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Huge Fish Caught off Orange Beach

Article from The Mobile Register:

by Jeff Dute, Outdoors Editor June 15, 2009

The huge fish hanging on the scales at Zeke's Marina on Thursday evening drew appreciative nods from those who knew what they were looking at and amazed gasps from those who didn't, said the men who'd caught the fish.

At 95.2 pounds, Lee Windham's cubera snapper would shatter the Alabama state record of 52 pounds held since 1988 by Grand Bay's Michael Crawley by more than 43 pounds. Officially, however, it never will.

  That's because Windham and the other crew members aboard Jeremy Shook's boat left from and returned to Pensacola and only decided to weigh the fish at Zeke's because the marina was closer to the Shook family's house on Perdido Key, just across the Alabama state line in Florida.
Huge grouper caught in Alabama(Press-Register/John David Mercer)Lee Windham of Brandon, Miss., caught this 95.2-pound cubera snapper Thursday, June 11, 2009, while fishing 25 miles southeast of Orange Beach, Ala. The huge fish ate a 2-pound blue runner Windham had dropped over an artificial reef in 120 feet of water.

The first rule attached to Alabama's state-record application form states that in order for a fish to qualify as a record, the boat must have left from and returned through an Alabama port. That means even if Shook had steered the boat to Zeke's through Perdido Pass on returning, the fish still wouldn't have qualified under Alabama rules.

Ironically, the fish won't qualify as a Florida state record, either. That lofty spot has been held for nearly 30 years by a 116-pound cubera caught by Billy Graham in July 1979. Despite that fish's size, it's 5 pounds short of the 121-pound, 8-ounce International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record caught by Mike Hebert off Louisiana in 1982.

Strangely, the world's No.1 cubera is 3 pounds lighter than the 124-pound, 8-ounce fish Marion Rose brought to the scales in 2007 to claim the Louisiana state record. It's unclear why Rose's fish isn't No. 1, and IGFA officials weren't available to comment Friday afternoon.

Often in these cases, either the heavier fish simply wasn't entered for world-record consideration or didn't meet one or more of the IGFA's stringent requirements for record consideration.

The fact his fish won't qualify for any records didn't bother Windham, who said it was by far the biggest fish he's ever caught during the monthly trips during fishing season he's made from his home in Brandon, Miss., to the Gulf over the past seven summers.

Windham said Shook, also from Brandon, and Cody Shows of West Point, Miss., headed out at about 7:30 Thursday morning and turned to the southeast where they wound up 25 miles out while bottom-fishing a series of wrecks and platforms in the vicinity of the sunken freighter Anteres.

They'd fished all day, catching mangrove snapper, amberjack, barracuda and several sharks. No cubera snapper were seen.

Anchored on a reef near a gas platform in 120 feet of water sometime between 4:30 and 5, Windham said Shook told him to drop down one of the 2-pound blue runners Shows was catching on a topwater plug just for fun. At Shook's suggestion, Windham trimmed the bait's tail "so it couldn't run away."

The tactic worked, but Windham's description of what happened next is far from the epic story someone might expect.

"The fish ate. The bait clicker went off for about 30 seconds before I flipped it over and set the hook," he said. "I had him up in five minutes, but he saw the boat and ran back toward the bottom. We didn't get a good look at it that first time, and we thought it might have been the 9-foot hammerhead shark we'd seen just before I dropped down because it was fighting so hard.

"I fought him for another 10 minutes, then he saw us again and went back down. We got a glimpse of him when he turned. He had a goldish tint to him, and we thought for a while that it might be a hundred-pound amberjack.

"I fought him five more minutes, got him to the boat. We gaffed him and brought him on in."

If the 20-minute fight was uneventful, things got interesting when the fish hit the deck, Windham said.

"We didn't know what it was," he said. "None of us had ever seen a fish that big. We thought it might be a goliath grouper because of the gold color, but I knew goliaths don't have scales like this fish had."

Big fish caught in Orange Beach(Press-Register/John David Mercer)Angler Lee Windham shows off the teeth of the giant cubera snapper he caught Thursday, June 11, 2009, off the coast of Alabama.

Finally, Windham said they consulted the Florida fishing regulations booklet with its pictures of saltwater fish before positively identifying it as a cubera snapper. They never knew such a fish existed.

The booklet lists Florida state records, so they knew the fish wasn't a state record there, but Shook decided the huge fish had to be weighed quickly before it lost too much weight just in case it was a record.

"We were so excited about the fish, I left my $100 buoy out there," Shook said.

Racing back to Pensacola, they loaded the boat on the trailer and headed for Zeke's Marina, arriving just as the sun was setting and the scales were closing.

"People just couldn't believe that it was a snapper and it was that big," Shook said. "Most of the people I've talked to said it's the biggest fish they've ever seen."

For his part, Windham appeared far more impressed with being able to land such a fish on the relatively light tackle he used to subdue it.

The Shimano Torium reel spooled with 65-pound-test braid was mounted to a 7-foot Shimano jigging rod. Terminal tackle consisted of a standard bottom rig tipped by a 5/0 J-hook.

"Even though I got him to the boat that fast, he pulled really, really hard. It was fighting really bad," Windham said. "I mean all I had was a jigging rod. It's amazing I got him to the boat at all."

Even though the fish likely won't hold any records, Windham said the fiberglass mount he plans to have made from its impressive measurements -- 54 inches long, 47 inches around -- will always hold a special place on his wall.

He and his fishing partners divvied up the meat. Each will take home enough to feed family and friends during more than a few fish fries and barbecues.




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