When Brian Stone and seven friends headed out of Keaton Beach, Florida, long before dawn on Oct. 7, the plan was ambitious. They were going to run for a few hours to deep water to target big snowy and Warsaw grouper. That bite didn’t turn out quite as hoped, but when the men returned to shore more than 24 hours later they did so with another trophy: a likely world record vermilion snapper.
Jacob Felts was the angler who reeled in the 9.26-pound fish, which if approved will smash the existing IGFA record by more than 2 pounds. Felts, a 30-year-old who works for Brian Stone Construction in Adel, Ga., had a feeling the fish was special when he first saw it.
“A lot of beeliners look like they are mostly head,” Felts said, using the nickname many use for vermilion snappers. “But this one looks like its shoulders are trying to eat its head. Just a meat missile.”
Long Run to the Fishing Grounds
The first run was 154 miles, said Stone. His 42-foot-long Freeman center console catamaran, which is powered by four 400-hp Mercury outboards, got them there in a few hours in the mild seas. In addition to Stone and Felts, the group aboard included Eric Moore, Joe Jernigan, Bubba Newton, Chad Slaughter, Will Willis and Chipper Mack.
“We fish all the time,” said Stone. “Actually, we probably do more spearfishing than regular fishing.” The first stop was at a depth of 850 feet. The group ended up catching four snowies, two of about 30 pounds each and two smaller ones of about 10 pounds each. They broke off a couple of larger fish that they assumed were big Warsaw grouper. “You have to have some serious stuff to get them off the bottom,” Felts said.
Eventually the group started gradually working their way back toward land while hitting various wrecks and natural rocky structure, catching some nice gag grouper while looking forward to the opening of the red snapper season at midnight that night. At one spot at a depth of about 200 feet, the men started catching a few vermilion snappers. That was OK with Felts. “I actually like beeliners a lot,” he said. “They’re great to eat.”
Felts was using a Quantum Boca rod with a Shimano Torium reel, dropping a 10/0 Gamakatsu inline circle hook barely covered with a piece of squid. They had six or seven in the boat when Felts hooked the potential record. “When we first pulled it up and saw it in the water, we actually thought it was a big red snapper,” Stone said. Quickly, they realized it was a beeliner.
“One of the guys with us is a commercial fisherman,” Felts said. “He said, ‘I think that’s the biggest beeliner I’ve ever seen.’”
A World Record Fish On Ice
The fish went back into the box and the fishing continued throughout the evening and into the night. A few hardy members of the team kept going until well after midnight to take advantage of the red snapper opener, while others found places to lie down to catch a little sleep.
The next morning they were back at the boat ramp, having traveled a total of 338 miles on the trip. Looking for good fish-cleaning facilities they loaded up the fish and headed to nearby Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee, Florida. Felts knew he needed to weigh the fish on certified scales. “We didn’t know what to do,” he said. “Did we have to go to a Publix or Winn-Dixie to put the fish on a certified meat scale?”
It just happened that Sea Hag Marina was hosting a trout and redfish tournament that day and already had certified scales set up. When the scale showed 9.26 pounds, the work wasn’t done. Fortunately, Felts said, the marina’s director of tournaments and events, Kristin Skipper, was there to oversee the process.
In addition to size measurements—the fish’s total length was 28 ⅛ inches and the girth was 17 ¾ inches—they also needed to document the gear used. That required a trip back to the other marina to fetch the rod, reel and line Felts was using. “Kristin said it was the first potential world record fish she had worked on,” Felts said. “But she knew everything to do.”
No Fish Weighing Controversies
Felts himself decided to take an extra step. “After that recent controversy with the walleye tournament up North, I decided to cut open the fish,” he said with a chuckle. Of course, that 9.26 pounds was 100 percent vermillion snapper.
Felts said he’s got the whole fish in his freezer. He’s not sure if he’ll get a skin mount or a fiberglass replica. Some friends have other ideas.
“They keep asking me when we’re going to eat it?” Felts said. As much as he likes to eat beeliners, that one isn’t on the menu just yet.