“You have no idea how much that fish means to me,” Brandon Lee Van Horn said. “I will probably never catch another one that big ever again.”
PANAMA CITY — For as long as he can remember, commercial fisherman Brandon Lee Van Horn has wanted to catch a really big fish.
Not your run-of-the-mill big fish, but a really big fish — the kind you tell your grandkids about one day or that strangers take pictures of, or that ends up in the newspaper.
On Monday, Van Horn’s years on the Gulf paid off when he showed up at the dock of Greg Abrams Seafood with a 330-pound Warsaw grouper, 313 pounds after it had been gutted.
"You have no idea how much that fish means to me," he said. "I will probably never catch another one that big ever again."
Van Horn started fishing at 8 years old on his grandfather’s charter boat and "just fell in love with it. It’s just in my blood."
These days, he fishes for a "little bit of everything," but mostly smaller species like vermilion snapper. He fishes with line and reel, fighting each fish to the surface, though he does use bandits that have hydraulic motors "to save your back," he said.
He was out in 375 feet of water when he caught his Warsaw grouper. It took 25 minutes to fight it to the surface.
"Most of the time they break off or straighten out your hook," Van Horn said. "Once you get to the last 150 feet, they get the bends though, like a diver, and they just blow up full of air and float to the surface."
Landing this one, there was a little bit of awe. Most of the grouper he’d caught were around 60 pounds, he said. Never had he caught one like this.
"I will probably never, ever catch one in my life this big ever again," he repeated, as if he still couldn’t get over the shock of it. "Definitely a fish of a lifetime."
The fish isn’t a state record — that honor goes to a 436-pound fish out of Destin — but that didn’t really matter to Van Horn, who knew the grouper would make his grandad "very proud."
As for the fish’s future, Van Horn said it’s already been sold to the fish market and soon will make its way to many, many people’s plates.