Whoppers come with rules

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Whoppers come with rules

Don't let big fish become record that got away

Dale Hajek, The Arizona Republic

May 30, 2002


Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic
Ron Casner shows off a 16-pound largemouth bass that he displays in his home. He caught and released one that topped 17 pounds, but he violated a rule that kept it from being a state record.

In his heart, Ron Casner knows a bigger largemouth bass never has been caught in Arizona.

But the fact that the Apache Junction angler never will see his 17.46-pounder recognized as the state record continues to gnaw at him, more than three months after hauling the big fish out of Canyon Lake.

"It still gets me when I talk about it," said Casner, who unknowingly violated a regulation while in the process of trying to register the lunker as the next state record.

"In my eyes, I'm still the state record holder. It's not official, but a lot of my fishing buddies have called and said, 'Hey, you're the one.' "

The bottom line is that anglers have to know all of the angles when it comes to reporting that big fish as the next state record.

"The first problem is that you would be surprised how many people don't know they have a big fish," said Joe Janisch, information and education branch chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"There are more state and world records that get eaten than are recorded. A lot of people who might go out and fish only two or three times a year don't know about our big-fish programs, don't take a picture of the fish . . . they just throw it on a stringer, drag it home and eat it."

But for those anglers who think they've landed a record-breaker, Janisch, a former longtime fisheries branch chief, offers these words of advice:

"Get yourself and the fish off the water ASAP and run for a scale," he said.

Janisch explained that dehydration begins to occur from the moment a fish is removed from the water. That means keeping it in a live well, or an ice chest large enough to accommodate the fish.

That also means the angler must kill the fish before transporting it from where it was taken, according to state regulations. That's something Casner didn't do.

"Whether we have a philosophy problem here or not, the reality is that the fish needs to be dead and headed very quickly to someplace where it can be weighed," Janisch said.

"The sooner it gets weighed on a state-certified scale, which means a scale that has been recognized by the state of Arizona where commerce can take place on that scale and money may change hands, the better. If the scale is not certified by the state of Arizona, it's not a valid weight."

To date, only Canyon and Saguaro lakes have state-certified scales, although other local lakes are expected to get them in the coming months.

That puts the onus on the angler to find out ahead of time which businesses - tackle stores, supermarkets, etc. - not only have a certified scale but will agree to weigh that fish. A lot of supermarket meat counters that used to allow anglers to use their scales are turning them away, citing health department restrictions.

It's also crucial to find out their hours of operation. If an angler catches a monster after midnight, for example, he better be prepared to kill the fish or spend the rest of the night on the boat with the fish in his live well.

If the fish cannot be weighed in a timely manner, Janisch recommends finding a suitable container and totally immersing the fish in water and freezing it.

"Freezing it dry will cause it to dehydrate," Janisch said. "It makes things more difficult, because you have to find a container big enough for the fish, but it makes a big difference in the final weight."

The next step is to fill out an entry form (Page 18 in the 2002 Fishing Regulations) and find two people who will witness the weighing of the fish. The species then must be verified by a Game and Fish official.

Finally, include a photograph of the fish with the entry form and mail it to Arizona Game and Fish headquarters at 2221 W. Greenway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85023. If the catch is verified by the fisheries branch, a certificate will be signed by the director and then mailed to the angler.

Casner did everything right back on that cold February night except for one thing: He transported the fish to Apache Junction to have it weighed on a state-certified scale at a local supermarket, then drove back to Canyon Lake to release it.

Officials say the regulation (R12-4-315, Pg. 11, 2002 Fishing Regulations) is intended to prohibit the introduction of fish - or any possible diseases or unwanted aquatic plant life - into waters not previously managed for those species.

Although Casner was not cited, the department ruled that it could not condone the illegal transporting of the fish and then approve it as a state record. Casner's fish, however, was recognized as a catch-and-release "Fish of the Year" entry for 2002.

"You have to know your regulations," said Casner, who has caught two bass that weighed more than 16 pounds and 100 more that were 10 pounds or more (and most of them from Canyon Lake). "You have to think before you act, that's for sure, because the excitement of the moment can take over so easily.

"I had fished for years for a fish like that. It just didn't pan out for me. I did everything right except for how I took it to the scale."
 
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