He brought it up a month later. He had been thinking about it, as I had, and had some ideas on how it could be done. We talked to friends of ours who had experience with goliath grouper and we were always answered with “It can’t be done.” I searched the internet for any videos or forum posts of anyone who had done it, and found none. Soon after, Jim and I started to say, “We’re gonna try”.
One of the main problems we thought about was leverage. When we watched footage of big goliath hooked using a rod, the leverage belonged to the fish and the angler usually had to rest the rod on the side of the boat or had help lifting the rod from another angler. In a kayak, there would be no help so, in theory, the fish would just turn the kayak over. Also, there would be nothing to keep the fish from dragging the kayak, angler and all, into the pilings and under water. Neither of us wanted this to be overly dangerous so we thought of alternatives.
One of the things we decided on fairly quickly was the kayak. We both use Hobie “Pro Angler” kayaks, which are exceedingly stable and buoyant craft. This would help gain some advantage over more slender kayaks. Another solution was to use a handline on the goliath. This is a viable and tested method used by many anglers. It may help overcome some of the leverage disadvantage we were facing as well. We also decided we needed a safety boat. Until we knew what damage these fish were capable of visiting upon our plastic craft, we had to err on the side of caution. Now that we had a plan, we were ready.
Enter Captain Ben Chauncey. Ben is a renowned goliath grouper guide and the Host of Chew on This, a television show about pushing the limits of angling. Ben has more knowledge about landing big goliath grouper than anyone else out there. Jim had been talking to Ben about our plan for a few months, trying to fine tune some ideas. Finally, the day came when Ben said, “Let’s do it tomorrow,” and the waiting was over.
Jim and I met on the Sanibel Causeway. We were both excited and a little hesitant. We had no idea what to expect as Ben arrived on his boat with the camera boat close behind. We made our way over to the bridge span where we began to prepare for this mammoth undertaking. Jim was our guinea pig. He tied off his kayak to the back of Ben’s boat. This was for several reasons. The current around the bridge is fairly strong and it would be impossible to keep the kayak in place in front of the pilings. Also, we predicted the goliath would quickly pull the kayak into the pilings, and possibly under. If this happened, at the very least we could recover the kayak. The rope would also be used to pull Jim and the fish back to the boat so the fish could be tagged and released properly.
Once everything was in place, Jim took possession of the 30ft handline rope fitted with a gaff hook. Ben baited the hook with a large live jack crevalle and the bait was placed in the water. It didn’t take long for the rope to shudder, and then tighten. There was a fish on that quickly, and Jim furiously pulled on the rope to set the hook. It was a miss, as the goliath dropped the hook before it could be set. This happened a couple more times, and we were beginning to think that setting the hook would be impossible. Jim tossed another bait out and I paddled a little closer. I said, “This is the one buddy - get ready.” The line shuddered and began to tighten. Jim waited a little longer than he had before, and then pulled hard. “Fish on!” he yelled as the hook found its mark. Ben hit the gas and the boat lurched forward, pulling Jim from the pilings. Jim was hauling on the rope like a madman to get the fish to the surface. Suddenly there was a splash, and there it was. Jim had landed an approximately 120lb goliath grouper on a handline from a kayak!
After some cheering and high-fiving, we moved in to take pictures. Ben tagged the big fish and released it. We discussed the catch and refined the plan. Jim noted that he had control of the fish, and didn’t feel threatened. We decided we would not use the boat to pull him out and see what happened. We would still keep the kayak tethered for obvious safety reasons, but Jim would be on his own against the next fish.
This time, there were no missed hookups. Jim set the hook, and it was very different. The line ripped through his unprotected hands as he struggled to gain control. At first, the kayak was pulled toward the pilings, but the strong current hitting the face of the concrete pushed him back off. As Jim pulled the rope in hand over hand, the mighty fish would pull it back. This went on for what seemed like a lifetime. Suddenly, the goliath gave in. Jim hoisted him to the top of the water, and its giant head shook violently. This was truly a goliath. Ben estimated this fish at over 300lbs! This big fish was also tagged and released after a round of picture taking to commemorate the event.
This was the first time a goliath grouper over 100lbs had been landed on a kayak. Jim did it twice in a matter of less than an hour! That evening, we released our news over various social media outlets. Most people were astounded by the pictures and video. This was a truly momentous event and it was a pleasure to be a part of it. I join the kayak fishing community in congratulating Jim on accomplishing what no one else thought was possible.