An angler’s exaggerated tale about the big catch of the day is a well known sideline to the sport of fishing. But when a fisherman captures an official state record, there’s no arguing about the fish’s size.
The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources has been verifying the state’s fishing records for years and the range from small to large records can seem as wide as the Gulf.
The list of saltwater record holders brought in with conventional tackle stretches from a one-ounce Belted Sandfish up to a Blue Marlin that weighed 1,054 pounds and 9.6 ounces. The fly fishing records range from a Pinfish weighing 13.44 ounces to a Spinner Shark that was 106 pounds and .8 ounces.
“The saltwater records came first back in the early ‘60s and then fly fishing in 2002,” said Erick Porche, the biologist who heads up the DMR’s marine recreational information program. Porche sorts through and verifies documentation fishermen submit to determine whether a fish might be a record maker or breaker. That is in addition to his job leading the federally funded survey of the state’s recreational information program.
The records are all listed on the DMR website along with the rules and regulations. When someone hauls in a catch that might be headed for the record books, a quick check of the list and a weigh in get the process going. After an affidavit is submitted to DMR along with photos of the fish, Porche goes to work verifying the catch.
He gathers all the monthly records and photos and presents them at the monthly CMR meeting where the commissioners then vote to certify the records.
At the November CMR meeting, the commissioners agreed to bestow records on an 11-pound, 3.96-ounce Gray Triggerfish and a 12.64-ounce Spotfin Hogfish, both caught with conventional tackle. Record holders caught with fly fishing tackle were a 9-pound, 7.88-ounce Dolphin and a 26-pound, 9-ounce Red Snapper.
“The record holders get a nice velum certificate signed by the director that’s suitable for framing and their names will be on the website roster of record holders until it gets broken,” Porche said.
The Ocean Springs native’s biology background comes through as he reads off the scientific names for the record breakers. (Red snapper is Lutjanus campechanus.) After graduating from the University of South Alabama he went to work with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department. He joined DMR in 1999.
Porche said people would be surprised at the number of fish species he runs across in the course of record checking and surveying state waters. Everyone thinks of sharks and tuna but, he said, there’s also the record breaking but obscure Gulf Toadfish. “It’s hardly a monumental catch but it’s a cool little fish.”
One that surprised Porche was a record Bonefish. “It was all of four ounces, caught on a grass flat at Horn Island. I didn’t think they existed here.”
Other unusual species in the record books are the Pompano Dolphin and the Black Driftfish, which he described as “an obscure little offshore species.”
Said Porche, “I enjoy seeing those come in. It tests my knowledge of biology and it’s a reminder that there are a lot more in the Gulf than the 10 or 12 species people think of.”
Some catches are so seldom seen that identifying them is a challenge “It puts me to work as a biologist. That’s when I’ve got to pull out the book and figure out what I’m looking at.”
Porche said he’s never been completely stumped by a mysterious fish but has asked for help. “I’ve had to call in other experts on occasions like (former DMR employee) Buck Buchanan and Jim Franks at the Gulf Coast Research Lab. If I get really really stumped I’ll say, ‘Is that what this is?’”
Record keeping aside, Porche also works with five others at DMR interviewing fishermen as they come back to the docks and from piers or charters to keep track of what’s being caught.
DMR manages red drum, spotted sea trout and the Southern flounder. Red snapper are managed by the federal government.
“We’ve got guys out there seven days a week, 52 weeks a year,” he said.
Unfortunately for Porche, he said, “I don’t get to go fish anywhere. I watch other people fish.”