Saturday (March 12) began as an excellent day of bluefin fishing for Corey Schultz of Waverly, Va., but ramped up to an once-in-a-lifetime experience just before 2 p.m. That was when Schultz hooked into the newly recognized North Carolina state-record bluefin tuna.

However, at that time, all Schultz wanted was to land the huge tuna he saw gulp the flat-line bait just a few feet behind the Sea Breeze while fishing from Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.

"The fish just came up and exploded on the bait," Sea Breeze captain Ned Ashby said. "It looked like a car had been dropped from a helicopter. I didn't know that Corey had seen it, too, but (Sea Breeze mate George Cecil) saw it slam the bait and immediately called it at 400 pounds plus.

"I told everyone when leaving the dock that morning that I didn't want to use our trophy fish slot unless the fish was heavier than 500 pounds, and initially we didn't think this fish would make it."

Bluefin tuna are federally regulated, and recreational fishermen are allowed to take a fish, sometimes two, shorter than 72 inches per day, but are allowed only a single fish per year per boat longer than 73 inches. Ashby knew there were huge bluefins in the waters off Oregon Inlet, but he wanted a true bragging-rights fish if he used his trophy fish slot.

Bluefin tuna usually pass 73 inches at approximately 200 pounds.

"I thought George called it at 500 pounds plus," Schultz said with a laugh. "I saw the strike, too, and it looked huge. I caught and released one last year with Ned and George that we estimated at 350 pounds, and as soon as I strapped in I knew this fish was bigger – a lot bigger!

"I didn't have a problem catching the 350 (pounder) with standup gear, but when this fish ran, it was standing me up in the chair. It was all I could do to keep the rod tip off the transom. They tied me and the rod and reel to the chair."

Ashby said they had been trolling the cooler side of a break off Oregon Inlet, and had caught several bluefins heavier than 300 pounds. They had just released a fish and had to replace a leader on the outfit Schultz used.

He said Cecil quickly rigged a ballyhoo and positioned it as a flat line. Ashby steered the Sea Breeze across the color change to the warm side at 70 degrees, and had only gone a couple of minutes when the big tuna hit.

"We were trolling to the northeast and this fish headed southwest," Ashby said. "It had the line well into the backing almost immediately. Corey was down to less than a quarter of the spool when we finally got things cleared so I could back down on it."

The big tuna didn't come to the transom easily.

"The fish just kept going too," Ashby said. "After about an hour of backing down into the seas, we had Corey push the drag to the stop, and he still couldn't make any headway.

"After a while we decided to increase the pre-set so he could add more drag. He still wasn't really gaining any line, so we bumped the pre-set again. Finally, after bumping the pre-set twice and with the drag all the way to the stop, he began getting line in."

Ashby said they chased the fish six miles and he was concerned, especially during the last half of the fight.

"We weren't sure how much drag we had on the line, but we knew it was a lot," Ashby said. "The line was popping and cracking as Corey struggled to get it in. George had the cockpit under control and was calmly giving instruction to Corey. They were both great, and we wouldn't have landed this fish unless everything went right."

The angler fighting the fish said it was a chore to keep concentration with water surging over the transom.

"I don't know how far we backed down on it, but I was soaked," Schultz said. "There was just a little sea, but with Capt. Ned having to back so hard, it seemed like every wave was crashing over the transom and soaking me. Several times the salt water was streaming down my face and really burning my eyes.

"With that and the line making so much noise, I was worried something would happen and I would lose the fish. Thankfully George's knots and rigging held just fine, and I had enough energy to outlast it."

The drama continued when the fish finally came to boat side. Some time during the last part of the fight it had rolled and was tail-wrapped. Controlling it was nearly impossible, and then several of the gaffs broke or pulled free while trying to secure and position it to pull in on board.

Ashby said it took almost 30 minutes to get it turned and ready to pull through the transom door. Then as they were turning it, he began to wonder if the door was large enough. With a rope through the jaw to pull and one on its tail to steer, everyone in the charter and Cecil pulled while Ashby steered. The tuna paused midway through the door like it might jam, but a mighty heave finally snatched it into the cockpit.

"Once it was finally in the cockpit, we began to breathe again," Ashby said. "At this point we finally realized the size of this fish. Laying on its side it came up to the covering board. George got a tape and it measured it.

"Using the standard formula of girth squared, multiplied by length and divided by 800, the fish computed to just over 800 pounds. Later the scales showed it at 805.5 pounds, but we had already checked and that was still 61.5 pounds heavier than the existing record."

Schultz caught the fish on a custom rod with a Shimano 80 Wide reel. The reel was loaded with 130-pound-test monofilament line, with a backing of 130-pound braid and a leader of 300-pound Momoi leader. It took him well into the backing and the last quarter of the spool several times.

Schultz said they tested the drag after landing the fish and it measured 78 pounds. Schultz was strapped to the fighting chair for about 2 1/2 hours to subdue the fish.

Paperwork and pictures were submitted to the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries on Monday (March 14) to have Shultz's catch certified as the state record.

It easily pushed past the previous record of 744 pound caught by Thomas Baily in 1995, also from Oregon Inlet. The world record bluefin weighs 1,496 pounds and was caught off Nova Scotia in 1996.

Schultz's catch was certified today (March 16) by NCDMF's Carole Willis. The big tuna officially was 112 inches long, with a 76-inch girth and weighed 805 1/2 pounds.