Massive Cubera Snapper Threatens to Shatter Alabama State Record
The rod bowed as soon as the bait hit bottom.
Thirty minutes later, LaDon Swann had hauled in an apparent Alabama state record: a massive cubera snapper weighing 94.2 pounds.
"When it came to the top, I thought 'grouper,' but then thought, 'It's awfully red,'" Swann said, describing the events of last Friday as he and friends fished in waters 40 miles south of Dauphin Island. "As soon as I saw those teeth, I knew right away it was a cubera. I said, 'That's a big one.'"
On Monday, Swann said he would likely submit his official state-record application on Thursday. The process of confirming the application takes about a month.
The fish is almost 10 pounds heavier than Brett Rutledge's 84.90-pounder that set Alabama's cubera record in July last year, dethroning a mere 52-pound cubera that had held the title since 1988.
The current International Game Fish Association World Record is held by Marion Rose, who landed a 124-pound, 12-ounce behemoth while fishing the Garden Banks off Louisiana in 2007.
Swann said that he and his boat mates were conserving bait Friday, fishing one rod at a time, because his livewell wasn't working and they couldn't keep as many hardtails alive as normal.
He put a hardtail on the hook and on the first drop of the day, felt the heavy tug moments after the bait hit bottom.
"I asked my son Gage if he wanted to take it and he said, 'No, you take it.' So it could have just as well been him on the rod as me," he said.
Initially, Swann assumed that he was battling a feisty amberjack, which are known to like that particular piece of natural bottom about 150 feet down.
Still wrangling with it 10 minutes later, he decided that it must be a shark. Whatever, it was, it big and it was making a run to get away.
"I was having a tough time with it at that point, so I told them to get me a harness. I started putting a pretty good whooping on it then," Swann said.
Once he had the cubera on board, Swann guessed that it weighed around 70 pounds. Rather than head to the island to find out for sure as others on the boat urged, he told them, "'No. Let's go fishing.'"
Swann, along with sons Gage and William plus Cody Brown, Robert Raley and Hank Hodde landed an amberjack and a few vermilion snapper on an otherwise slow fishing day before arriving back at Dauphin Island around 5 p.m.
At that point, Swann couldn't get a state weigh-in for the big snapper since the Alabama Marine Resources division office on the island had closed for the day.
So he took it to Jemison's Bait and Tackle on the Dauphin Island Causeway where owner Harry Jemison keeps a state-certified scale.
"When it read 94.2 pounds, there were a lot of high-fives going on," Swann said.
Swann, who is the director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, understands the rarity of his catch in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Large cuberas are mostly loners, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History, although aggregations occur during spawning, which usually peaks in June.
Specimens of all sizes are caught by fishermen leaving out of Gulf fishing villages along the Yucatan Peninsula.
In the case of Rutledge's record cubera, tests on the fish's earbone indicated it was 36 years old. Swann plans on allowing Dauphin Island Sea Lab biologists to do similar testing on his fish.
He said, "I didn't do anything special. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."