"I'm about halfway through the list," Cox said. "Last year, I caught two citation queen triggerfish that each weighed 7½ pounds."
But it was Tim Cox, Micah's cousin, who on May 22 caught a queen 10.34-pound triggerfish that established a new state-record category and took the top spot.
Cox was fishing aboard his cousin's boat near the Same Ol', a popular fishing destination along the continental shelf offshore of Wilmington. Also aboard were fishing pals, Justin Simmons and Eric Butterfield. The anglers had spent most of the morning catching a dozen big mahi.
"Tim came down from his home in Pleasant Garden to do some remodeling on my house," Micah Cox said. "We had already caught a 53-pound, 8.5-ounce mahi. I told the guys we had enough mahi, and we should stop and catch some bottomfish."
That was a fateful decision.
"About 11:30, we stopped at one of the great (spots) we had trolled over to do some bottom-fishing," Tim Cox said. "I was using a big piece of cut bait and thought I had hooked a grouper. But the fish didn't give up halfway to the boat like a grouper does when his swim bladder blows up.
"It was a queen triggerfish, and it was hooked between the teeth and gums. I had seen them in aquariums and never realized they got that big. I guess I'm the luckiest guy in the world."
Micah Cox said the bait was cut squid and the rig was a hand-tied, two-hook bottom rig with 11/0 circle hooks and a 16-ounce sinker. The rod was a Sea Striker Billfisher Series 30/80 Class straight butt rod, and the reel was a Penn 114H spooled with Diawa 80-pound test braid. The water depth was 140 feet.
Once the fish was aboard, Micah Cox knew the big trigger was a citation fish – f5 pounds is the minimum – but he had no idea it would become a new state record, even though it weighed more than 10 pounds on a set of hand scales on the boat.
The anglers returned to the dock late in the afternoon, so they waited until the next day to take Justin Simmons' big mahi and the queen triggerfish to Johnnie Mercer's Pier to have them weighed.
A veteran fisherman at the pier urged the group to take the queen triggerfish to NCDMF's Wilmington office, where biologists measured it, took some photos and confirmed the species. The total length was 30 inches, and the fish's fork length was 21 inches. It had a 23-inch girth.
Cox was notified on July 12 that the fish was officially the state record.
Carole Willis, NCDMF's sportfishing specialist, had the final say regarding the establishment of a new state-record category for the queen triggerfish.
"The biggest problem with most fish submitted for a new state-record category is that they are not large enough to meet the NCDMF's criteria," Willis said. "When we establish a new state record, it has to be an exceptionally large fish for North Carolina and near the world record. It has to go before the saltwater tournament advisory board and division staff – a total of 13 people.
Cox's trigger had no problem with that stringent procedure.
"At 10 pounds, five ounces, the fish met all of the criteria," Willis explained. "The world record queen triggerfish weighed 14 pounds, 3 ounces and was caught off Cancun in 2009. They are very pretty fish and not the most-common triggerfish off our coast.
"He had a very lucky catch."