Echo crew battles, subdues record bluefin

Jim Scott Middleton III, Capt. Michael Perry and Robbie Marioudas with their 396 pounds, 14.4 ounces S.C. state record bluefin tuna caught Jan. 22 off Hilton Head.

Capt. Michael Perry, fishing out of Hilton Head Island, said he’s been prepared for the arrival of the bluefin this season. At 31, he has been a captain for seven years and has fished as mate and part-time captain for ten seasons aboard Echo, a 32-foot Prowler owned by Randy Osterstock.

“There’s a core of captains at Harbor Town Marina,” Perry said. “ We’re like brothers and share information. When I heard bluefin were off Hilton Head, I got ready to go.”

Perry has fished for bluefin at Morehead City, N.C., the epicenter for the southern bluefin fishery. He honed his skills at catching bluefins and holds a commercial license.

“Clark Hill caught the first one (in South Carolina) during 1999 and only eight or nine have been caught since,” he said. “Only a couple of boats are equipped to catch them here because it’s a new fishery.”

Perry said the boat was trolling with three Penn 80w reels 30 miles out at The Hump. There is not much contour change, but there are ledges where anglers catch grouper and snapper. The depth was 86 feet.

On the way to The Hump, fog cut visibility to 100 yards.

“We trolled horse ballyhoos on blue-and-white Islanders at our numbers then went around the R7 Navy Tower,” he said. “We saw bonitos swirling and birds picking, but didn’t get a bite so we headed back to the ledges.

“The fog started burning off. Then it socked us in again and the wind got up.
There were wads of birds and bonitos working, and we could smell fish. That’s when we hooked up.”

Perry was down in the cockpit and was tempted to clear lines. But he decided to let mate Robbie Marioudas handle the chore while he climbed up to the tower helm. Jim Scott Middleton III left the rod in the holder to fight the tuna.

“It dumped almost 900 yards of 80-pound line,” Perry said. “I tried backing down after Robbie cleared rods. Then we had to chase the fish to get half the line back. He made three 600-yard runs in five minutes. Then Jim Scott got into the chair.”

After 40 minutes, Middleton was tired and the fog turned to rain. The boat filled with water from backing down into 4-foot swells and the bilge pump float switch quit working. For four hours Middleton fought the fish, alternating the rod between the chair and gunwale rod holder.

Marioudas held the leader twice. But the fish ran again, diving beneath the boat. The line touched a trim tab.

“I knew the next chance would be our last if the line was nicked,” Perry said. “Robbie double-wrapped the leader and I gaffed the fish in the head. Robbie stuck it, then Jim stuck it.”

Even with three gaffs, the crew couldn’t get the fish over the gunwale by standing on the deck. In spite of waves coming into the boat, they stood on the gunwale. They timed a wave to help by washing the fish aboard which then fell on them.

The anglers scurried from beneath the fish. While no one was injured, everyone was soaked.

Before they returned, the Coast Guard contacted them. The fish was landed at 4:30 p.m. and concerned people ashore were worried since there had been no word from Echo.

Since it was late Sunday when Echo docked, the fish could not be weighed. The fish was iced in a marlin bag and Perry stayed aboard to keep the bilge pump working because the weight of the fish drew the boat’s water line below the scuppers.

Tom DuPree of SCDNR brought a certified scale the next day and a seafood truck hoisted the fish.

The bluefin tuna weighed 396 pounds, 14.4 ounces and was certified as the South Carolina state record. Not only that, the crew had bled the fish so it had lost weight.

A truck picked up the fish that evening for the oriental market. The quality of the fish flesh was less than top-rate, bringing in $10 per pound for 305 pounds — a $3,050 total.

“I could have handled the fish better and gotten a lot more money, but it was more important for Hilton Head’s fishery to have the state record landed out of Harbour Town Marina,” Perry said. “The existing S.C. record (bluefin) was caught in North Carolina. We need people to know we have a winter bluefin fishery here.”

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About Mike Marsh 339 Articles
Mike Marsh is a freelance outdoor writer in Wilmington, N.C. His latest book, Fishing North Carolina, and other titles, are available at www.mikemarshoutdoors.com.

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