Josiah VanFleet once caught a 3-pound flounder.
He was 6 years old, and his grandparents took him on a party boat to fish.
“I actually won the pool for the largest fish on the boat,” recalled VanFleet, now 38. “I made like $60.”
Well, he has another big catch under his belt.
The father of four went fishing on Feb. 24 off the coast from Nags Head and reeled in a 9½-foot bluefin tuna.
“Definitely, on a personal level, it’s the biggest fish I’ve ever caught,” said VanFleet, who lives in Toano, Va., and has a bathroom and kitchen remodeling business.
He said the U.S. Coast Guard helped measure the fish when he docked his boat at the Oregon Inlet, putting it at an estimated 1,000 pounds. They also said the fish’s girth around its belly was about 83 inches. (Watch the full YouTube clip of the catch.)
North Carolina’s current state record is 877 pounds for a bluefin caught in 2017, according to the Department of Environmental Quality, but an estimated weight is not enough to get into the record books.
VanFleet caught the fish and loaded it onto his 22-foot Grady-White boat about 45 miles offshore. It took seven adults and a second boat to get the job done, he said. His 9-year-old son, Zeke, was there too.
Because his own boat isn’t the typical size you’d see so far out, he and a friend, Steve Hux, spent some time planning the trip that led to their catch.
“We had a buddy boat go with us. We wanted to play it safe,” VanFleet said.
“It’s not like these bigger boats where we can just go out whenever we want,” VanFleet said. “Me and Steve had been watching the weather since Christmas time, just waiting for the perfect window.”
That Wednesday, the weather was just right at 55 degrees, the waves were manageable and the Outer Banks bar was pretty calm, VanFleet said.
“It really was just a kiss from heaven, to be honest,” he said.
Even so, VanFleet said the crew had some trouble reeling in the “monster fish.”
They started trolling about 6:30 a.m., putting out baits and driving to see what they’d catch.
“We decided to put some teaser baits out that would sort of attract the fish to the top, and not long after we put those teaser baits out, one of our poles went down,” he said.
Reeling in the fish took a lot of line and manpower, he said.
VanFleet and four others on his boat reeled it in together.
“That went on for quite a while,” he said. About three-quarters of the way through, the reel malfunctioned, sending the crew into a panic. They had to attach the old line the fish was on to a new reel.
“We’re literally holding a 1,000-pound fish with our hands on the line while (crimping) the lines together,” said VanFleet, who said it took about 2½ hours to reel him in. “We finally got the fish to the surface, where we pretty much harpooned him.”
From there, they bled the fish out, dragged it behind the boat for 10 to 15 minutes and spent another two hours figuring out how to pull him aboard.
Three people on the companion boat helped pulley the fish onto his, he said.
When they were done, the fish was so big, there was barely any room to sit or stand.
“We could not believe that out of all the boats out here, we were blessed with this monster of a fish,” he recalled. “It was one of the most amazing feelings I’ve ever felt.”
Once they got it loaded onto his boat and back to the Oregon Inlet, they put it on their trailer and surrounded it with 200 pounds of ice. They took it to a friend’s house and spent two hours slicing it up on a fillet table.
“(We cut) up all the good parts of the fish and we put it in a cooler with ice,” he said.
All of the adults on the boat got a share — about four trash bags of meat each.
So far, his family has made tuna tartare and blackened tuna.
He and his friends had plenty left to give away.
“We gave it to lots of friends, because what are you going to do with that much fish?” he asked. “We just kind of spread the love around Virginia.”
VanFleet said he’s grateful for the catch, and chalks it up to an answered prayer.
“When we got out in that boat, Steve’s dad said a prayer,” he said. “I really think when we asked for a safe trip and to catch the largest fish, that’s really what we got.”
Saleen Martin, 757-446-2027, email@example.com
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