A mid-November fishing trip to Hatteras proved very fruitful for Neil Manning of Ashburn, Va., who returned from an overnight trip with Capt. Kenny Koci on the Fin Again with a box full of fish and a state-record white marlin on the deck.
With a limit of king mackerel caught early in the day, Koci ran the afternoon of Nov. 16 to a wreck that had been holding amberjack and big blackfin tuna. The tuna were nibbling, but the amberjacks weren’t, and after a while, Koci spotted a possible reason.
"I looked back, and there was a big, dark shape I thought was a shark," he said. "It was right behind my bait, and I cranked it in as fast as I could with the fish following. As it got closer, I could see it better and realized it wasn't a shark, but a billfish. It was too large, or so I thought, to be a white marlin or sailfish, so I thought it was a small (blue marlin)."
Koci felt sure the billfish would hit one of the live menhaden that were behind the boat, bridled to circle hooks.
"That fish stayed in the baits four or five minutes, swimming from bait to bait," Koci said. "It was all lit up, and we all felt like it was going to eat, but it couldn't decide which bait. Finally, it rushed and crushed Neil's bait, and the deal was on."
Koci said the fish jumped several times as he backed the boat down on the fish, thinking the fish was a small blue marlin and wanted to get a hand on the leader to claim an official release before it broke the 30-pound line. After about 10 minutes, Derek Nelson, Koci’s first mate, got the leader, making it an official release if the fish later broke off or pulled the hook.
"I got a pretty good look at it when it got close but couldn't positively identify it before it decided it didn't like being close to the boat and gray-hounded away,” Koci said, noting that it took Manning another 30 minutes to work it back to the boat.
As Nelson was reaching for the fish’s bill to remove the hook, Koci told him not to.
"This time, I noticed the rounded fins and pointed them out to the others," Koci said. "I told them this was a white marlin, not a small blue, and it was the biggest white marlin I had ever seen. I guessed it would go 150 pounds. We talked about it for a minute or so with the fish swimming beside the boat, and I made the call to bring it in."
The crew moved the fish, which was 97 inches from the tip of its bill to the fork of its tail, to one side of the boat and wrapped it with canvas and ice.
"We were close enough to have phone service, and after getting the measurements, we checked to see what the state record was," Koci said. "When we found out it was 118 pounds, no one had any doubts this fish was larger.”
Koci’s home base is Teach’s Lair Marina, but he carried the fish to nearby Hatteras Harbor Marina to have it weighed on certified scales.
The fish’s official weight was 138 pounds, almost 20 pounds heavier than the previous state-record, a 118-pound, 8-ounce fish caught by Ethel Cootes out of Oregon inlet in 1976. The world-record is a 181-pound, 14-ounce fish caught in 1979 off the coast of Brazil. Manning’s fish measured 85 inches from the tip of the lower jaw to the tail fork, and it had a girth of 37 inches.
Koci’s original guess of 150 pounds may not have been far off. Using a formula to estimate billfish weights — girth squared times length, divided by 800 — produced an estimate of 145.456 pounds. The fish easily lost enough moisture in the 24 hours between the time it was boated and weighed to have dropped 8 pounds.
Questions were originally raised as to whether or not Manning’s fish was a round scale spearfish, but biologists with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries certified it as a white marlin, and the state-record was certified this week.
Manning landed the fish on a Shimano TLD 25 reel, spooled with 30-pound line and mounted on a Cape Fear rod.