Matthew Kelly, a 16-year-old from Chesapeake, Va. thinks every fishing trip with his father, Patrick, is special, but the one Labor Day Weekend was just a little more special. That’s when he reeled in a 32-pound skipjack tuna that is likely a North Carolina state record and potentially an All Tackle IFGA Youth World Record.
The Kellys were fishing on the family boat, Megabite, out of Hatteras Landing Marina, the Saturday before Labor Day, on an overnight trip to the Gulf Stream for tuna and billfish during the daytime and shark-fishing.
Oddly enough, it was one of the smaller tuna caught on the trip that was the biggest catch of the weekend – even though Matthew Kelley also caught and released a spearfish.
“On Saturday the ocean was flat calm and fishing was really slow,” Matthew Kelly said. “We were fishing in about 300 fathoms when my dad spotted some birds and then tuna breaking under them. He turned towards them and had me switch places with him on the tower so he could adjust some lines and change some lures in the spread.”
“When we finally got to the school of tuna, they attacked us and wrapped us up,” Kelly said. “We had a strike on every line, and we troll a full spread even with just the two of us on the boat. The first rod I grabbed was the one with the ‘skippy’ on it, and my dad gaffed it and threw it in the boat.
“It didn’t fight noticeably different than any of the other tunas,” Kelly said. “We were in a rush and excited with tuna on so many lines. We were really busy and didn’t pay any attention to it then, except for my dad to comment it was a really big skippy. We had tuna on every line, and were trying to land as many of the other tunas as we could. Several got away, but we managed to land five other tuna, yellowfins and blackfins, and we were pretty happy about that.”
Kelly said it wasn’t until they were bleeding the other tunas that they realized how big the skipjack actually was and decided to weigh it when they got back to port. So they iced it down and continued fishing.
The Kellys caught several more tuna on Saturday, then sharks Saturday night, and then set out after more billfish and tuna after sunrise Sunday morning. They fished in the deep water for a while and began working their way back towards the break. Around lunch time, Matthew picked up a rod after a strike, and a short time leader, he added a rare spearfish to the three blue marlin he caught and released fishing off Hatteras this summer.
After docking at Hatteras Landing, the Kellys weighed the skipjack on the marina’s scales. After fishermen on the scene talked about it being the biggest skipjack they’d ever seen, they checked the state record and realized the fish was almost 10 pounds heavier than current state record, then headed to Teach’s Lair Marina, which had certified scales. The scales there weighed the fish at a touch heavier than 32 pounds.
After the paperwork was done and a staffer from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries was summoned to look at the catch, the Kellys got everything in the mail on Tuesday, Sept. 2.
Later, at someone’s suggestion, the Kellys discovered the skipjack was heavy enough to qualify as an IGFA Youth All-Tackle record.
“I’m happy to have this record, and hopefully the IGFA will approve that one, but I owe it all to my dad and wish he could get credit too,” Kelly said. “He has made time for me and been taking me fishing for about eight years now. He taught me everything I know about fishing and we have had some really good times and caught a lot of fish.”
Kelly’s record skipjack was 34 inches long and 24 inches in girth. It hit a green Zuker feather. He was fishing a G Loomis stand-up rod, with a Shimano Torsa 30 reel that was spooled with braid and a mono topshot.
The former state record – a 22-pound, 3-ounce fish caught by J.W. Johnson Jr. off Wrightsville Beach, stood for more than 45 years. It was caught in 1968.