The biggest fish I ever caught was a 10-pound walleye. I was out on Lake Erie with my fish-crazed neighbor and my best friend during what seemed, to my 8-year-old self, like an endless summer of riding bikes, buliding forts and going fishing. At the end of summer, my neighbor invited everyone on the street to his house for a huge fish fry, where we ate all of the bass, perch, pike, bluegill and walleye we'd caught that season, and told the tales of our most epic fights—incuding the one for my prize fish—and, of course, the ones that got away.
Anyone who's ever fished and caught something knows that the sport is, in roughly equal parts, about being out in nature, the thrill of the battle and, afterwards, telling the story. When the fish aren't biting, we tell ourselves it's more about being outdoors. But when we feel the telltale, arm-wrenching tug of a monster on the line, well, suddenly it's all about catching fish.
We've dug up some truly unbelievable record-setting fish. Forget about all those so-called "gamefish" you've been angling for. These monsters put your 40-pound rainbows, 15-pound largemouth bass and even 100-pound amberjacks to shame. We're talking about a catfish that's as big as a small car, a half-ton prehistoric river fish and a lobster so big it could snap your arm. As you can imagine, the fishermen who caught them will never again have to boast about the ones that got away.
As with all fish tales, some of these catches can only be confirmed by photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts. While the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) keeps detailed accounts of world-record catches for nearly every species of fish, its rules and standards for confirming records are extremely rigorous (you have to use tournament line, supply a sample to IGFA and have the fish weighed on an IGFA-certified scale, to name a few). As a result, some giant fish don't make the official record books, but there's sufficient evidence that these are more than just fish tales.
It's also worth noting that not every big catch should be celebrated. Some whopper fish are accidentally caught in commercial trawler nets, and still others are critically endangered species that are accidentally hooked or illegally poached. According to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund, several of the world's biggest freshwater fish species are threatened by commercial fisheries, dam-building, pollution and habitat loss. In such cases, anglers must become conservationists to protect their sport's most important resource.
That walleye that seemed so big years ago wasn't even half the size of the biggest one ever hooked (a 25-pounder caught by Mabry Harper in Old Hickory Lake, Tennessee), but it still looms large in my memory. After clicking through these 14 photos of unbelievably big fish, we know you'll be thinking about them, too, until you get another big fish on your line.