Jack Vitek has a job most anglers would trade their own for in a heartbeat: he is the World Record Coordinator for the IGFA. The International Game Fish Association remains one of the most authoritative voices of the contemporary international angling community, and has become synonymous with catching a record-breaking fish, wherever in the world that fish might be caught. We’ve had the pleasure of chatting with Jack about the IGFA’s mission, his picks for the world’s top fishing hotspots, and of course, setting a world fishing record.
Your title at the IGFA is ‘World Record Coordinator’. What does that entail exactly?
It’s actually a couple of different things. The position is primarily responsible for processing and maintaining all of the world records that are submitted to the IGFA. We get about 700-800 record applications a year, and for each one that comes in, we have to measure the leaders, test the line, make sure all the documentation is accurate, and that there’s absolutely nothing strange or out of place with the application. We’re also in charge of helping all of the anglers that contact us with questions about what they need to submit, or just what they can and can’t do in order to catch a world record.
I also do a bit of writing for the organization, as well as manage all the IGFA ‘slams’ – the World Slams, the Grand Slams, the Trophy Fish Clubs, the Catch Certificate Program.
What’s the main goal behind the IGFA’s Catch Certificate Program?
That Program is actually something that we’ve been putting a lot of effort into lately. It’s all about angler recognition: you know, not everyone in their lifetime will go out and catch a world record, but there are definitely times in your life when you go out and still catch a fish that’s really special to you, or it’s a really big fish nonetheless. And even though it’ not a world record, we can make a custom certificate to help you remember that catch and that day on the water. So we take it upon themselves to help people remember those extraordinary experiences.
Your position is also responsible for running the IGFA Observer Training Program?
Yes, although the Observer Program is separate from World Records. An Observer is someone that is used in, say, large international billfish tournaments. He almost acts as a referee that will ride along and make sure everything’s done by the book. So if there’s a tournament with 40 boats, each boat will have an Observer that makes sure that all the IGFA rules are followed. We train these Observers to identify different species of billfish, and educate them on all relevant IGFA rules. For example, I’ll travel to different places around the world, and explain what our rules are, why they’re in place and how to use them to ensure that everyone’s fishing in a sporting manner.
What is IGFA’s primary mission?
Our main mission is to be the authority on all things regarding recreational fishing. As you can read on the IGFA’s mission statement, we are committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rule making and record keeping. The big part of that is the conservation of species that we hold so dear, and the education of our youth on things such as how to fish responsibly, how to be the stewards of the sea and make sure that there are opportunities for people in the future to continue to enjoy fishing.
But it’s also about being an authority and setting rules about what recreational fishing really is. What is a sporting catch? What constitutes a sporting way of fishing? We continue to aim to establish those rules as the universal guidelines on sport fishing.
It’s also about record keeping?
Last but not least. Before there was IGFA, there were records for different clubs all around the world. You had US clubs, European, South American clubs, and everyone had different records, different rules. IGFA was founded to establish a standard set of rules and regulations – and of course, records – that everyone can use and look up to. Our rules continue to be incorporated as a standard in hundreds, if not thousands of tournaments around the world – they’re still the foundation of all tournament angling.
What’s the main inspiration for the IGFA and you yourself, when it comes to the conservation of marine life?
I think the main thing is just to ensure that there are fish around when we’re dead and gone. Ensure there are fish for the future generations. We also feel obliged to speak up for the recreational angler: with so much commercial pressure on fisheries, historically and presently, I think it’s important for the recreational angler to have a voice, and I think that’s where IGFA comes in, helping them find that voice and aiding them with issues pertaining to their specific regions.
Are you optimistic about the future of great fisheries around the world? Overfishing, as you said, primarily due to commercial fishing is definitely taking it’s toll on the number of fish species as well as game fish species worldwide. How do you think that the IGFA and the angling community should go about tackling these issues in the future.
That’s certainly a question for our conservation coordinators or our President, but obviously, you have to remain optimistic: we see statistics and receive data that, you know, definitely opens your eyes to many of the issues that are going on around the world. We try and use that as motivation to work harder, develop programs and assist in conserving different resources that we have.
You guys are the pioneers of Catch and Release practices. Recreational fishing still gets some bad press from time to time – many people still believe that, according to the IGFA rules, killing a fish is required to set a world record. But, in many cases today, that’s not entirely true, is it?
No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, over the past five years or so, the number of record applications that we receive for fish that have been released alive is very close to 50%. That’s due to a number of reasons. First, we really try our best to promote Catch and Release through our media. So if there’s a record that’s been released alive, we always aim to promote that and give it as much coverage as possible in order to educate people. We’ve also established programs – like the All-Tackle length record program which is strictly Catch and Release – that have really taken off lately.
As you said, IGFA rules don’t say you have to kill a fish to submit it for a record. We do require that the fish is weighed on solid land, strictly because if you weigh a fish on a rocking boat, you won’t get an accurate weight, which would devalue the records. But even then, we’ve seen people come up with amazing tactics to save the fish: fishermen are very ingenious when it comes to developing new conservation techniques. We’ve even had people catch, weigh and release hundred, even two-hundred pound sharks within the last couple of years. And even when it comes to those species that it may not really be feasible for them to be released, say billfish or tuna, the amount of records that we receive for those big pelagic species is now extremely low. As those records have been pursued for so many years by so many anglers around the world, the bar has been set very high, so replacing those records doesn’t happen very often anymore.
