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Saltwater Mystery Catch

Terry Lacosse

Being able to identify your catch and knowing current fishing regulations, is important when a mystery fish is landed!

The sport fishing boat "In Tropic," left the St. Augustine inlet and motored east some 63 miles, finally setting up a late afternoon drift with large baited squid in 400 feet of water. A previous fishing trip to these very same waters had produced great fishing action for yellow fin tuna, dolphin and a delicious eating swordfish.

However fishing action was extremely slow as they drifted into the darkness of night, while the water depths increased to 1,300 feet.

The fishing party included Captain Benny Hendrix, Gordon Davis, along with his wife Kimberly and two sons, Cole and Alec. The fishing party began enjoying the cool night air, while some drifted off to sleep in the cabin. An anxious Gordon Davis waited patiently in the fighting chair for a large swordfish to take one of the baited squid.

"We had light sticks rigged to the fishing lines to attract the night time feed of nearby swordfish," said Benny Hendrix. "Shortly after sunset a small fish took one of the squid baits and Gordon reeled the hooked fish in without a big fight. We knew right away by the weak fight, this wasn't a swordfish."

"What we saw at the transom of the boat though, was a very unusual looking fish. It had a dark oily-copper color and large eyes that resembled golf balls. It sort of looked like a permit, with its forked tail, crevalle shaped body and blunt head. I placed Gordon's fish in the fish box and iced it down."

The next day no one really could identify Gordon Davis' catch, even a Florida marine patrol officer was also completely stumped. The best guess by area fishermen, was an "Oil Fish."

Benny Hendrix called me over to his house where I took a digital photo of the mystery fish and e-mailed it to International Game and Fish Association biologist, Jason Schratwieser.

"What you have here, is a "Bigscale Pomfret," said Schratwieser. "The current IGFA all tackle world record was caught by Horst Martin and weighed 6 lbs. 12 ozs. The record catch was landed in Bimini Bahamas, on November 16, 1998."

Gordon Davis is in the process of filling out the proper IGFA world record forms and has already weighed the fish on certified scales. If approved, Davis' 20.22 lb. Bigscale Pomfret will become a new IGFA all tackle world record!

I also talked with IGFA biologist Glenda Kelly about Davis' catch.

"We have heard of only a few "Bigscale Pomfrets" called into the IGFA office since I began working here in 1992," Glenda remarked. "They live in sub tropic waters and are very delicious eating though. Many fishermen confuse the pomfret with oil fish, which have a long slender body and a dark oily color. The flesh of the oil fish is very oily and is not considered to be good eating. In fact if you don't prepare and eat an oil fish right away, the oily flesh begins to deteriorate very rapidly and soon has a very offensive taste!"

Many saltwater fishermen are often confronted with trying to identify a fish that they may have never seen before in books, magazines or during a previous fishing trip. One of their first questions may be if it is legal to keep and the second and most important factor, is their catch good to eat!

"I recommend both novice and expert fishermen to purchase the book "Field Guide to Atlantic Fishes," which is written by Robins Ray Douglas," encourages Glenda Kelly. "The book includes just about every specie of saltwater game fish, along with descriptions and photos."

Obviously having this complete book on fishes on board will help fishermen identify their catch and more importantly, let them know if their catch is worth while to ice down, clean and prepare for dinner.
Saltwater fishermen can also visit a unique web site, called "Fish Base" which contains information on a wide variety of saltwater species, including color photos. The web site address is

Another very important problem that often confronts saltwater fishermen, is having information on board that tells them if their catch is legal to keep. Penalties for keeping illegal catches can run into the thousands of dollars and even the loss of your fishing boat, truck and boat trailer. And the worst scenario, even a visit to the local jail!

To avoid any of these stiff penalties, I would also recommend having on board your sport fishing boat, the latest publication of your state's marine fishery regulations. Here you will find a complete list of game fishes that are legal to keep, the legal bag limit per boat, or angler and the size restrictions of your catch.

Unfortunately some hungry and you might say greedy fishermen, knowingly will clean an illegal catch when it is brought on board and ice down the filets in their boat's cooler. This is illegal in most states and punishable by a hefty fine if the angler is caught returning to land with a catch that has already been cleaned.

By all means have a measuring device on board that will measure your catch accurately. If your state's fishing regulations state that a king mackerel has to measure at least 24 inches to the fork of the tail. Your catch must measure at least 24 inches! A 23-inch king mackerel may produce a large fine and most marine patrol officers will not bend the rules when inspecting your catch.

I once knew a fisherman who returned from fishing with a 27-1/8th inch redfish and was inspected by a marine patrol officer at the boat ramp. The unlucky fisherman was issued a ticket and had to show up in criminal court. To add to the embarrassment, he also had to pay a sizeable fine as well!

Another common problem surfaces when fishermen are returning from fishing in federal waters. Once they enter state fishing waters, they are suddenly under saltwater state fishing regulations. So in fact a fish that may be legal to harvest in federal waters, may not be a legal catch in state fishing waters. I guess what this all means is that you can eat your catch while remaining in federal waters, but if your return to state waters, your catch better be legal according to state saltwater fishing regulations. And more than likely the reasoning for abiding to state fishing regulations, is that there is simply no way that you can prove to the inspecting marine patrol officer that you have been fishing in federal waters and not in state waters.

Luckily Gordon Davis decided to keep his unusual catch and the bottom line may produce an all tackle IGFA world record for lucky fisherman. But how many times have fishermen returned a record fish back into the water, or worse yet eaten their catch!

To avoid this problem, I would recommend that all saltwater fishermen join the International Game and Fish Association. Members receive annually an updated book on all current IGFA world records and a very informative newsletter that includes recent record catches. The colorful book on world record game fishes also has informative articles and how to submit your big catch for a new IGFA world record.

Fishermen will be amazed at the number of world record opportunities there are, particularly for junior anglers. Categories in the junior angler programs include smallfry, ages ten and under, and junior, ages 11 through 16. There are also male and female divisions in each category.

A few notable catches in the all tackle IGFA world record class includes Steve Graulau's 93-pound king mackerel that he landed on April 18, 1999 during a fishing trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Alfred Dean landed a 2,664-pound great white shark in South Australia, on April 21, 1959 to claim the new all tackle record. Richard Evans landed an 88-pound dolphin to claim the new all tackle IGFA world record while fishing in the Bahamas on May 5, 1998.

These are all pretty impressive world record catches and more than likely will stand for some time to come. However there are records that can be beat, particularly in the line class divisions.

For more information on the International Game and Fish Association, call (954) 927-2628, or visit their web site at And if you are in the south Florida area, be sure to visit the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum, which is located in Dania Beach, Florida.
Click these links for kingfishing articles by Terry Lacoss

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