Massive Bluefin Caught in Florida

A shakedown cruise resulted in the fish a lifetime for anglers fishing out of Destin, who boated the massive tuna while searching for marlin.
Bluefin tuna caught in Gulf of Mexico
This jaw-dropping bluefin tuna from the Gulf was caught aboard the Flat Dangerous out of Destin, Florida. Courtesy John Balters

An 80-foot Viking yacht, a network of fish-attracting structures, SONAR technology, and the last bait on the boat combined to help a group of Florida men catch the fish of a lifetime.

The six-person crew of the Flat Dangerous were just out for a shakedown cruise on April 24, and thought they would try for blue marlin in the Gulf waters off Destin, Florida. The shakedown was a good idea — the group lost three fish to old mono on their reels before re-spooling with fresh. The new stuff held up well enough for the crew to christen the boat with a massive 888-pound bluefin tuna.

“It took every single one of us to pull it into the boat,” said John Balters of Destin, a mate on the boat and sophomore at the University of Miami. “Once we got it in, there was just a bunch of cheering and photos. It was just incredible.”

Aboard were the boat’s owner, Warren Wlliamson, Capt. George Gill, first mate Eddy Griffith, friend Kole Melancon, Balters, and Dennis Bennett, who knows a bit about catching big tuna. Bennett had a hand in Rick Whitley’s 2017 catch of an 827-pound bluefin, the current Florida record. (The Flat Dangerous fish was fought by multiple anglers, disqualifying it from eligibility. The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record bluefin is 1,496 pounds, caught by Ken Fraser in Nova Scotia in 1979.)

Fish Aggregating Devices Produce Fish of a Lifetime

Bluefin tuna caught in Gulf of Mexico
After a couple missed chances, the crew aboard Flat Dangerous struck gold with this memorable bluefin tuna. Courtesy John Balters

Capt. Gill took the boat out to the Capt. Kelly Windes FAD Buoy Network, a string of fish aggregating devices installed in 2020 60 miles off the Destin-Fort Walton Beach area. The group began looking for blue marlin in about 2,000 feet of water at about 8:30 a.m. They caught small yellowfin, skipjack, and blackfin tuna, which went into the boat’s tuna tubes to stay frisky for the real fishing.

Soon Bennett, on the bridge with the captain, noticed marks on the sonar similar to those he saw back in 2017. It was time to get a bait in the water. “It gets maybe 30 yards behind the boat and probably about 20 feet under water, and I just see this huge flash in the water,” Balters said. But they barely had the first angler sat in the chair when the first fish was gone, hook and all.

The group swapped in another Shimano Tiagra 80 Wide reel and continued patrolling the FAD. Another mark, another bite, and then this fish too was gone. And then another. The anglers switched to a Shimano Talica 50 with fresh mono, caught another small tuna, and got a bite with an explosive rise in shallow water. But 30 minutes into that fight, “this one just pulled the hook. Nothing we could do on that one,” Balters said. He began to worry aloud: “We missed our shot. We had three hookups. That’s all God’s giving us.”

They were down to one blackfin tuna, and it wasn’t all that frisky after several hours in the tuna tube. The crew stripped one of the Tiagras and re-spooled with fresh line. Eventually, there was yet another mark in the fish-rich water around the FAD. In went the bait.

“It just kind of laid sideways,” Balters said. “I’m like, ‘Oh man, we’re not gonna get a bite.’” And soon after came a strike that “looked like someone dropped a car in the water.” This was the big one. “We’re having to follow him a little bit. He goes straight down and strips us of all the mono we had just put on and goes into our braided backing.”

Gulf bluefin tuna weigh in
At the scales, the bluefin tuna weighed a whopping 888 pounds. Courtesy John Balters

Perhaps an hour into the fight, the fish became entangled and died. Then began several hard hours of pulling the dead weight to the boat. The crew had to bend its fins flat along its body to get it to fit through the tuna door.

They got back to Destin after 9, welcomed by a small crowd of well-wishers, and got the triple eights on the scale at Boshamps Seafood and Oyster Bar. They saved the filleting for the morning.

“I was sore the next day for sure,” Balters said. “When it was all said and done, it was four huge tubs of just pure meat. It all went quickly, but probably all of Destin got some.”