Size

Fish range widely in size. On the bantam side of the spectrum are tiny Philippine gobies less than half an inch long, the smallest of all animals with backbones. They are so diminutive that it takes literally thousands of them to weigh a pound, yet they are harvested commercially for use in many foods. At the behemoth end of the spectrum are giant whale sharks 65 to 70 feet long. The largest whale sharks can weigh as much as 25 tons, but they are so docile, they may allow inquisitive scientists to pull alongside them with boats and then climb aboard to prod and poke as they give the big plankton-eaters a close examination. Between these extremes are seemingly limitless shapes and sizes among an estimated 21,000 species. This number exceeds the combined numbers of species of all other vertebrate animals— amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Another giant of the sea is the mola, or ocean sunfish, which also goes by the name of headfish because its fins are set far to the rear on its broad, almost tailless body. Molas, which have the unusual habit of basking at the surface, lying on their side as though dead, may weigh nearly a ton but are not quarry for anglers. Also in saltwater, such highly prized game species as bluefin tuna, swordfish, and certain sharks and marlin reach weights of more than a thousand pounds, with some shark and marlin specimens weighing considerably more.

The white sturgeon, one of the largest of freshwater fish, formerly reached weights of well over a thousand pounds in the Columbia and Fraser Rivers but is now uncommon over 400 pounds. In the 1800s, monstrous sturgeon of over 2,000 pounds were reported, but fishery workers have not verified such legends. The prehistoric-looking alligator gar of the southeastern United States can attain a weight of 300 pounds.

Fish size is of special interest to anglers. Many anglers aspire to match their skills against the larger specimens of various game species; competitive events often place a premium on large individual catches; and other rewards, both materialistic and intangible, accrue to those who have caught fish deemed to be of large, if not trophy, caliber.

Anatomy of a Perch

Spiny dorsal fin

Body muscles Vertebrae

Soft dorsal fin

Anatomy of a Perch

Spiny dorsal fin

Body muscles Vertebrae

Soft dorsal fin

Perch Pyloric Valve

Stomachy \ Gonad Spleen Pelvic Pyloric fin

Intestine

Records for freshwater and saltwater fish caught on rod and reel are maintained by the International Game Fish Association, based upon specific standards and on weight. Yet in many cases, fish are known to grow much larger than sport-caught records indicate. Two all-tackle record tarpon taken on rod and reel, for example, each weighed 283 pounds, which is admittedly sizable but much smaller than the 350-pounders that have reportedly been caught in nets. On the other hand, record rod-and-reel catches greatly exceed the average size of most species. Most brook trout taken by anglers, for example, weigh less than half a pound, but the sport-caught record for the species is 14 pounds, 8 ounces.

Anatomy of a Shark

Caudal fin

Second dorsal fin First dorsal fin Muscle

Caudal fin

Second dorsal fin First dorsal fin Muscle

Clasper (male)

Anus

Spinal nerve cord Vertebrae

Anal fin

Clasper (male)

Spinal nerve cord Vertebrae

Spiral

Heart i Liver

Anus

Pelvic fin

Spiral

/ Stomach Pancreas

Gall | valve bladder; M

Heart i Liver

A fish does not have to be gigantic to provide fun, however. In this regard, tackle plays an important role. Anglers, using ultralight tackle in ponds and lakes, find it challenging to catch quarter-pound bluegills, rarely if ever hooking one that approaches a pound in weight, let alone the species' top record of 4 pounds ,12 ounces. Indeed, line-class record categories were long ago established for each species to recognize the angler's fishing skill by virtue of a notable catch for a particular weight of tackle.

Size is a relative issue, both in terms of a fish's fighting ability and in its desirability as a catch. Although most larger fish are more difficult to subdue than smaller ones, that is not always the case. Size is also not necessarily comparable between different species; a 10-pound steelhead, for example, provides far better sport than a 10-pound walleye, and a 10-pound bonefish is much more challenging than a 10-pound barracuda. Growing season and geographic location may be factors as well. A 10-pound largemouth bass in Florida, where a favorable growing season can allow a bass to grow large quickly, is akin to perhaps a 6-pound largemouth bass in Minnesota in terms of age and availability within the bass population, the result being that they are catches of similar accomplishment, despite being of different size.

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