Who has caught the biggest bluefin tuna in North Carolina waters this year? That honor is being passed back and forth between fishermen from Morehead City and Southport, but since Jan. 20, it has belonged to three Morehead City anglers who landed a 1,045-pound fish that day.
Unable to use their regular boat, the 30-foot Split Bill, Scott McCoy, Chris Garner and Clarke Merrell fished out of Merrell’s 26-foot Sea Hunt last Friday, heading out of Beaufort Inlet and east from the Sea Buoy. Finding nothing around a trawler they scanned, they headed offshore toward birds working above the surface.
Eleven miles from the inlet, they found a temperature break, with 60-degree water on the warm side, an area holding bait. They started trolling three Bluewater Candy Flying Jag skirts with ballyhoo staggered from 125 yards to 250 yards behind the boat, with one on a planer. After seeing two significant arches on the sonar, they heard an explosion on the nearest bait.
“It was like somebody dropped a Volkswagen out of the sky,” said McCoy. “It was just a huge splash. It took a real long run and probably dumped out three-quarters of the line on the Tiagra 130.”
Merrell started the fight on the reel and was replaced by Garner. For 90 minutes, the tuna went on numerous big runs, often lying on the surface 100 yards from the boat before sprinting off again, creating incredible torque that mangled the reel’s handle. But for the next 45 minutes, Garner wore the fish down in an up-and-down battle.
“He was pretty much worn out by the time we got him to the boat,” McCoy said. “Clarke harpooned him, and then we gaffed him and put a tail rope on him. I didn’t think we could get him in the boat, but we tried. We had cables, winches and rope; all the stuff to get him in with. After 30 minutes, we decided to tow him in.”
After reaching Homer Smith Docks and Marina in Beaufort, the fish was weighed whole at 1,045 pounds, measured at 121 inches, and then cut down to its sellable core, which weighed 836 pounds. While ineligible for a formal state record due to its commercial sale, it is believed to be the largest bluefin tuna ever caught off North Carolina.