The waters off Cape Lookout aren't known for producing lots of cubera snapper, but North Carolina’s last two state records have come from there, and the one Randy Harmon of Morehead City caught on Sept. 28 raised the record 11.5 pounds to 58 pounds.
Harmon was fishing on the Capt. Stacy headboat out of Atlantic Beach when the record snapper decided to feed. It was near the end of the day, and they were anchored on one of Capt. Maurice Davis' favorite rocks in roughly 100 feet of water.
"We had had a good day and were working our way back in from several other spots," Harmon said. "I thought this might be the last stop of the day, so I decided to put out a big bait and see if there was something big around. I butterflied a Boston mackerel and slipped it on the hook, then lowered it to the bottom.
"It wasn't long at all until it hit," Harmon said. "The bite felt like a grouper, but when I set the hook it screamed out away from the boat and took a lot of line. I thought it might be a shark, but I know not to cut a fish off until I see it."
Davis was standing on the upper deck and saw the fish deep in the water.
"It had run out and been circling like a shark, but when I saw it, I knew immediately it wasn't a shark," Davis said. "The rusty red color gave it away."
"Capt. Maurice called down and said what he thought it was, and I began trying harder," Harmon said. "The fight had been a stalemate for a while, but knowing it wasn't a shark gave me a little more energy. I couldn't move it cranking the reel alone, so I began hand-pulling and cranking it. It wasn't coming fast, but it was coming. After a while, Capt. Maurice called for one of the mates to get the gaff, and I was really glad to hear that.”
Harmon said when the mate lifted the big snapper over the rail, he understood how it could fight so hard for so long. A member of the crew said it was the largest cubera he had ever seen.
"Once we got back within cell phone range, I Googled the record and began wondering," Harmon said. "There wasn't a scale on the boat, so we didn't know what it weighed. I couldn't help it and kept lifting the fish box lid and looking at it."
Harmon said once the boat was back at the dock, he grabbed the fish and headed into the Capt. Stacy Fishing Center to see what it weighed. A crowd had gathered to see the big fish weighed, and when the scales finally settled at 58 pounds, several people yelled with Harmon. It didn't just break the record; it blew it away by 11.5 pounds.
The previous state-record cubera snapper weighed 46 1/2 pounds and was caught in 1993 by Edward Ruskowsky. The world-record cubera snapper weighed 124 3/4 pounds and was caught in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana in 2007.
Harmon's cubera snapper was 39 inches long and had a 34-inch girth. He was fishing with a Sea Striker 50-pound class rod and a 6/0 Penn reel spooled with 80-pound test line.