Skipping school pays off for teen angler
State-record yellowfin grouper is landed off Topsail
Michael Hall (left) and his father, Mike, with Michael's state-record yellowfin grouper.
But how about catching a world-record saltwater fish during one’s first trip to the Gulf Stream?
That’s what happened — unofficially — to Michael Hall, 18, a senior at Topsail High School.
“I skipped school to go fishing,” he said, laughing.
Hall went fishing April 29 with his dad, Mike Hall, and Bill Collins of Hampstead. Collins is a veteran angler and skippered the trip to the Same Ole, a popular fishing spot about 66 miles offshore from Wrightsville Beach.
“We weren’t doing too much at the Same Ole, so we headed inshore about six miles west until I marked one little piece of bottom,” said Collins, who was behind the wheel of the Knot Kidding, a Pursuit-35 owned by David Mason. “We were in 150 feet of water, and I marked (fish) on a flat bottom, turned the boat around and said, ‘There they are.’”
Collins had rigged new Shimano reels with 80-pound-test line on Penn spinning rods. Dropping 7-ounce Roscoe jigs — white, squid-shaped jigs with a brown edge at the front and back — to the bottom, Collins said he set the hook on a fish and handed the rod to the younger Hall.
“I just wanted to see Michael catch a nice fish,” he said. “Nobody knew it was a world-record.”
After about a 5-minute battle, the youngster hoisted the big grouper to the surface where Collins lip-gigged it. The gig slipped out, then he nailed it in the side, and the three anglers lifted the pretty grouper into the boat. It helped that the weather was flat calm offshore that day.
“Bill was excited,” Mike Hall said. “He’d never seen a grouper like this one.”
The fish’s lips, dorsal and pectoral fins were tinged yellowish-orange, and the rest of its body was brown with yellow-orange spots.
The next day, Mason took the fish to Tex’s Tackle in Wilmington, where it weighed 43.99 pounds. After a call to the International Gamefish Association in Florida, the fish was taken to Island Hardware and Tackle at Carolina Beach where Ron Gilstrap officially weighed the fish at 42 pounds, 10 ounces.
The world-record yellowfin grouper, according to IGFA records, weighed 40 pounds, 12 ounces and was caught in the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast in 1995. So Hall’s fish was apparently a world-record for yellowfin grouper.
However, the celebration didn’t last long. According to IGFA rules, Michael Hall couldn’t be credited with landing the fish because he received “help” from Collins, who had hooked the fish and handed the rod to the youngster.
“The IGFA lady was really nice,” Collins said. “She said it’s not a good rule, but I understood. I just wanted Michael to catch the fish and watch him do it. I got a kick out of that.”
The younger Hall said he felt worse for Collins, whom he said is a “genius angler but has never caught a world-record fish. He didn’t have to hand me the rod either.”
Nonetheless, the youngster’s fish is in line to become the North Carolina state-record yellowfin grouper. The fish is so rare in Tarheel State waters that no one previously had submitted one for citation status.
“Jodie Gay (owner of Bluewater Candy lures in Hampstead and creator of the Roscoe jigs) caught a 23-pounder a week earlier at the Same Ole,” Collins said.
The best news of all was, Michael Hall didn’t get in trouble for skipping classes, but he thought he was going to have to pay dearly at one point.
“The principal came up to me the next day, trying to act mad,” Hall said. “He said he heard I’d skipped to go fishing the day before, and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ Then he said, ‘Well, if I’d knew I’d catch a fish that big, I’d have skipped, too.’”
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