BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The 2014 saltwater fishing season is off to a potentially record breaking start. Don Wheeler, of Laurel, set a pending Mississippi saltwater fishing record Saturday with a 126 pound greater amberjack.
The record, which will officially be certified next month by the Commission on Marine Resources, broke the old mark of 124.4 pounds set back in 2012.
Wheeler made the catch on an overnight tuna trip aboard the Lovin Lite, a 53 foot boat based out of the Boardwalk Marina in Biloxi.
''We were fishing the Ram Powell (an oil rig off Louisiana) where we caught a dozen blackfin tuna,'' Lovin Lite Captain Chris Denton said. ''After going to sleep, and when the sun started coming up, we caught 10 more blackfin and two small yellowfin tuna. We then decided to move to the Horseshoe (Rig) area to fish for amberjack. We immediately caught a Spanish mackerel (eight pounds) on a butterfly jig. We put the mackerel on a 13 0/0 hook and sent it back down. The bait sat there for five minutes.''
The Horseshoe Rigs are located in 300 to 400 feet of water. Directly in the middle of the rigs are salt domes that rise up a couple hundred feet from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
With the Spanish mackerel resting on top of a salt dome in 200 feet of water, the amberjack engulfed the bait and Wheeler settled in for a grueling 30 minute fight of a lifetime.
''It was amazing,'' Wheeler told WLOX News. "It was like hanging on to a freight train. At first, I thought it was a big shark because he would pull 100 yards of line off the reel and then sit there. I would pull some line back in and he would pull another 100 yards of line off the reel. Basically, I was holding on to the rod and one of us was going to have to give up. Thankfully, he gave up before I did. It put a major strain on my arms, back and legs. However, when he finally came up to the surface, it was beautiful.''
The amberjack took three men and two gaffs to land. The fish was officially weighed on certified scales at the Boardwalk Marina and documented by Matt Kasovich, Master Sergeant of Marine Patrol with the DMR.
''It's great to see someone break these big fish records,'' said Kasovich. ''You got to make them to break them.''
In all, the fish was just over 73 inches long and had a girth of 37 inches.
''It was a rush of a lifetime, and worth it all,'' Wheeler said. ''I'm still feeling the rush.''