When Todd Spangler hooked what turned out to be the biggest speckled sea trout of his life, the North Carolina fisherman was sure he had a striped bass on the line and not what turned out to be a state record.
“We were fishing for trout,” said Spangler, of Merritt, who was fishing with Josh Hamby on Feb. 9 in the lower Neuse River in Pamlico County. “This time of year around here, stripers are around, but what most everybody targets is the trout because the striper season is closed.
“I kept fighting it, and when I saw it flash right below us I said, ‘Man, that’s a big striper right there.’ The way it was fighting, I’ve caught some 24- to 26-inch trout before, but I’ve never had a trout fight like that one did.”
That’s because Spangler, 43, never caught a 33.5-inch trout with an 18-inch girth that weighed 12 pounds, 8 ounces, breaking the state record of 12 pounds, 4 ounces that had stood for 60 years. The previous record was caught off Wrightsville Beach in 1961.
Spangler caught the fish on a spinning outfit with 20-pound braided line and a 4-inch Dark N Stormy Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ on an eighth-ounce jig head.
“For the last three or four years, from late November til March or early April, I have two colors that stay on my line, and they’re Dark N Stormy and Atomic Sunrise. And they’re totally different. One is dark purple with a kind of clear silver flake at the bottom. And the other one is a bright neon orange with like a gold flake,” he said. “They’re the first two that I start throwing most of the time. If they don’t work then I’ll try something different. I have a lot of luck with those.”
He said he realized he was fighting a huge trout about three minutes before he got it to the boat. Spangler and Hamby had been fishing for a little over an hour on a sunny morning with temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s. It was their first fish of the day, and as soon as Hamby netted the trout and got it into the boat, they knew it was something special.
“We gave each other high-fives and hugs. It was celebrating time then,” said Spangler, who had a portable scale on his boat, a 19-foot Swan Point. “I’ve weighed fish on some scales before and thought that we had fish that were bigger than what they really were when we actually weighed them on a certified scale.
“When I saw that 12.52 pounds on mine, Josh is like, ‘If that’s right, that’s 12 pounds, 8 ounces, that’s the state record. It’s only 12-4 right now.’ And I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It still kind of seems surreal to me, what actually happened.”
A diehard fisherman who goes as often as he can, Spangler put the fish in the livewell and kept fishing, but not for long.
“After I caught that fish, we probably hung around 15, 20 minutes,” he said. “I was fishing and Josh was trying to fish but he was looking up the stuff on his phone and that’s when said, ‘Man, we need to go right now.’ So we left.”
The two men, who were intent on keeping the fish alive and releasing it, brought it in an aerated cooler to Neuse River Bait and Tackle in Grantsboro to weigh it on the store’s certified scale. After the fish was again weighed at 12.52 pounds, they put the fish in one of the store’s bait tanks and waited for a state fisheries biologist to arrive.
“I had to kind of walk away,” Spangler said. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I said, ‘This is really happening right now.’”
The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries biologist certified the 12-pound, 8-ounce fish as a record. He also said that the fish had lost much of its slime, and it probably wouldn’t survive if Spangler released the trout, which is what he had done with all of his previous big fish.
“I’ve never weighed them, I just take some pictures and measure them and put them back in the water,” he said. “That was my intention with this fish, but the length of time that it took to get it certified, it was kind of on its last legs.
“When we got done and everything was certified and all, we went back to my boat and went fishing again.”
Spangler eventually brought the fish home, where he and his family had it for dinner. He plans to get a replica mount of the trout, based on its measurements and photos of the fish.
Since that memorable day, Spangler has reflected on everything that happened, and he plans to keep on fishing.
“My friends, a couple of them that I fish with pretty regularly, they kind of put it into perspective, saying of all the fishermen and all the water and all the lures in the last 60 years that have been in the North Carolina waters, you have caught the biggest one in the last 60 years. That’s pretty cool,” he said.
“Everybody said, ‘Man, you don’t have to fish now.’ I said, ‘Yeah right, I’m going to be out there every day trying to break the record myself.’”