I've heard about this rumor for a couple of days, but it wasn't until today that the story finally came out. It's a story that has me torn and apparently a story that has the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) torn as well.
The whole story can be read on my friend, Dale Bowman's, column in the Chicago Suntimes. I'll give you the summarized version....
Guy catches giant smallmouth bass, throws it on a stringer, brings it home to show his friends, and when he realizes that it's taking too much room in his freezer, he goes to put it in his friends freezer. Before it was put in the freezer, his neighbor realizes that it could be a new state record so he breaks out his digital scale and it comes in at 8lbs 9oz (old record is 6lbs 7oz). At some point, the fish thaws out and turns to complete mush so they throw the fish away.
So here's the problem that the IDNR is having - Do we count this as a record when there was no IDNR witness?
Here's my thoughts on this - Seeing as how I am a pretty strict catch and release angler who absolutely hates seeing a sport fish go on a stringer and ultimately into the garbage, I am pissed off that this fish no longer swims in Lake Michigan for me, or others, to catch and enjoy. Not only isn't it swimming in Lake Michigan, it was completely wasted and not even eaten. It's like killing a deer and then throwing it in the dumpster on the way home. It served nothing and nobody despite being killed. Was it in his legal rights to keep the fish? Damn right it was but legal isn't always the "right" thing to do. So that part of me basically says kiss my butt on your record.
However, another part of me realizes that there is an opportunity here to change the way IDNR verifies record catches by following in the footsteps of the IGFA. Currently, you have to submit a specimen for examination to the IDNR. If I were to catch a state record fish under current rules, I wouldn't even bother because I wouldn't want to kill the fish for the sole sake of having a record. This is the IDNR's opportunity to adopt the IGFA's catch and release record guidelines and start implementing them. No longer will a fish have to be killed for the sole sake of a record.
In this case, the scale that was used to weigh this fish was indeed found to be accurate by the IDNR. There is a witness to the guy catching the fish and a witness to the readout of scale. More importantly, there is a photo of that fish. When I compare that photo to the 20" 4.5lb smallmouth that I caught from the same lake, I have no doubt that the potential record fish in the photo is bigger. The measurements that were taken definitely would add up using a known general weight to length/girth scale for bass.
So, in conclusion, despite my anger for the fish being destroyed and ultimately ending up in the trash, I vote to give the guy the record. I also implore the folks at the IDNR to truly take this opportunity to allow for catch and release fish to be considered for record status. Adopt the IGFA standards and adapt whatever you want to make sure it works for Illinois as a state. I can almost guarantee you that more records will be broken as result because I guarantee you that there a ton of catch and release anglers like myself that wouldn't enter a potential record fish under current guidelines because they prefer to see it swim away.
Update: As of July 17th, 2014, IDNR has denied the record. It still stands at 6lbs, 7oz