Billy Hodge knew the cobia he caught last month was unnaturally large from the moment he pulled it aboard his boat.
A boat captain for 13 years, the largest cobia he'd ever caught before was 79 pounds. But on May 9, he hooked a fish that fought for nearly an hour and a half, broke a line and took a Herculean effort to get into the boat. It weighed 103 pounds, as measured on a scale at the Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head Island, Hodge said.
It was heavy enough to smash the state record, a 92-pound cobia caught by Robby Maroudas off Hilton Head in 2009. However, because of a state holiday and S.C. Department of Natural Resources regulations, the huge fish won't become a state record, costing Hodge a $10,000 prize.
Hodge caught the cobia while fishing May 9 with his fiancè, Savannah Scott. He already had caught a 55-pound cobia when the 103-pounder hit for the first time and broke one of his lines.
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But the fish struck another line, and the fight ensued. When Hodge finally brought it to the side of his boat, the fish still had enough fight in it to yank the gaff from his hand and into the water. Hodge had to jump into the water to retrieve the gaff before continuing the battle with the fish. Hodge, a former college football player, said the cobia was so big he struggled to hoist it into the boat.
Chris Saggiotes, the harbormaster at Palmetto Bay Marina, measured and weighed the fish a few hours later. At more than 64 inches long and 103 pounds, it easily eclipsed the state-record cobia. Hodge said the fish was not kept on ice while he was out fishing, allowing some of the water to "bleed out" in the heat. He said it might have weighed as much as 119 pounds when he pulled it from the water.
The fish won't be considered a state record, however. To qualify, the catch must be weighed and measured on DNR-certified scales, according to Waddell Mariculture Center director and DNR employee Al Stokes.
Hodge said he tried to call the DNR offices to arrange a weigh-in, but they were closed May 9 for Confederate Memorial Day.
Because the fish's weight and measurements were never certified, Hodge not only is denied a spot in the record books, he cannot claim the $10,000 reward for breaking a DNR-recognized record.
Stokes said Hodge could have called the 24-hour hotline or the Waddell Mariculture Center in greater Bluffton and would have been able to get someone to take a measurement, but it would have required a two-hour trip to do so. The closest certified scales are in Charleston, so DNR is working to get a set of scales at the mariculture center, he said.
Hodge was disappointed to miss out on the record, but he has the pictures and stories to prove his record catch, which he cleaned and ate.
"I've been fishing since I was 5 years old," he said. "It was the craziest day fishing in my life."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.