333-pound grouper bit in 15 seconds at Destin Fishing Rodeo. Then came the hard part

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Apparently, when a fish is hungry, it doesn't take long to get a bite. 

It only took 15 seconds for the crew aboard the Special K to get the mammoth Warsaw grouper to take the bait, which eventually landed them on the leaderboard of the 74th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo

Garrett Thornton of Blackshear, Georgia, hauled in a 333.8-pound Warsaw while fishing with Capt. Kyle Lowe on the Special K on Oct. 9. The fish weighed 349 pounds before it was gutted. All fish entries in the rodeo are gutted weights. 

Another new record set: 'Oh, this is a big one': 101-pound wahoo breaks 12-year-old record at Destin Fishing Rodeo

'Can't get any better':Big fish, big crowds mark first week of 74th Destin Fishing Rodeo

The Warsaw grouper caught aboard the Special K weighed in at 333.8 pounds at the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

The Warsaw came close to the rodeo record, which was a 358.8-pounder caught in 2003 by John Hardin of Dunedin aboard the Big John with Capt. Todd Allen. 

It might not have broken the record, but it about broke the backs of the guys aboard the boat trying to haul it over the side of the six-pack, 38-foot charter boat. 

"It took 30 minutes to get him to the top, but then it took over an hour to figure out how to get him over the side of the boat. It took all five of us," Lowe said. 

The seas were a bit rough, but they "helped to wash him into the boat," he said. 

How the Special K crew found the massive Warsaw grouper

Finding the Warsaw was no accident. Back in August, Lowe was fishing a spot for snowy grouper and something kept crushing his fish. 

"It kept pulling the scales off my snowys," he said.

At that point, they ran a few baits down and tried to catch him, but really couldn't get a hook in him. 

"On a couple of the pulls … I thought this is a pretty big fish, but didn't have the right tackle. So, we left it alone," he said.

Lowe said he had one of his best customers on the boat that day and promised him that he wouldn't try to catch that fish until he could do it with him.

"I kept my word and waited until the rodeo," Lowe said. 

Needless to say the 333.8-pound Warsaw grouper would not fit on the board behind the Special K.

So, on Oct. 9 they went fishing. It was rough inshore, but they messed around and caught a few grouper and scamp. 

"When the weather subsided just a hair, we ran out there," he said. 

"We dropped one rod, one bait. I thought we were going to have to smoke out the bite, but he bit within 15 seconds. I knew it was going to be a good one, but I had no idea it was going to be that big," Lowe said. 

But the guys came prepared. 

"We had the big tackle, one big rod with brand new line. We did everything to make sure it was right, because I knew he was there," Lowe said. 

Once they ran the bait down, "everybody got ready to sit and wait for the bite, but we didn't have to wait. He was hungry. It was a pretty exciting day for us," Lowe said. 

And Thornton, who reeled it in, "he was over the moon," Lowe said. 

Commemorating the catch

After the fish was officially weighed at the rodeo, photos were taken to commemorate the moment. 

The group went a step further and had local artist Harly Van Hyning come down and make a fish print of the fish, known as gyotaku art. Basically, he rubs ink on one side of the fish, then spreads a canvas over the top of it and makes a print replica of the fish. 

After the print, they fileted the fish, filled up the coolers and deckhand Danny Brennan took the rest home to feed others. 

"I've won the gag grouper division of the rodeo, but this is the biggest for sure," Lowe said of the Warsaw.