August 2006

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The IGFA: A Primer

By Mike Rivkin

Ever wonder who keeps track of those world-record fish that everybody but you seems to be catching?

Since 1939, world angling records have been maintained by a group in Florida known as the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), and its current list of world-record species numbers more than a thousand. Other IGFA programs and initiatives offer support to anglers everywhere, and if you're not already a member, you definitely should be.

In addition to keeping the records for freshwater, saltwater, and fly tackle catches, the IGFA also sets and arbitrates the rules under which such records can be set. That's not a small thing in this day of crazy endorsements and sponsorships, and lucky anglers have earned big bucks for a single outsized catch.

Despite the pressures, the IGFA has adhered to a remarkably high standard over the years, and a record certificate from the IGFA usually goes on the wall and not in a drawer. At least two avid anglers have earned more than 100 IGFA world records in a lifetime of fishing, but it's a quest that takes time and beyond imagination. Still, if you're looking for something to do -
In addition to serving as the arbiter of angling's rules and records, the IGFA's headquarters building in Dania Beach, Fla., (just outside Ft. Lauderdale) is a magnificent 60,000-foot celebration of angling history. On the bottom floor is the IGFA Museum and Hall of Fame that includes photos, artifacts, and life-size mounts that will leave your jaw dragging along the beautifully tiled floor behind you.

Several expansive galleries offer a fascinating tour of angling's history, and one in particular includes a series of hands-on exhibits that are sure to captivate youngsters and their young-at-heart parents.

Among the many other highlights is a wonderfully-produced 18-minute movie entitled "Journeys" that will bring even the most hardened angler to the brink of tears. If you've ever been in south Florida and have even a drop of salt-water in your veins, you need to see this. Visit for more details.

In the meantime, you should also know a bit more about what the IGFA does and why you need to join. The organization was first conceived in the late 1930s by a group of leading anglers and ichthyologists.

Big-game fishing had just begun to blossom, spurred on by the highly publicized exploits of Zane Grey and improvements in boats, tackle, and transportation. By the late 1930s, lots of people were catching sailfish off Florida, tuna off Nova Scotia, and albacore and marlin off Santa Catalina Island.

However, there wasn't much communication between anglers, and relatively little was known about opportunities to catch big fish in distant lands. On top of that, marine science was in its infancy and even less was known about gamefish ichthyology. Something had to be done.

One of the most recognized angling pioneers of the day was a ruddy New Yorker named Michael Lerner. Successful businessman, legendary sportsman, selfless visionary, Lerner was among the first to see the need for a global angling umpire when he visited Australia in 1939.

Encouraged by those he met, he returned stateside and gathered a like-minded group around him to do what he had in mind. On June 7, 1939, the International Game Fish Association sprang into existence, helped by the support of the American Museum of National History in New York and Lerner's own impeccable reputation and financial capabilities.

As stated in its early publication, the IGFA's two-fold goals were the "advancement of ethical sport and productive science," and over the years, it has achieved admirable success in meeting both.

There's a lot more to know about the IGFA, including its contributions to the Allied war effort during World War II, noteworthy officers like Ernest Hemingway, and its early and steadfast leadership in marine conservation and other initiatives. If you're serious about your angling, you need to join the IGFA.

If your taste runs to angling history, you also might want to pick up a copy of Big-Game Fishing Headquarters: A History of the IGFA that fills out much of the detail hinted at above. It's a rousing good story filled with hundreds of heretofore unpublished photographs and imagery, and all proceeds benefit the IGFA.

Do something good for yourself and your sport; you won't be sorry.