• Published:May 31, 2017
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On April 1, an International Game Fish Association rule change regarding fishing line and top shots went into effect.

While the change was well intended, it sparked confusion with tournament teams and world record hunters. It also ignited some heated outbursts across social media.
Under the new rule, the IGFA will use the first five meters of fishing line directly preceding the double line, leader or hook to classify a world record. This section of line is often called the top shot. Just about every offshore crew uses a combination of backing and a top shot on their reel. Crews typically use a mono top shot of at least 100 yards in length. Mono breaks more consistently than super braids like Spectra. Mono also stretches, which provides a bit of forgiveness before the pressure snaps the line. The backing is joined to the top shot with a splice or a knot.

Prior to the recent rule change, the IGFA required that both the backing and top shot had to test within the chosen line class. If you were fishing for a 50-pound line-class record for example, you had to use a 50-pound top shot and 50-pound backing. If one of the lines tested over 50 pounds, it would push your record into a different line class. Under the new rule, you can use whatever strength backing you wish. You can even use backing over the 130-pound IGFA maximum previously allowed.

Only the top shot has to meet the breaking strength and the top shot need only be five meters long before it connects to the backing. So, to break that same 50-pound record, you could now set up your tackle with 16.5 feet of 50-pound top shot and 500 yards of 100-pound test braid backing.


According to IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser, the rule about the strength of the backing has been one of the most contested in his 14 years with the organization. The old rule stated that if two lines are connected such that the backing could come out of rod tip, even if it never did, the catch would be considered under the heavier line. The IGFA rules committee felt it was hard to justify this rule because more often than not the weaker of the two lines or the connection between the two will fail first.

“The subject was discussed in detail when we had our first international rules summit last summer,” Schratwieser says. When meeting with fishing associations from around the world, the issue came up as to why the backing strength must match the top shot. Some organizations expressed an interest in changing the rule to mirror fly-fishing rules which classify catches based on 15 inches of shock tippet without any regard to the breaking strength of the backing, fly line or leader.

“We’ve never been more inclusive in terms of talking to folks about a particular rule change than this,” Schratwieser says. “It was vetted through the rules committee and unanimously passed.”
"Our task here at the IGFA is keeping pace as fishing evolves and adapting while maintaining the principles of sportsmanship."
-- IGFA Conservation Director Jason Schratwieser
After the Rules Committee approved the change it was also unanimously passed by the entire IGFA Board of Trustees at its annual meeting in January. There was no contention until the change went into effect and a bevy of billfish captains began expressing negative feedback.

One of the main issues of concern is drag against the line that goes into the water, which is often referred to as a belly of line. For example, if you are fishing light tackle for blue marlin and the fish pulls off several hundred yards of line, the drag or friction against that big belly of line as it moves through the water can create enough pressure that it will break the line. If you are using heavier backing, some captains feel it would give you an advantage over the setup you would’ve used in coordinance with the old rule.

Hawaii-based, world-record-holding captain Bryan Toney was one of the most outspoken critics of the rule change. “The main thing [that bothers me] is the belly,” Toney says. “Using 200-pound braid that's the size of 80-pound mono is a huge advantage. Basically, belly is of no consequence anymore. You'll be able to collapse it, if you even have one, with half the drag.”

However, Schratwieser pointed out that braided fishing line has always been legal. While braid often over-tests, it was never illegal to use it and many anglers use braid for backing because it creates less drag in the water.

Some captains also had issue with the IGFA changing the amount of line tested when submitting a world record. The old rule stipulated that anglers submit 50 feet of line with a record application. This is still required, however, under the new rule only the first five meters of line will be used to classify the record. The IGFA never set a minimum or maximum top shot length so this change caused some confusion, however anglers could always use as much braided backing or top shot as they wanted.

“Another thing I like to point out is that the longer your top shot, the more stretch and forgiveness you get,” says Schratwieser. “A 50-meter length of top shot will stretch more before it breaks than a 5-meter one will.”

The IGFA stands behind the change based on the premise that when fishing two dissimilar lines, the lesser strength of the two will fail first. It makes sense. The IGFA feels the new rule is a "more accurate way to classify a catch." 

“Our task here at the IGFA is keeping pace as fishing evolves and adapting while maintaining the principles of sportsmanship,” says Schratwieser. “Over time, there have been records set with linen, Dacron, mono and braid. Each had advantages over the other. If we thought this change provided an unfair advantage, we wouldn’t do it.”

Toney, however, is already planning to change his tackle when fishing for world records and tournaments that adhere to IGFA rules. “I am definitely changing to 200-pound backing,” he says. “I’ll never have to worry about the backing breaking again and that’s a big advantage. It's happened a lot in marlin fishing and the new rule will end that from happening.”

Only time will tell. For more information visit igfa.org.