Opinion

British Angler Catches Record-Breaking Wels Catfish But Declines to Have It Entered in the Books. Should Implanted Fish Even Qualify for Records?

A massive wels catfish that could have been a record breaker has a lot of anglers thinking about which fish should qualify for the books, and which shouldn't
Joe Cermele Avatar
wels catfish

Tom Marcinkevicius caught what would have been a U.K. wels catfish record. Tom Marcinkevicius

I’ve caught what would have been the New Jersey state-record brook trout at least once. Maybe twice. Both goliath fish came from the same hole on the same river. Both hit wooly bugger streamers. I neither kept nor attempted to qualify either, of course, because I put them there. Well, not me specifically. But at the time I belonged to a trout club with private access to the river, and our dues paid for stocking our little stretch. Theoretically, though, because the water above and below our property was public, state-stocked, and our fish were free and clear to roam, those brookies could have gotten my name in the state record book. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d done such a thing, but another angler might not have thought twice. 

We’ve come shockingly far in the last 50 years regarding what we can create in a hatchery. Fish are genetically modified to grow bigger faster. We dump hybrid species like tiger muskies and tiger trout into lakes and streams by the thousands. We also have manufactured barramundi and peacock bass fisheries in Florida. So, do you think a manufactured or implanted fish deserves to beat out its wild counterpart in the record books? A recent catch in the U.K. sheds some interesting light on the subject.

Cat’s Out of the Bag

According to the story on Yahoo Sports, British angler Tom Marcinkevicius recently smashed the U.K. wels catfish record by a lot. The beast weighed 133 pounds, which is 71 pounds heavier than the current record caught in 1997. Marcinkevicius, however, wasn’t at all interested in qualifying his catch. 

For starters, it was caught in a pay lake, though pay lakes are a much bigger business in the U.K. and are accepted as part of angling culture there. More interestingly, Marcinkevicius couldn’t have submitted his catch for the record until recently. In October of 2000, the British Record Fish Committee (BRFC) stopped accepting new entries for the species because the fish were imported into the country. At the time, the importation of large catfish was a concern, so they were removed as record qualifiers to slow that desire. But over the last 20 years, catfish importation has tapered off. The BRFC has also recognized that the catfish already in the country were now self-sustaining and growing quite large. This prompted them to add the species back to the record list in November 2023. 

Marcinkevicius could have taken top honors with his 133-pounder, but his angling ethics stopped him from doing so. Despite the wels catfish not qualifying for records for the last 20 years, he’s been diligently chasing them and knows that much bigger fish have been caught during that period. Cheers to him for that decision. But still, the reintroduction of wels cat records in the U.K. mirrors how we handle invasive fish in the states. 

Other Implanted Record Fish Controversies

Sean Konrad with his world-record rainbow trout.

IGFA

Implanted or not, I agree with the BRFC’s decision to reinstate record status for the wels catfish based on how they’ve established in their waters. Similarly, Florida’s peacock bass have been there since the early 1990s. They were put there specifically for economic draw, so it wouldn’t make much sense to keep them off the state record books. My bigger issue is when hatchery engineered fish steal limelight from an abundant wild species. This is most common in the trout game. 

In Pennsylvania, for example, the state-record brown weighs 20 pounds 9 ounces and was caught in Lake Erie in 2020. The rub is that giant browns that live in Erie and run its tributaries in the fall are the product of a decades-old hatchery program. “Lake runners,” as these browns are often called, feed and behave differently than wild brown trout that make so many interior Pennsylvania waters famous. Not to take anything away from the angler who caught the current record, but in 1977, legendary fly angler Joe Humphreys scored the state record with a 16-pound wild fish taken on a small stream with a dry fly after three years of stalking the giant. In my view, that’s a much more deserving fish and, if anything, lake-run fish should have their own classification. 

The current world-record rainbow trout was caught in 2009 by angler Sean Konrad in Canada’s Lake Diefenbaker. It weighed a gargantuan 48 pounds, and will likely never be toppled, at least not in U.S. water. But this catch sparked media controversy because the fish was a triploid — a genetically modified hatchery fish designed to grow massive. It had apparently escaped from a local fish farm years earlier, biding its time in Lake Diefenbaker until it wound up on Konrad’s hook. 

Then there are fish species like snakeheads. When northern snakeheads were discovered in Maryland in the early 2000s, they created a panic among biologists. Twenty-plus years later, despite differences in opinion about how harmful these predators really are, snakeheads have expanded their range dramatically. They are also completely self-sustaining, and even though they’re not supposed to be here, most states with a snakehead population added them to their list of record qualifiers. Ironically, while these fish are native to Asia and parts of Russia, the world record 21-pounder was taken in Maryland in the summer of 2023.

This sort of controversy is also relevant to our most important fishing record: the all-tackle largemouth bass. In Monte Burke’s epic book, Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest For The World-Record Largemouth Bass, one of the characters is on a mission to grow a fish in a controlled environment that would best George Perry’s ancient world-record weighing 22 pounds 4 ounces (though the record is currently shared with Japan’s Manuba Kurita who caught his 22-pound 4-ounce bass in 2009). 

Read Next: How to Catch Snakeheads

Had he succeeded and somehow figured out how to qualify a home-grown bass, would you accept that record if you were an avid bass fan? If you’re a fan of wild rainbows, perhaps smitten with the idea of chasing them in places like Russia and Alaska where they grow huge, do you believe Konrad’s 48-pound hatchery mutant should hold the record? 

I lean toward prioritizing truly wild fish in the records, but there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s all a matter of what you value as an angler.