Huge cubera snapper could smash 26-year-old Alabama state record by more than 32 pounds
Brett Rutledge and David Simms were slow-trolling for king mackerel in 170 feet of water about 40 miles south of Dauphin Island when a line baited with a live hardtail and cast behind the boat got hit.
Rutledge of Mobile, grabbed the rod and eventually landed a huge cubera snapper that weighed 84.90 pounds on certified scales at the Alabama Marine Resources Division office on Dauphin Island.
If confirmed by MRD, Rutledge's fish will smash by more than 32 pounds the current record of 52 pounds held by Grand Bay's Michael Crawley since 1988.
"At first I thought it was a big amberjack because I'd caught quite a few jacks earlier. But when it ran away from the wreck we were fishing, I immediately thought it was a shark," said Rutledge, who, besides being an avid recreational fisherman, holds a commercial fishing license. "Then I got a visual on it and told David, 'Get the gaff!'"
It took about 30 minutes to finally get the big fish alongside Rutledge's 26-foot Panga since it had hit a king mackerel rod fitted with a relatively small Shimano Speedmaster reel spooled with only 30-pound-test monofilament line.
"When David got the gaff in it, he said he couldn't get it over the side, so I had to put down the rod and help him," Rutledge said. "As soon as it hit the deck I knew it was over 60 or 70 pounds. I told him, 'That one's going to have a shot at being a state record.'"
The fish was nearly 4-feet long and had a similar stomach girth, he said.
Rutledge, who fishes often with his longtime friend, Marcus Kennedy, on the "Kwazar," is no stranger to seeing record-book fish hit the deck.
He held the Alabama records for scamp and black snapper at separate times. He was on board when Marcus Kennedy caught a blue marlin that at 792 pounds stood as Alabama's largest for 25 years before being broken last year.
Even though he's seen big cubera and caught smaller specimens in Belize several years ago, Rutledge said catching one this huge is probably his most exciting day on the water, rivaling the then-state record scamp that at 29 pounds also smashed the existing 21-pound record
"I've been around some pretty big stuff caught," Rutledge said. "I'll have to say this was probably one of the most exciting fish because I've never caught one off Alabama before and I know how rare it is to catch one this big."
Rutledge said MRD biologists confirmed that the fish was a female since it had ovaries and tests on the fish's earbone indicated it was 36 years old.
Large cuberas are mostly loners, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, but larger aggregations occur during spawning, which usually peaks in June.
Why she was near the surface in 170 feet of water is a mystery, though Rutledge said he'd trolled up several big red snapper, which are cubera cousins.
"She hit maybe 30 seconds after the hardtail splashed into the water, so she obviously was up in the water column for some reason," he said. "The wreck we were fishing does come up off the bottom a pretty good bit. The top of the structure is still pretty deep, but maybe that had something to do with it."
Interestingly, Rutledge's cubera could be only the second biggest weighed at an Alabama-based scale in the last five years.
Windham reported at the time that his fish had been caught 25 miles southeast of Perdido Pass.
Windham's fish did not qualify for Alabama state-record recognition since the fact they'd left from and returned to Florida through Pensacola Pass violated Alabama's stipulation that state-record fish can only be validated by anglers leaving from and returning to an Alabama port no matter where the fish was caught.
Windham's fish was 21 pounds lighter than the Florida state record cubera, which at 121 pounds still holds the top spot.
The all-tackle world record cubera snapper was weighed in Louisiana in June 2007 and tipped the scales to 124 pounds, 12 ounces, according to the International Game Fish Association.