Breece Gahl of Wilmington caught a 47-pound, 6-ounce gag grouper on May 20. It was recently certified as the new N.C. state record, besting the former record by a pound and six ounces.
Gahl headed offshore from Wrightsville Beach that calm morning with his uncle, Corey Breece, on Breece's 28-foot Parker Sport Cabin for a day of bottom bouncing. The course was set for one of his uncle's favorite locations approximately 30 miles offshore in 120 feet of water. They felt pretty good about this spot as the uncle has caught lots of grouper on it over the years and the 2017 grouper season had only been open a couple of weeks.
The first few drops weren't as productive as they had hoped, but Breece said sometimes it takes grouper a little while to get fired up and biting. After a while, the boat shifted a little on the anchor and the screen on the Garmin lit up.
"My uncle pointed at the fish finder screen and told me to get ready," Gahl said. "It was only a matter of seconds after that when I began feeling something on my line. It wasn't an aggressive bite, but grouper bites can be really light. This felt like just a subtle change in the line tension, like maybe a little tighter and heavier. I slowly dipped the rod tip down and eased enough pressure on it to feel it again. When I felt it again, I ripped the rod up in a sweeping arc over my shoulder.
"There was definitely something there and it immediately turned and headed back for the bottom," Gahl said. "We had locked the drag down on my reel and it was still pulling line. I kept the rod tip up and tried to reel because I knew that if it made it back into the rocks, it could break my 120 pound line or 130 pound leader.
"After a while the grouper decided to move sideways and when it relaxed the full down pressure I got a little line in," Gahl said. "This was the first time I thought I might get it in. It fought all the way to the surface and I had to pump and wind for every inch but finally I got it up. I breathed a big sigh of relief when I finally gaffed it and swung it over the rail into the boat."
Gahl said he realized it was a big grouper and his first thought was that he had finally caught a citation size grouper.
Gahl slid the grouper, the first of the day, into the fish box and continued fishing. But first, the fish threw up a spiny lobster on the deck of the boat. So Gahl rebaited with the lobster's tail and dropped it back down. He immediately caught a smaller grouper that had eaten the lobster tail, so he couldn't try lobster for bait again. Luckily, the grouper bite had fired up and they were readily hitting frozen cigar minnows.
Once back on land, Gahl carried the big grouper to Island Tackle and Hardware in Carolina Beach to be weighed for a citation. That is when he was told the minimum size for a grouper citation was 20 pounds, not 40 as he had been thinking. The person running the weigh station had another surprise for Gahl too.
"When the scales settled at 47 pounds and 6 ounces, he said he thought that was close and maybe even heavier than the state record," Gahl said. "We looked it up and the current state record was 46 pounds. I went from being happy at catching my first citation grouper to being overwhelmed and being told how to fill out the paperwork to apply for a state record. It was a complete surprise and a feeling that is hard to describe.
"I feel very lucky," Gahl said. "I've fished all my life, but I'm new to grouper fishing and still learning. My uncle knew where to go and his fish finder confirmed we were in the right spot on the rock."
Gahl’s big gag was 48 inches long and had a 26 inch girth. It bested the previous record, a 46 pounder caught by Timothy Gallimore, who fishing out of Ocean Isle in 2011.
Gahl was using a Penn Baja Special Senator Reel on a XX heavy Shimano Trevala Jigging Rod. The reel was filled with Daiwa 120 pound multi- color braid, with a 130 pound Hi Seas fluorocarbon leader and a Mustad 3X Demon circle hook. His bait for the big gag was a frozen cigar minnow. He said he likes using the cigar minnows frozen as it helps them stay on the hook and hold up to the pecks of all the bait thieves on the bottom.