International Game Fish Association rejects fish story as poorly documented

A Santa Rosa woman lost her bid for a world bass record and potentially millions of dollars in endorsements after a sporting body rejected her claim for lack of solid proof.

The International Game Fish Association, in a ruling to be posted today on its Web site, rejected Leaha Trew's application for an "all-tackle record" for a largemouth bass, the Holy Grail of freshwater fishing records.

Officials with the Florida-based agency confirmed the decision Monday, saying it reflects their skepticism of Trew's claim.

"Basically, the application was poorly documented for such an important record," said Mike Leech, ambassador-at-large for the International Game Fish Association. "There were a lot of unverifiable claims that may very well have been true, but we need more backup for something of this nature."

Anglers nationwide have eagerly anticipated the decision for weeks. Bass fishing is the most popular fishing sport in the nation and landing the biggest bass the most sought-after prize, one that could reap millions in company sponsorships.

Twice in the past seven years, the International Game Fish Association has been asked to consider an all-tackle world record for bass. In both cases, the lunkers were caught at Santa Rosa's Spring Lake, which has a reputation for big fish.

Trew, 45, said she caught a 22-pound, 8-ounce bass at Spring Lake in August, which if verified, would have eclipsed a 72-year-old record and earned Trew instant fame.

Trew, who owns Trew Land Care in Santa Rosa, said she threw the potential record-breaker back. In her application, she included a single photo of the fish, weight and size measurements, and a witness statement signed by a friend.

Leech said the documentation met the "bare minimum" for a record but in the end was not enough to sway the three-member judging committee, whose members include Ray Scott, who created the sport of competitive bass fishing in 1967.

The decision was unanimous, Leech said. He broke the news to Trew in a phone call Friday.

"She basically said, 'All right,'" Leech said. "She didn't ask a lot of questions. I don't know if she was expecting it to be rejected or if she was at a loss for words."

Trew has never spoken publicly about the catch despite several requests for interviews. Neither she nor her son, Javad, who was with her at the lake that day, returned calls for comment Monday.

Her bid to break the record set in 1932 in Georgia -- 22 pounds, 4 ounces -- generated enormous controversy in the fishing world, with many openly doubting Trew's story.

Doug Blodgett, world-records administrator for the fishing association, said Trew's application prompted more phone calls and e-mails, most of them negative, than any other fish story in the years he has been with the agency.

But he insisted the outpouring did not influence the judges.

"I don't think the committee members saw 90 percent of the e-mails I got," Blodgett said Monday.

He predicted bass anglers would be pleased by the ruling.

"I think there will be a lot of relief," he said. "I received a lot of e-mails saying to the effect that 'if you approve this record, I will never trust IGFA again.'"

Leech said Trew's odds would have been better had she provided more photos of the fish or had a disinterested party witness the catch or weighing.

Trew said she was unaware that she had only one photo left in the camera, while her son said he thought bass caught at Spring Lake had to be released.

Leech said he contacted park rangers, who told him that bass of a certain size can be kept. He also contacted a state Department of Fish and Game official, who verified that he only identified the fish from a photo and was not present at the weighing, which was done on a scale the Trews brought with them to the lake.

"We're not saying (Trew's story) is fraudulent," Blodgett said. "There's a picture of the fish."

The same photo helped Leaha Trew earn the world record for heaviest largemouth bass ever caught on 12-pound line from the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis.

Officials there could not be reached Monday to comment on whether that record was safe in light of the rejection by the Florida group.

The Trew application represents the second time in recent years that a Spring Lake angler has sought to nab freshwater fishing's highest prize.

In 1997, Paul Duclos, owner of a Santa Rosa carpet cleaning company, caught a 24-pound bass at Spring Lake that he photographed, weighed and released. But he didn't use a certified scale to weigh the fish and was ineligible to compete for bass records.