A Change in Practices


Not many people head out fishing expecting to land a record fish. Let’s be honest, if we did, we’d be full of disappointment on all but those once in a blue moon sessions. As a result, it comes as no surprise that when someone does land a potential record, they can be ill-prepared for it. This has resulted in the records for many species being bested by bigger unclaimed fish (or claimed and rejected fish) multiple times before one is eventually claimed successfully.


Historically, the method was easier. Knock the fish on the head, get it to a local certified set of scales and retain the fish in a freezer for any necessary inspection and identification. Then, angling progressed quicker than the record keeping. For a long time, it remained a prerequisite to retain any potential record fish, whilst angling as a whole shifted towards catch and release for many of the species we fish for. A moral dilemma would be presented to anyone landing a potential record of a species they would usually wish to return, thus many records went unclaimed. 

There’s an argument here that the ‘catch and kill’ records should have a line drawn under them, maintained as a lasting record of wholly certified fish, and then we should commence anew with modern day catch and release records. Why? Because no matter the level of scrutiny of the British Rod Caught Fish Records committee, the new methods of ratification will always be open to flaws that could throw into doubt the authenticity of any new record. Whilst it is a massively positive move in the right direction, we should all still accept its limitations. The distinction between the record lists would ensure that no record is falsely erased from the history books by someone being a little liberal with the scales. 


These limitations are why the task of staking a record claim and having it approved are now all the more difficult. They are there to attempt to protect the integrity of the records and, while they may appear a barrier to making a successful claim, they are also a barrier to many false or poorly recorded claims. Fortunately, with a bit of good preparation and by carrying items that the majority of us would on any session anyway, a record can still be claimed if you happen to get lucky enough to land such a special fish. 

Ryan Wingfield British Record tope
Nobody would dream of keeping a fish like this these days. Ryan was able to claim the tope record twice in two years after returning the fish

Essential tools


If you’re going to claim a catch and release record fish, you’ll need a few essentials to hand when you finally land that fish of a lifetime. 


Scales


It may go without saying, but a set of scales is the most fundamental piece of kit to carry and a good pair helps when it comes to getting them certified (more on certification later).

If you want to check out a great piece looking at a range of different priced digital scales, then have a look at the following video from The Fish Locker. You’ll want to think about the most suitable scales for the fish you’ll be targeting. Particularly large fish won’t leave you concerned at measuring a lower division of units but if mini species and LRF is your bag, then you’ll want a particularly fine set.

Sling


A lightweight, non water absorbing sling is absolutely critical, not just for fish care, but also for having any hope of an accurate weight being certified by the committee. Improvisations with jumpers, towels, bags and whatever else is to hand may tick the box for most fish (and you may be comfortable claiming a PB weighed in such a fashion) but you have to bear in mind that the sling a fish is weighed in gets calibrated with the scales it was weighed on. 


Water absorbing makeshift slings like towels and jumpers have the capacity to retain a lot of mass in water. This could result in inflating the weight of a fish and will make it far less likely for the records committee to consider or ratify a claim. Technically, one would have to fully saturate such a makeshift sling before calibrating it alongside the scales to take a ‘worst case’ weight. Slings are cheap, they are great for fish care purposes, are light and take up very little space and should be a staple in everyone’s tackle box.

Tape measure:


Even with a reported weight and the weighing scales being certified, measuring both the length and girth of a fish can help with the approval process. Many fish have growth rates that mean the actual weight of a fish will roughly correlate to a weight derived from a calculation of both the length and girth. Producing a set of measurements that matches up to the stated weight will help the claim along. 


‘Brag mats’ are popular abroad and growing in popularity now in the UK. They are large fold or roll up measures, that enable clear photographs of measurements to be taken whilst fish are laid upon them, leaving nothing in doubt. 

A quality weigh sling, like this one available from Veals Mail Order is essential gear these days

Camera


Luckily we all have camera phones to hand these days, although it’s worth also carrying a battery pack for a quick recharge. Just imagine having run out of charge moments before landing that fish of a lifetime!


Accurate shots of the fish, from a number of angles are key to a successful claim. Whilst at all times ensuring a swift and safe return of the fish, focus on achieving the following in-focus photos, or in addition (and where possible), videos too:

  1. The full fish, unobstructed, alongside an item of known scale (this can be anything you have to hand that is instantly recognisable, such as a branded bottle of drink, or an item from your tackle box
  2. Showing a length measurement
  3. Showing a girth measurement
  4. A series of images focusing on any usual identification features for the species, though if these are unknown, focus on a close up of the head, the tail and caudal peduncle (that’s the bit immediately before the tail) and an image showing the lateral line. Ideally, these images would contain enough detail to also conduct a scale count up and down from the lateral line.
  5. For rays and flatfish, a photo of the underside of the fish is equally as important when it comes to accurate identification
  6. Showing the reading of the scales with the fish clearly suspended from the ground in the sling. Video particularly helps with this one!
  7.  Finally a photo of the rig the fish was caught on. Whilst less critical than the other images, there are limits to the number of hooks that can be used for a record claim
Close up images are critical for identification. Focus on key areas such as the head, mouth, fins, tail and lateral line

Tweezers

There has to be a judgement call on this one on a per species basis. If it is safe to do so without causing damage to the fish, a scale can be taken to aid in any identification challenges. Tweezers can prove helpful in this task. 

Witnesses


No offence is meant by classifying witnesses under tools! The first thing to remember is that they are not essential in all circumstances but your record stands a far greater chance of being ratified if witnesses are present. If you are fishing alone and there is someone, anyone (angler or otherwise) in the vicinity, call them over whilst measuring and weighing the fish. Then take their name, address and telephone number, assuming that they are willing to share it. Let them know that it is to document them as a witness for a record claim – the records committee does not process this data in any other way. 

Some places won't be short of witnesses if you catch a potential record! Remember to call over anyone, it needn't be another angler

Paperwork


Now you’ve caught your fish and documented it as much as possible before releasing it back to fight another day, you’re going to have to submit these details to the records committee for consideration. Bear in mind, they only meet to ratify records twice a year so it can be quite a wait to get that final confirmation! 


The first thing that will be required of you is to have your set of scales and sling certified to the weight that the fish was recorded at. You can find your local ‘weights and measures’ trading department with a quick search online. Most reasonably sized towns and cities will have one and you can expect to spend somewhere in the region of £30 for certification. 


It’s worth noting that if your scales are found to have not been reading true, at either a lesser or greater weight, it does not stop your record being claimed, it will just result in the claimed weight being adjusted for the correction applied to the scales. This assumes that the scales are consistent in their reading. The weights and measures representative will perform a number of repeated tests. If the scales are up on some, down on others and generally all over the place and unreliable, then you will struggle to have a claim ratified, so do consider your choice of scales carefully.

The paperwork to then complete is not too complex for a British record. We’ll do some follow up pieces on European and World records in the next few issues, which have a few further nuances at this stage (such as providing sections of line used to catch the fish) but this is for another day. 


To obtain the forms and advice on the final procedure for making your claim, the claimant should contact the Committee Secretary by telephone on 01568 620447, by post to BRFC,  Eastwood House, 6 Rainbow Street, Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 8DQ or by email at brfc@anglingtrust.net


Next month, we have a piece looking at a number of individuals who have successfully claimed records who will be recounting the challenges they faced along the way. Hopefully their experiences, along with the information contained in this piece should help ensure any future records you may be fortunate enough to catch can be successfully claimed.

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