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Win Big, Let it Go

New catch-and-release record honors anglers who release big fish.

By Larry D. Hodge and Dyanne Fry Cortez

In 2003, Scott Graham caught a tarpon on a fly rod in San Antonio Bay. The fish measured 87 inches. It would have been a state fly-fishing record, but Graham could not submit it because he had no way to weigh his catch. At that time, all fishing records were based on weight, and tarpon were catch-and-release-only under Texas regulations (unless the angler had a $210 tarpon tag). Graham did the right thing. He recorded the length, snapped a quick photo, and let the silver king go.

If Graham were to catch that fish again today, he’d have another option. He could apply for a State Catch-and-Release Record. This new category, launched January 1, 2006, is based on length rather than weight.

“Scott’s catch got me started thinking,” says Joedy Gray, who manages TPWD’s angler recognition program. “We needed a way to recognize people who catch and release big fish alive without having them weighed. That’s what led to the new Catch-and-Release Record category. It provides an opportunity to recognize conservation-minded anglers who don’t have a certified scale available to weigh a fish before returning it to the water.”

Catch-and-Release Records are available for selected saltwater and freshwater species: to be considered, a fish must meet or exceed the length requirements for a Big Fish Award. In the case of a tarpon, that length is 80 inches. The fish must be legally caught in Texas public waters, using a conventional rod and reel or a fly rod. A witness to measurement and live release is required.

At press time, Catch-and-Release Records had been awarded for eight species of freshwater fish out of 16 eligible species. Saltwater records were on file for three of 18 possible species. There’s plenty of room left in the record book, and the spot for tarpon is open.

State records by weight are also awarded for public and private waters for rod and reel, fly-fishing, bow fishing and other legal methods. Water body records by weight are awarded for fish caught from Texas public waters by any legal method.

Other awards include First Fish Awards for the first fish caught by an angler of any age, the Elite Angler Award for catching five trophy-class fish in the freshwater or saltwater categories, the Big Fish Award for catching a trophy class fish of selected species, and the Outstanding Angler Award for a catch that does not qualify for one of the above categories but still deserves recognition.

All state record applications must be notarized. Photographs must be submitted with the application, which must be received by TPWD within 60 days of the catch. Fish submitted for weight records must be weighed on a certified scale within three days of being caught. If a non-certified scale is used, the applicant has 30 days from the weigh date to have the scale certified.

For more information on the Angler Recognition Program, including rules, entry forms, length requirements for Big Fish Awards and a list of locations of certified scales, go to <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishrecords> or call Joedy Gray, (512) 389-8037.

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