Robert Dean of Creedmoor, N.C. now holds the N.C. state record for red grouper with a catch he made on June 10, 2017 while fishing on the Cheerio Lady, with Capt. John Batson, out of Carolina Beach. It took a while for all the paperwork to be submitted and approved, but Dean's 35-pound, 11-ounce catch was officially recognized as the new N.C. record on Feb. 2, 2018.

"Robert's fish was suicidal," said Batson (www.carolinabeachcharterfishing.com), with a laugh. "We were about 43 miles off Carolina Beach and this was our first stop. It was a rock pile with some three to four foot bumps, so I drifted it once before anchoring.

"On that drift one of the other fishermen hooked something he couldn't handle," Batson said. "It had him all bowed up and pinned to the rail before it got back into the rocks and broke him off. That was the fish Robert caught later. I anchored and it was about 15 minutes later that Robert hooked this same fish. It gave him a run for his money too, but he got it up. It had the first circle hook, with the broken line, still stuck in the corner of its jaw."

"We had only been fishing about 15 minutes when this grouper hit," Dean said. "I'd like to say I knew it was special right off, but that isn't so. It hit just about like any other grouper. I'd get a little line in and then he would take some back. Once he got near the boat though, it changed a little. Something spooked him and he took off like an amberjack. I don't know how long it took, but he worked me out after that. I finally had to work my way around the boat to get him where Capt. John could gaff him.

"Once Capt. John lifted him in the boat we could see he had a hook with a short piece of line in his jaw, Dean said. "We took a closer look and realized it was a new hook - one of ours from earlier that morning. This was the grouper that had broken off just a few minutes earlier and it was still feeding, even with the circle hook in its jaw."

Dean said they knew it was an exceptionally large red grouper and agreed it should be weighed on official scales once back at the dock. He had caught a 31 pounder several years earlier and felt like this one was larger. He hated that someone else lost it, but was happy to catch it.

Dean's red grouper was weighed at Island Tackle and Hardware in Carolina Beach and pulled the certified scales. It surpassed the previous 10-year-old N.C. red grouper record of 33-pounds, 8-ounces, caught off Atlantic Beach, by more than 2 pounds. Dean's red grouper was 37 inches long and 37 inches in girth.   

Dean was using a mixed bait of squid and a cigar minnow when the big grouper hit. He said he likes to put several pieces of squid on the hooks so it lasts better when the overly abundant bait thieves are pecking at it.  

Dean was fishing a combination of a JB Custom Rod, built to Batson's specs, and a Penn 3/0 Senator reel. The reel was filled with Momoi 80-pound test mono line in the smoke gray color and the bait was pinned on a Mustad circle hook.