What are the basic set of rules for setting a world fishing record? If I am a recreational angler, or I’m just out fishing with my family on a vacation and just so happen to catch the biggest fish of my life, what are the things that I absolutely must know?
The rule that we most often see violated is that only one person must fight the fish at all times. If your hands get a bit tired, so your friends or family take over fighting the fish for a while, and then hand it back to you, that’s not going to work. There has to be one person fighting the fish at all times.
Another big rule violations is your tackle not conforming. One of the biggest things here is the growing popularity of braided line and Spectra. I mean, it’s IGFA-legal, you can use that, but there are certainly some issues with them that a lot of people don’t realize.
Like the fact that they tend to overtest?
They overtest by a lot. So if someone’s out there and they’re fishing for a 6-kilo or an 8-kilo line class record, and they are using 6 or 8-kilo braid, that braid’s going to overtest that, and they’re going to be looking at a 15 or 20-kilo line class record. We see a lot of records get rejected specifically because someone used a braided line, or even monofilament to a lesser extent, that’s not tournament-rated, or rated to test how it should.
Those are definitely two of the biggest reasons that we see fish not being approved for a record. But also, if you catch a record fish, what you want to do is immediately save the tackle that you caught it on, get it weighed on a certified scale, and get plenty of photo and video documentation, so that we can identify the fish and the angler who caught it.
Rough estimate: how many record applications do you get from people that didn’t necessarily plan on catching a giant, record-shattering fish, but just happened to be in the right place at the right time?
Ah, that’s a good question. I’d say it’s about half: half of the records we receive are from people who, you know, just happened to be out their fishing, not looking for a world record per se, and are lucky enough to catch one and go through the process. On the other side, you have those fishermen who are familiar with the IGFA and world records, the goal-oriented anglers that are actively pursuing a world record. You get both sides of the story.
I’m sure a lot of people would be interested to know the answer to this: based on the number of record applications that you receive from anglers worldwide, what would be your picks for best deep sea fishing locations on the planet?
It’s funny that you ask that, we’re actually working on putting an article about top record-producing places in the world. If you’re looking for, say, billfish or those kinds of big pelagic species – Panama and Costa Rica are always great places. Cabo San Lucas has consistently produced billfish, tuna, wahoo records. Hawaii is another great big game spot. Angola…
Angola’s really been coming up on the map: they have some of the biggest Atlantic Sailfish in the world. We’ve had two records come out of there in the recent years, and like I said, getting these big game records is very rare indeed. The whole east coast of Africa – Kenya and neighboring countries – there’s a lot of untapped potential there. Cape Verde and some of the other islands off of Africa have really been hot with billfish. Madeira and the Azores are excellent European hotspots too.
There are also amazing islands in the South Pacific – Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu – lot of potential there when it comes to Wahoo and Billfish. You can’t forget about Australia and New Zealand either – we’ve had some impressive swordfish catches come to us from New Zealand. Papua New Guinea is starting to blow up as a deep sea fishing location as well. The Florida Keys themselves (especially Key West) have produced more saltwater world records than any other location in the world. I think there are plenty of other amazing fisheries too: these are just a couple that come to mind.
What about a fly fishing Grand Slam? Permit, Bonefish, Tarpon: best picks?
Cuba, especially if you’re a European crowd. Cuba has been one of the best places in the last couple of years, and people are just starting to learn about it. Again, the Florida Keys. Mexico – especially Ascension Bay, Ambergris Caye in Belize, all those places are inshore Grand Slam hotspots.
I’ve just recently heard about a man named Martin Arostegui, that has set over 400 world fishing records by himself. I’m just wondering – do people like him get like a special Christmas card from you every year?
*laughs* We’re lucky enough that Dr. Martin actually lives in South Florida, so we get to see him in a building quite a bit. He comes in my office every now and then – usually has a couple of records to drop off – and we talk for a while. He’s an incredible angler, accomplished over 400 records which no one is even close to, and when it comes to figuring out how to catch a world record, he’s probably one of the best in the business, if not the best.
A lot of people don’t think they can catch a record fish anymore. But the IGFA record books just keep getting updated. Would you say there’s still a real chance for recreational angler to snatch a record-shattering fish?
Oh, absolutely, especially with the different record categories that we have. For example, we just opened up a whole new category of line class records for our freshwater species. In the past, they’ve been gender-neutral: there’s been no separation for freshwater records between men and women. Saltwater species, on the other hand, had men’s and women’s records for over 20 years now. So we’ve recently opened men’s and women’s categories for freshwater records, and there’s hundreds of vacancies that are still waiting to be filled, which we’re actively trying to get out and promote.
Not to mention the fact that, what a lot of people don’t realize is there are new fish species being submitted every year, species that no one has ever submitted for a record before. As long as that fish is considered trophy-size, you can still submit it for a record. Just contact me, send me the photos, tackle and the fish’s scientific name: we can look it up and I can tell you if it’s ever been submitted before or not.
There’s always an opportunity. That’s the great thing about fishing: you don’t always go out and catch a record, you don’t even always go out and catch fish, but there’s always that allure in the back of your mind that this could be the day when you do find that fish of a lifetime.