Near 100-pound king mackerel caught off Fort Lauderdale.

The catch may or may not pass muster under International Game Fish Association (IGFA) gear and handling guidelines–we’ll soon see–but regardless of formalities, the 97.8-pound king mackerel caught last Sunday off Fort Lauderdale will be the talk of the offshore fleet for years to come. The monster fish was caught on January 20 by Michael Hayes, of Chicago, fishing aboard Fort Lauderdale charterboat Happy Day Today. Hayes, with his wife, Brooke, were just coming off a cruise ship celebrating their honeymoon. They fished a 4-hour afternoon charter on the vessel with Capt. JB Sirgany. About half that time was taken up by Michael fighting a big fish that gobbled a live bullet bonito, according to Capt. Tom Zsak of Topshotfishing, owner of the boat.

“JB said at that first they thought it may have been a big tarpon—they saw a tremendous splash and the fish came out of the water.”

The crew, which included mate Troy, had been slow-trolling over a dropoff in about 120 feet of water, just about 2 miles offshore, Zsak said.

The fish, which Michael fought for one hour and 53 minutes on 30-pound-test line, turned out to be a 67-inch king with a girth of nearly 32 inches. Gray’s Taxidermy will be mounting Hayes’ fish, said Zsak. The present king mackerel record is 93 pounds, a fish landed in Puerto Rico by angler Steve Graulau in 1990. The IGFA certification process includes analysis of rigs, hooks, lines and handling practices, to determine whether a catch meets sporting norms established by the association.

Happy Day Today, a 46-foot Hatteras, is docked at Bahia Mar Marina in Fort Lauderdale. The Zsak family has run the boat for three generations, going back to 1974.

Zsak said the boat’s previous-best king was 64 pounds, caught back in the 1980s. Echoing sentiments Florida Sportsman has heard from other captains in South Florida, Zsak said overall, kingfish over 15 or 20 pounds have been somewhat scarce in the region. On a positive note, he said catches of kings in the 5- to 9-pound range (good eating size) have been pretty predictable. He was also eager for the expected seasonal uptick in sailfish and dolphin numbers, usually occurring in February.

Trolling live bonito is a locally favored tactic for a variety of fish, including wahoo.

“A friend of mine, Joe, makes flies for offshore fishermen in the Caribbean,” Zsak said, “and he makes these little glow feathers that we troll for the bonitos. Sometimes we’ll spend a good hour dragging what we call our ‘bug lines’ around to catch the bullets, but as you can see, it’s worth it!”

Zsak said Happy Day Today once held a mutton snapper record. In the early ‘80s he recalled a blue marlin that took an angler for an 11-hour marathon run up the coast, finally breaking the leader off Palm Beach. “That fish may have broken the state record,” Zsak said. “I’d estimate it was close to 900 pounds.”

Florida Sportsman hasn’t talked to angler Michael Hayes yet, but suffice to say, we’re guessing his honeymoon will be remembered as a “royal” event.

“Captain JB stopped off at the marina at 15th Street to weigh the fish on a certified scale,” said Zsak, “and he said there were a hundred people there looking at the fish. I think that’s when Mike realized what he’d accomplished.”

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