Prior to the closure of the Atlantic bluefin tuna angling category for “trophy” fish on March 17, Capt. Dennis Endee of Wanchese, NC managed to chart a course to success out of Oregon Inlet and hook retired Brig. Gen. Scott Chambers of Townsend, DE up to a big bluefin tuna. Two and a half hours later, they laid eyes on a fish that would measure 113 inches and weigh in at 877 pounds. The catch stands to topple the standing NC record of 805 pounds for a recreational catch, pending verification.
After the commercial closure of bluefin tuna season on March 2, which prohibits their sale, the door to giant tuna was left wide open to charter boats and anglers with the proper permits. While a bluefin of 27 inches or larger can be kept as long as the season allows, and the quota is not met, there is the opportunity to catch what is referred to by the National Marine Fisheries Service as a “trophy,” those measuring 73 inches or greater, only one of which may be possessed per vessel per year. But, even this category is subject to sudden closures to limit overharvest, which happened later on the same day this Chambers caught his trophy.
Endee (252-475-4088), who runs A-Salt Weapon Sportfishing Charters out of Pirate’s Cove Marina in Manteo, was trolling a spread of 5 rods tied to Sea Witches and Baitmaster Select ballyhoo more than 40 miles outside the inlet when he began marking fish around mid-morning of the 17th.
“They were down about 10 to 15 fathoms, but they wouldn’t bite,” said Endee. “So, I decided to put her in a tight circle and sink the long rigger baits down a little bit — and they crashed them. We saw the explosions on the long riggers and knew that we’d hooked into 2 bluefins.”
Realizing that Chambers’ fish was a beast as it quickly dumped ¾ of the 130-pound braided line on the spool, another member of the party took the fighting chair to catch and release the smaller tuna in about 30 minutes while Chambers handled his from the gunwale. When Chambers switched to the chair, he felt the full force.
“It’s just a big blur,” said Chambers. “But, the thing I remember most is just the power of the fish pulling. That’s one thing I’ll never forget.”
“We never gained an inch of line until we were able to start backing up on him,” said Endee. “But, after about a ½ hour or so we got him straight up and down. It took another hour or so to get him up.”
As they methodically bumped up the drag on the Shimano 130, they saw the fish pinwheeling below the boat. When it reached the last 30 feet, it rose to the surface, exhausted. Mate J.T. Roehrs sunk the dart while Endee stuck a tail gaff and cinched the tail rope.
But the fight wasn't over. It took another 90 minuntes to load the fish that had dragged them 11 miles. After attaching the fish to a block and tackle, the windlass, and removing a rod holder, the 8-man crew inched the tuna through the tuna door.
The North Carolina state record for bluefin tuna is currently held by Corey Schultz, who caught his 805-pound fish off Oregon Inlet in 2011.