On most days, Randal Harmon works in the galley aboard the Capt. Stacy IV, a party boat that docks at Atlantic Beach. However, he is a such a dedicated fishermen that he fishes whenever he gets the chance. On a day when he was not working, he caught a state record fish.
“I have been working part-time in the galley since last season and have been fishing aboard any boat I can get on for years, including my 19-foot Striper Sea Swirl bay boat,” said Harmon, a 52-year-old Morehead City resident. “I like to fish for anything that bites and I love being on the water. When I am in the galley, I cook, clean and take care of everything in the cabin. But on that day, which was Wednesday, Sept. 28, it was a pretty day with 2-foot seas and I wasn’t working, so I went fishing instead.”
Harmon was using a Penn Senator 6/0 reel spooled with 80-pound Blue Diamond monofilament line fitted on a Sea Striker 50-pound class, six-foot rod. He had a three-way swivel rig with a No. 6 Gamakatsu hook. The bait was a butterfly-filleted Boston Mackerel.
“I bought the Boston mackerel at the Capt. Stacy Fishing Center,” he said. “I always use a big bait for grouper fishing.”
The boat was about half filled with anglers with about 40 people aboard. The captain stopped about 30 miles offshore in about 100 feet of water. Harmon was hoping to catch a gag grouper, but caught his limit of five beeliners and two keeper black sea bass instead. Other anglers were catching amberjack and gag grouper and some were catching red snapper, which are not currently legal to keep.
“We were on our way back in toward the end of the day and I saw green water where we stopped to fish,” he said. “A lot of times there are gags in green water so I dropped down a whole butterflied Boston mackerel. I felt a bite and it was like a grouper bite so I gave him a double pump. When I hooked the fish, it even felt like a grouper. I had the drag locked down and he still took off and started smoking the line off the reel. But, when he went away from the boat, I thought I had a big sand tiger shark on the line.”
Then, a stalemate ensued. Harmon finally began winning the battle after about 15 minutes and started winding in the line. The fish gave up when he came within about 30 feet of the surface. Then the fish began circling upward, until Capt. Maurice Davis saw it. He shouted out that it was a big cubera snapper and mate Joe Davis gaffed the fish.
“We didn’t know what the record was since we had no Internet service,” Harmon said. “So, when we got close enough to shore, we Googled the state record and found out it was close. We thought the fish would weigh about 50 pounds.”
Once the boat was at the dock, the first fish off was the big cubera snapper and Harmon took it to the certified scales, where it weighed 58 pounds, beating the existing state record by a whopping 11 pounds, 8 ounces. Harmon’s fish measured 39 inches total length from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail and had a 34-inch girth. The previous state record fish was caught in the Atlantic Ocean in 1993. The world record cubera snapper weighed 124 pounds, 12 ounces and was caught offshore of the Louisiana coast in 2007.
“The whole crowd went crazy,” he said. “Everybody was whooping and hollering and I whooped and hollered, too, and shook people’s hands. I am still eating it because I got thirty pounds of meat from it. I cook it in a blackened-fish recipe. I use a pepper-based seasoning rub then pan-sear it in butter. It tastes a lot like lobster because that is what they eat.”
Harmon said that by having the measurements of the fish, he could have a mount made. If he did, he would probably hang it in the Capt. Stacy Fishing Center. It is such a rare catch in North Carolina, that he had only seen one of them before. The fish are more common in Atlantic waters south of the state.
“But, it would cost $895, which is a lot of money,” he said. “If I don’t decide to mount it, I still have the memory of catching it and the pictures.”