While fishing in the deep waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound on July 28, charter captain Keith DeGraff landed a shortraker rockfish for the record books. The giant fish unofficially outweighed the current International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world record, and it’s set to become the official Alaska state record as soon as the required paperwork is filed with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADFG). 

DeGraff was fishing with his fiancée, Betsey Wilson, and a group of friends when he hooked into the record rockfish at a depth of about 1,000 feet. Despite the amount of line he had out, the fish pulled out drag, leading him to believe he’d hooked a halibut. “I was upset at first,” DeGraff told Field & Stream. “I can catch halibut in shallow water all day. I don’t have to fish 1,000-feet deep to target them like I do with rockfish.” 

His disappointment turned to excitement, however, when he finally brought the rockfish to the surface at the end of an intense 14-minute battle. “It was the biggest rockfish I’d ever seen,” he said.

And it may have been the biggest shortraker rockfish the world has ever seen. On the scale at the remote lodge where DeGraff and his party were staying, the fish weighed a whopping 48 pounds. The IGFA world record shortraker rockfish, caught by Angelo Sciubba in 2017 near Glacier Bay National Park, weighed 44.1 pounds. 

Prioritizing untainted meat over records, DeGraff bled the fish before he could get it to an IGFA-certified scale. When he did get it on the scales three days later, its overall weight had been reduced to 42.4 pounds. According to DeGraff, the IGFA wouldn’t have recognized his catch anyway, since he used a rod holder during the fight. “Because I thought it was a halibut, I didn’t want to fight it out of the rod holder,” he said. “As soon as I threw it in the rod holder, that immediately disqualified it from setting a world record.”

But the fish is still likely to take the Alaska state record once the required paperwork is filed. Henry Liebman of Seattle held the previous state record of 39.1 pounds. DeGraff said he caught the fish on a homemade rig, combining a custom-built rod with an Avet 2-speed 3/0 reel with 80-pound braid. He was fishing aboard the Salmon Shark, which he chartered from Matt Kopec of Whittier Marine.

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“To me, this is as good as a world record because these fish aren’t fished for anywhere else,” said DeGraff, who believes that rockfish is the best eating fish he’s had anywhere in the country. “I’m not a member of the IGFA. I don’t necessarily care about records. But I’ve been specifically targeting these fish as a professional guide for the better part of 8 years. I just happened to catch a big one that day. It was by no means an accident.” 

Shortraker is one of 33 rockfish species in Alaska. They dwell 500 to 1,500 feet deep along the state’s continental shelf. According to NOAA Fisheries, rockfish can live up to 120 years and are believed to be the longest-lived fish in the northeast Pacific. DeGraff sent one of his record shortraker’s otolith ear bones to the ADFG to get an age estimate—and he’s having a necklace made out of the other one for his fiancée.