Abernethy, who freely admits he is not an accomplished fisherman and was just in the right place at the right time, caught the 43-pound, 8-ounce fish on May 12 while fishing with friends in 350 feet of water off Cape Lookout.
The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries certified Abernethy's catch as the first-ever state record for gag grouper.
"I really shouldn't get all the credit for catching this fish," Abernethy said. "I was fishing as a guest with Jay Sellers and Scott Woody, and it just hit my lure instead of one of theirs. Sure, I hooked it and fought it to the top, but one of them chose the lure and tied it on, and they both coached me the whole time."
Sellers, from Wake Forest, and Woody, from Raleigh, had fished in rougher conditions the day before on Sellers' boat, Trinity II, but saw the weather calming and decided they had to go again. They invited Zach Johnson, who services Sellers' at Gregory Poole Marine, and told him to bring a friend. Johnson brought Abernathy, who didn't meet Sellers and Woody until he boarded the boat that morning.
"My adrenaline was pumping hard, and they kept me fired up," Abernethy said. "We knew I had a nice fish, and they were coaching me and encouraging me to keep me going and not lose it. We were in 350 feet of water, and the fight only seemed like about five minutes, but looking back I know it had to be much longer.
"It was like pulling up a Volkswagen," Abernethy said. "It just resisted every move, and once or twice headed back down and made the drag slip. I was using one of their open-face reels, and I had never reeled with my left hand before. I thought it was going to cramp for a while, but it never did. Their encouragement really gave me the strength and energy to get it done."
When the big gag broke the surface, it was the largest any of the fishermen had seen. They quickly gaffed and lifted it in, then began congratulating Abernethy.
Sellers and Woody decided it had to be big enough to earn a citation and insisted on taking it by Anchorage Marina to be weighed on certified scales and fill out the paperwork.
Abernethy admitted that when he first heard the word citation, he was concerned he had caught something illegal and would be fined. After the fish was weighed, the fishermen discovered there wasn't a state record for gag grouper, and they began the state record application process.
Once Abernethy received a call from Carole Willis at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, things began to move quickly. He filled out a state-record application and forwarded pictures, plus a copy of the citation paperwork, and the ball was rolling.
Applications for new state records must first be approved by NCDMF biologists before being presented to a committee. The requirements are somewhat flexible, but in addition to being caught in a sporting manner and being the proper species, the potential record must compare well to the IGFA record and the state record of adjoining states.
The South Carolina state record is 48 pounds, 8 ounces, and the committee felt Abernethy's fish weighed close enough to that to approve. Once committee members were polled, the decision was to accept Abernethy's fish as the first North Carolina state record for gag grouper.
Abernethy was using a Star Jigging Rod, with a Shimano Saragosa Spinning Reel filled with 65 pound test braided line. He was fishing with a Roscoe Jig, made by Blue Water Candy. The big grouper was 45 inches long, with a 31.5 inch girth.