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David and Goliath

After more than a year, Bucs tight end Dave Moore finally captures his nemesis: a 250-pound goliath grouper.

[Times photo: Terry Tomalin]
Dave Moore and Dave Going show proof of their victory before throwing the fish back into the water.

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 11, 2001


GULF OF MEXICO -- Dave Moore doesn't like to lose.

On the football field or 20 miles offshore, the tight end plays to win.

"This is the game plan," Moore said as he rigged a fat bonito for bait. "Let him take it; then start reeling. And whatever you do, don't stop."

Forty-five feet below, a 250-pound goliath grouper that had been tormenting him for more than a year waited patiently for its next meal.

Moore and the fish had a love/hate relationship. In a way, grouper reminded him of another giant, famed Packers defensive end Reggie White.

"You could never let your guard down," he said. "Go easy and he'll knock you on your a--. Go hard and he runs right around you."

But like most players who last more than a couple of years in the NFL, Moore learned from his mistakes. Years hustling with the special teams eventually earned him a starting spot. He knew that persistence pays off, especially when it comes to fishing.

"I am not one of those fair-weather fishermen," he said. "If I am not at work or home with the family, I am out here fishing, even when it is nasty, as long as they are biting."

Grouper, kingfish, permit, cobia, Spanish mackerel, snook, redfish, trout -- all are the same in Moore's book. All except the goliath grouper, the Reggie White of game fish.

Moore met his nemesis accidentally. A year ago in the spring, Moore and his fishing partner Dave Going were fishing an offshore wreck when a barracuda hit a permit they hooked.

"The permit started to sink to the bottom. Then out of nowhere, this big (goliath grouper) comes out of nowhere and grabs it," he said.

Moore let the monster from the deep take the bait. Then he hauled back and set the hook. "I had it on for about 10 seconds; then it broke me off," he said.

[Times photo: Terry Tomalin]
Dave Moore, right, and fishing buddy Dave Going use all their strength to pull on a 250-pound goliath grouper.

A few weeks later, Moore and Going were fishing for king mackerel on the same spot when the beast returned and grabbed a kingfish 5 feet from the boat.

"He was getting bolder," Moore said. "That is when I said, "Let's stop fooling around and try to catch this thing.' "

[Times photo: Terry Tomalin]
Dave Going, back, falls backward after his line breaks, leaving Dave Moore to battle the fish alone.

So Moore enlisted the help of former Bucs offensive lineman Paul Gruber, who, at a playing weight of 291 pounds, would be more than a match for any grouper.

Armed with a stout rod, 60-pound test line and 90-pound fluorocarbon leader, Gruber dropped an 8-pound bonito over the side.

"It was down there less than a minute before it got slammed," Moore said. "The fish pinned the rod to the gunwhale, and both of us could barely budge it."

Score: Goliath Grouper 1, Buccaneers zip.

Undeterred, Moore returned with heavier line and leader. Four times the fish grabbed the bait, and four times he disappeared in the wreck.

"So we started scheming," Moore said. "We took two rods, tied them to a three-way swivel and attached a 130-pound test leader."

The fish broke the leader.

"So we came back again, and this time we used three rods and tied three leaders to the hook," Moore said.

This time the leader held, but the fish broke the lines.

Out of desperation, Moore and Going grabbed a buoy rope and tied it to a hook.

"The fish wasn't shy," he said. "It grabbed the bait, rope and all."

Still no luck.

So Going called his old high school football coach, Mike Dunsizer of Fishermen's Ideal Supply House, a shop that caters to commercial fishermen.

"He hooked us up with 150-pound test line, 1,000-pound test swivel, a 16-ought circle hook and 150-pound Power Pro for both reels," Moore said. "If that didn't move him, nothing would."

Armed with their new rigs, Moore and Going returned to the wreck ready to rumble. This time they had the leverage they needed.

"You wouldn't believe it unless you saw the video," Moore said of that epic fight. "The fish was bigger than me."

But years in the journalism business teach you to believe only what you see. That's why Moore agreed to call on his old friend one more time.

"Get that camera ready," Moore said. "This guy loves bonito."

One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi ... both rods bent toward the water.

"Reel, reel, reel," Moore yelled to Going. "We have got him off the bottom!"

Going's line snapped, which left Moore to battle the brute.

"Hold on, Dave," Going yelled as Moore struggled to keep the rod out of the water. "You got him! You got him!"

Sweating like it was the first day of minicamp, Moore struggled to lift the fish off the bottom. Finally, the grouper broke the surface, and Moore and Going hauled it aboard for a picture, nearly swamping the boat in the process.

Then Moore patted it on the back and slipped it over the side, and the fish swam away no worse for the wear.

"Okay," Moore said. "Now you want to try?"

Name change

Until recently, Epinephelus itajara were commonly called "jewfish." In May, however, the American Fisheries Society asked the public to begin calling the largest member of the grouper family goliath grouper.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word jewfish was first used in this 1697 quote: "The Jew-Fish is a very good fish and, I judge, so called by the English because it hath scales and fins, therefore a clean fish, according to Levitical law."

Webster's New World College Dictionary says the phrase may have been borrowed from the Italian giupesce, which means "bottom fish."

-- SOURCES: World Book Online, Florida Aquarium

Tale of the Tape

Dave Moore

POSITION: Tight End.

STATUS: Ninth-year pro. Contract through 2002 season.

SCHOOL: Pittsburgh. None.

HEIGHT: 6 feet 2.

WEIGHT: 258 pounds.

NOTES: A versatile, sure-handed tight end, Moore worked his way up through special teams. A father of two, Moore spends most of his free time fishing for anything that bites. After the Bucs win the Super Bowl, Moore plans to go North Carolina and catch a bluefin tuna on stand-up tackle. He'd also like to get the ball more. Then he could go to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and catch a blue marlin on 20-pound test.

* * *

Goliath Grouper

POSITION: Guardian of the Wreck

STATUS: Contract through 2002 season. Protected from harvest in state and federal waters. Goliath grouper caught intentionally or unintentionally must be released.

SCHOOL: None. This fish swims alone.

HEIGHT: 3 to 5 feet.

WEIGHT: As large as 800 pounds or more.

NOTES: The largest of the Serranidae family, the goliath grouper (formerly known as the jewfish) lives to be about 50 years old and feeds on just about anything it wants to. Once a rare sight in offshore waters, goliath grouper numbers are on the increase. On some deepwater wrecks, it is not uncommon to see dozens of these massive groupers, which has prompted some recreational anglers and spearfishermen to call for a limited harvest.

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