The Quinn family booked a deep-sea trip with Fish Trap Charters in Orange Beach, Alabama, on March 28. Captain Billy Neff (right, with Fish Trap Charters owner, Captain Al Keahl, center, and deckhand Kelly Collins, left) took the Quinns to the Trysler Grounds, a popular fishing spot 20 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.
Joining 8-year-old Andrew and his father were his three brothers, Josh, 15; Matt, 13; and Zach, 9; and their grandfather, Ed Quinn. Everyone had a bottom-fishing rod, and a driftline baited with pinfish trailed 300 yards off the stern. “The crew told us we would catch the bigger fish on the driftline, and that we had to decide among ourselves who was going to grab the driftline rod first.” Always competitive, the four brothers played a game of rock-paper-scissors to determine the fishing order.
Andrew drew the third slot and watched as his oldest brother, Josh, caught a 30-pound king mackerel. Brother Matt hooked a blackfin tuna. Next it was Andrew’s turn.
Dave Quinn says the family fishes for bass, walleye and northern pike at home in Michigan. The Quinns made one other deep-sea fishing trip, in Florida in 2010, but Andrew didn’t go. His biggest fish ever was a 21-inch pike. But as cries of “Fish on!” rang out, Andrew’s personal best was about to get a serious upgrade.
The Fish Trap crew told Andrew that the king mackerel is nicknamed “the smoker,” and he soon found out why. “It started running and the deckhand yelled to the captain, ‘Back up, he’s about to spool me,'” Andrew says. Yet the fish ran so long and hard that deckhand Kelly Collins thought it was something else. “He yelled, ‘Shark!'” Andrew says. “I thought it was a shark.”
“The deckhand let Andrew do his thing and talked him through it,” Dave Quinn says of the 30-minute fight to land the fish. “Toward the end he was getting tired. He was having a hard time keeping his pole up, and the deckhand encouraged him, told him he had to keep tension on the line. He had a hand on Andrew’s shirt to keep him from falling in, and briefly one hand on the pole, but Andrew did all the reeling.”
Once Andrew had worked the fish closer to the boat, Captain Neff got a clean look and thought it was a wahoo. “It was too big to be a king,” Neff told the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. As the fish got nearer the surface, he was amazed that it was indeed a king mackerel–and alarmed at how the fish was hooked. “It was hooked right at the end of his nose and the wire leader was wrapped around the inside of his mouth,” Neff recalls. “When I saw that, I said, ‘Oh, geez, there’s no way we’re going to get this fish.'”
On the first two passes the crew held their breath as the fish stayed too far away to gaff. “On the third pass, the fish finally got within reach and we stuck it and dragged it straight into the boat and into the cooler,” Neff says. “It wouldn’t fit in the cooler; it was sticking two feet out.”
Andrew missed the fish’s headfirst arrival on deck. “He let go of the pole and headed for the front of the boat,” Dave Quinn laughs. Andrew hadn’t forgotten the crew’s early guess that the fish might be a shark. “I was afraid I was going overboard, because it scared me. I was scared it was going to bite me when I saw all the teeth.”
The party fished for another half hour, with brother Zachary catching another king mackerel, before heading back. When The Fish Trap got within cell phone range of land, Neff started calling around to check the state record. He learned that the biggest king in the Alabama book was a 67-pound, 15-ounce fish caught by Michael Kirchler in 2002.
Back at the charter office at Zeke’s Marina in Orange Beach, they weighed Andrew’s mackerel at 68 pounds, 3 ounces. “We went to whooping and hollering,” Neff says, “and I called Marine Resources immediately to come verify the catch.”
Neff says the fish probably weighed more than 68lb. – 3oz. when caught. “Two feet of the fish were sitting in the sun drying out. We couldn’t close the lid to the cooler.” In any case, the crew iced the catch, preventing the fish from losing any more weight before Karon Aplin, a biologist with the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, arrived to certify the catch. Aplin confirmed the weight at 68 lbs. – 3 oz. and measured the length at 59 ¼ inches at the fork and the girth at 27 ¾ inches. Aplin, who identified the king as a female, was also given the head to study. “We made a slice of the fish’s ear stones, or otoliths, and early estimates put its age at 14 years,” Aplin says.
Though it tops Kirchler’s king by 4 ounces, Andrew Quinn’s catch will officially be listed as a tie for the state record. Aplin says that Alabama rules are less stringent than International Game Fish Association rules in some regards, but do follow the IGFA requirement that fish 25 pounds or heavier must beat the standing record by at least ½ of one percent to claim the record outright. Andrew’s king would have had to weigh 68 pounds, 4.5 ounces to meet that standard. At 68 pounds, 3 ounces, it’s 1.5 ounces short.
Back home in Scottville, Andrew Quinn has all the excitement he can handle. His spring break story was the hit of second grade show-and-tell. He’s been interviewed in several newspapers and made an appearance on the local TV news. But the biggest thrill, says his father, was more immediate. “What really impressed him that day was that he beat his brothers,” Dave Quinn says. “He caught the biggest fish. Of course the four brothers are always having competitions, and being the youngest and smallest he is usually last. But not this time.” On this magical March day in the Gulf of Mexico, little brother came in first.
_Andrew Quinn, a spirited Michigan second-grader who wrestles in the 77-pound weight class at his school, is no stranger to grappling with heavyweight foes.
But even Andrew almost met his match when he hooked this 5-foot king mackerel during a deep sea fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico in late March. At the end of a 30-minute fight, Andrew had just enough strength left to boat the giant king, which weighed 68 pounds, 3 ounces–a touch lighter than Andrew but 4 ounces heavier than the current Alabama state record._