Group catches a goliath of a grouper

Tina Harbuck
Angler Hunter Waneck of Louisiana smiles while Capt. Alex Hare (right) pulls the goliath grouper closer to the boat. Hare estimated the fish weighed 350 pounds. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

DESTIN — It’s one thing to see one on TV, but to see one face to face is unbelievable, Capt. Alex Hare said.

Hare and his group of anglers from Louisiana got an up-close and personal look at a 350-plus pound goliath grouper June 28 aboard the Silver King, a 25-foot center console boat.

“You don’t realize how big they are. You see it on TV, but when you see one in person they are huge. We were shocked,” the young captain said.

The 27-year-old Hare had taken Hunter Waneck, Becca Peisker and Charlie Reagin out for a day of fishing for snapper and other fish about 15 miles down the beach in 75 feet of water when the giant grouper latched on.

“We hooked about an 8- to 10-pound snapper and fought him for a while and then all sudden something ate it,” Hare said.

The captain said they fought the fish for 15 to 20 minutes, and then all of sudden got the snapper back. However, when the snapper surfaced it was completely scaled.

At that point, Hare had his suspicions that it might be a goliath down there.

So they did the same thing.

This time, they got a hook in the giant grouper and fought it for about 45 minutes before they got it up to the boat.

“He was huge. ... I don’t know how much it weighed ... about 300 to 400 pounds,” Hare said. “You weren’t going to get your arms around the whole fish I’ll tell you that. ... It was huge.”

During the fight, Hare said the goliath took out a lot of line.

“He was pulling drag. He pulled 150 to 200 yards three or four times,” he said.

Once they got the grouper to the boat, they took a few photos and were able to touch him before they released him.

“We got the hook out of him and then kind of pushed his head down," Hare said. "He flipped his tail and splashed us all, whacked the side of the boat with his tail and then swam straight down. He was healthy. We watched him swim down as far as we could see.”

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the harvest and possession of goliath grouper is prohibited in state and federal waters. The fish must also be immediately returned to the water free, alive and unharmed.

The goliath grouper is the largest of the groupers and can weigh up to 800 pounds. The largest caught in Florida was a 680-pounder in May 1961.