There had been talk, rumors and rumblings of bluefin tuna around Frying Pan Shoals and Cape Fear for a while, but when Capt. John “QB” Quattlebaum and his crew on QB’s Sea Witch brought an 84-inch, 308 pounder to the dock on January 16, all the speculation quickly turned to fact. Capt. Quattlebaum, along with crewmembers Capt. Chuck Gambino, Capt Alex Humphrey and Alex Zukovsky, caught the landmark fish approximately nine miles off Oak Island, near Lighthouse Rock, a favorite local king mackerel spot.
They were one of 10 boats who set out that morning to locate the large tuna in the area. Several of the other boats had strikes and fought their quarries for periods of time ranging from 30 minutes to 5 hours before losing them. Capt. Quattlebaum and crew were the only fishermen to land one of the large tuna that historic morning.
“There had been a few encounters with the bluefins late the previous week,” Quattlebaum said. “One local captain said he released one too short to sell and there was a believable report that one had been caught, but run to Morehead City for landing. The fishing had been very slow off Morehead City and with the favorable reports, several of us came home and set out to find these fish in our waters.”
“We had some fuel problems that morning and were trolling back in when the fish hit,” Quattlebaum said. “In fact, we were slowly drifting after our engines had just shut down again. It was about 11:30 (a.m.) and we were about halfway back in, just a little west of Lighthouse Rock and a little east of AR 445.
“We were in roughly 50 feet of 53.6 degree water when it hit a horse ballyhoo, rigged into a crystal color Ilander lure, and began quickly began stripping 100-pound test Berkley Big Game monofilament off the Penn 80 International reel.”
Quattlebaum said over the next hour and a half Gambino, Humphrey and he wrestled the fish around the boat’s cabin twice. QB’s Sea Witch is a larger charter boat, designed for fishing from the cockpit, and this was no easy feat. He said they were hanging onto the cabin with one hand and passing the rod and reel with the other.
Finally they led the fish up to the boat, measured it and found it was large enough to keep. “After we got a jaw rope in it, we got back to the immediate problem of getting an engine running and getting in,” Quattlebaum said.
Back at Holden Beach Marina, the phones were buzzing. Word of Quattlebaum’s catch and the other boats fighting bluefins was spreading up and down the coast. A buyer had been located in Morehead City and he was already underway to Tatum’s Seafood in Southport to purchase the fish.
The bluefin wasn’t huge, but it was historic. At Tatum’s seafood it weight was recorded at 308 pounds and it became the first bluefin tuna ever sold in Brunswick County. The anticipated value of the fish is $4,500, but a continuing bluefin bite would mean so much more.
The wind blew for the next two days, but by Thursday there was a larger group of boats fishing the waters around Frying Pan Shoals. Several more bluefins were landed later that week, with one boat doubling on a pair that measured 90 and 97 inches and the good fishing continues.
Many Brunswick County residents and fishermen were excited about the catches. Several remarked it could be a nice winter boost to the economy as more commercial boats temporarily relocated to the area and the local charter fleet, motels, restaurants, tackle shops and more picked up some unexpected mid-winter business.
For more details on this historic catch, check out the article in the March 2006 North Carolina Sportsman Magazine.