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Lighten up

Some anglers have discovered using lighter tackle can land record-setting grouper.

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 31, 2002


TIERRA VERDE -- Dan Hayes is used to people calling him crazy.

"That's what I called the guy who taught me," the angler said. "But after two years of catching grouper on light tackle I realized he knew what he was talking about."

Sure, a lot of people catch grouper. But it is usually on a pole that's as fat as a broomstick and line that's thicker than piano wire.

"Twenty-pound test, that's all you need," Hayes said. "You might break a few off, but it doesn't matter because you get more bites."

Hayes told his buddies about his forays into the angling forbidden zone. Mark Shen, an avid fly-rodder, had studied the International Game Fish Association's World Record Game Fishes, which is known in angling circles simply as "The Book."

"I thought for sure that we could break a record," Shen said. "Maybe even several records."

So Hayes and Shen picked up Chris Clark and Tommy Ziesmann, then headed offshore. Hayes would not reveal the exact location, only that they were in 115-125 feet of water. The charter boat captain had been fishing deep water for more than 20 years and knew the patch of hard bottom held its share of gags and reds.

The anglers targeted four line-class records: 12-, 16-, 20- and 30-pound test.

The 8-pound test record for gag is held by two men: James Stoner caught his 11-pound gag on Dec. 3, 1999, in the east coast's Indian River Lagoon, but 15 days later, Alex Suescun caught another 11-pounder, this time in Fort Myers on Florida's west coast. Two records, two weeks apart? The fish gods obviously didn't want that one broken.

So the light tacklers focused their attention on the 20-pound line-class record, a mere 11 pounds, 8 ounces, caught by Al Golinski last year in Key West.

Armed with spinning rods and 50-pound fluorocarbon leader (the Book is specific about record requirements -- see page 139) and live bait, the four amigos got to work.

Shen broke the record first. Then Ziesmann broke Shen's record. Then Clark broke Ziesmann's record.

"The fish took me in the rocks so I had to take the pressure off and wait until it came out," Clark said. "Those big fish will do that and as long as you aren't pulling on them, eventually they will come out."

Unlike most grouper fishermen, who are primarily after "meat" or fillets to be exact, Clark really didn't care if he landed the fish.

"We were just out there for fun," he said. "We just wanted to see if we could do it."

Perhaps that is why the fish gods smiled on the 23-year-old. Clark landed the gag that later weighed a whopping 15.75 pounds. The line, fish and necessary statements from witnesses were subsequently forwarded to the IGFA in Dania Beach.

"We did what we had to do and now we are just waiting to hear," Shen said.

Confident they had earned their place in history, the anglers moved on to another spot known for its fat red grouper.

Once again it was Clark who hooked the behemoth.

"The fish rocked me five times and each time I had to just sit back and wait it out," he said.

Finally, the red left its lair and Clark was able to turn its head and lift it off the bottom. But about 50 feet off the bottom, the grouper became entangled in a bait rig, which made for a few tense moments.

The red grouper tipped the scales at 30 pounds. But the anglers were disappointed to learn the IGFA did not have a saltwater line-class record for red grouper.

But they didn't care. There are 10 more line-class records for gag grouper to break.

"We are planning another trip right now," he said. "It is all about finesse. And you can never be too good at that."

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