigh the fish and a photo of the fish on the scale.
  • Include a photo of the angler with the fish.  Also submit action shots if possible.
  • Pictures with the fish hanging and of it laying on a smooth flat surface should be included.  Place a measuring tape by the fish when it is lying on its side.
  • Take extra pictures from various angles.
  • Do not edit or manipulate any part of the photo and make sure you submit quality photos that are not blurry.

4.  Measure the fish

The weight of the fish is not the only way to obtain a world record title.  Sometimes record size fish are underfed.  They might not be heavy enough but they could still be long enough to get you in the record book.  

Always bring along a tape measure or fish ruler to get length and girth measurements.  Measure the length as accurately as possible.  Take pictures as described in the previous section.  Use a flexible tape measure to get a girth measurement.  The girth is measured around the thickest part of the fish.   

5.  Send line samples and submit a completed application

The hardest part is done once you have the certified weight, measurements and photographs.  However, you are still on the clock.  Record claims need to be submitted within 60 days, except for all-tackle records, which can be submitted from years past.  

Print the application from the IGFA website and fill it out completely.  This is the part where recording all the details of your catch will be most important.  Hopefully, you have your witness contact information and certified scale details.  Submit all the photos, fees and line sample with the application.  Only members of the IGFA can submit applications, but you can request a membership on the form.  

The line sample needs to include the leader, and at least 50 feet of the main line.  Wind it neatly so that it can be unwound without tangles.   

For the complete rules and requirements, visit the IGFA world record requirements page.

How do you find and catch a world record fish

Sometimes it seems hard enough to catch any fish, let alone one that is of state or world record caliber.  Yet, there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of catching trophy class fish.  

What does it take to find and catch a record book fish?  To catch a world record, you first need to be fishing in water that supports trophy sized fish.  Then try to target a species that is not heavily sought after for records.  All that is left is to follow the tackle guidelines set by the IGFA and start catching fish.

Now let’s dive into more detail so you can have the best chance possible.


Not all lakes, streams or saltwater locations are created equal.  Trophy fish only grow where the ecosystem is in perfect balance and food sources are abundant.  If you want to stand a chance at setting new records, find high quality fishing spots.

It is not as hard as it sounds.  Start your search by finding where current world and state record fish are being caught.  These locations have what it takes to produce big fish.  You can either fish in those same places or find new spots that have similar characteristics.  

A fantastic, and often overlooked, resource for finding likely spots is your local fishery biologist.  Fishery biologists are employed by state fish and wildlife departments to assess environmental quality for bodies of water in their jurisdiction.  They will surely have some of the best, firsthand knowledge about size potential for most species you are after.

Find your local biologist on your state’s fish and wildlife webpage.  Call or email them with your inquiry.  Most are very friendly and eager to share their knowledge.  Their work is funded by your tax dollars, so utilize the opportunity to its fullest.  

You can also find water that supports trophy class fish by perusing fishing forums or talking to people at local tackle shops.  Anglers are known to tell tall-tales and are equally secretive of their honey holes, so take their advice with a grain of salt.  Always follow up on questionable advice with a biologist before spending unfruitful time on the water.


Some species of fish are so coveted that catching a record fish means competing with many thousands of your fellow anglers who all share the same dreams of fishing fame.  If you want to give yourself a fighting chance, it is better to go after a species of fish that others will overlook.

There are hundreds of species listed in the IGFA books.  Many are relatively unknown and you can expect less competition for world record claims.  

Everyone wants to think they can catch the next world record largemouth bass, but fewer anglers seek the glory of a pumpkinseed sunfish.  Set your sights on a more obscure place in the IGFA book and you stand a better chance of accomplishing your goal.    

All-tackle and other records

The top anglers claim the all-tackle world records, but there are many other record categories available.  

Line class and fly rod categories offer opportunities to claim a title for popular species and many of those titles are less competitive.  For example, to catch a trophy walleye in the all-tackle category, you need to beat the 25 pound all-tackle world record.  Catch it instead using 2 pound test line and it only needs to weigh 12 pounds. 

The IGFA sets strict rules on the tackle allowed to qualify for a world record.  Make sure you are well versed with these rules, which are found on their website.  

How much is a world record fish worth

Okay, with enough work and a fair dose of luck, you managed to achieve the ultimate fishing title as a world record holder.  So, how much money is the title worth?

For the most coveted sport fish like bass and walleye, an all-tackle record could be worth a great deal of money.  The next largemouth bass world record is expected to land the lucky angler over a million dollars and endorsements from tackle manufacturers. 

However, capitalizing on the financial opportunities will require some marketing savvy.  It’s likely that most of the lesser known records won’t bring in much cash now days.  Bounties offered by tackle companies for record fish are becoming a thing of the past.  Most of the money to be made will come in the form of endorsements.  

While there is still the pride of being a record holder, don’t expect to get rich.  Catching the next record bluegill might get you in the local paper and some small endorsements but it’s no largemouth.  

Don’t let that keep you from trying though.  Either way, you are still fishing and that is always worthwhile.

Wrap it up

Most of us will go our entire lifetime without seeing a record fish of any kind.  Yet it won’t stop me from trying.  Being prepared is the first step to not missing out on the opportunity of a life time.  If your goal is to leave a fishing legacy behind, there is no better way than to catch a world record fish.