Must be a nice snook, thought Luke Ledbetter of Boaz, Alabama, holding tight as line ripped from his spinning reel.
Suppose it could be a redfish, he concluded, upon seeing the broad headwake the fish pushed as it neared the boat.
A 3-foot seatrout? No way.
“I had no idea speckled trout got that big,” said Ledbetter, after Captain Peter Deeks of Merritt Island gently scooped up the trout with a homemade, sling-style landing net.
With the trout cradled beside the boat, Deeks took measurements. Growing up and guiding on the Space Coast, Deeks knows a truly big trout when he sees one.
“Every so often we’ll catch a fish that really impresses me, and this one did,” said Deeks, who runs Native Sons Fishing Guides. “I’ve caught longer fish before, but the girth on this one was just incredible.”
The trout taped out at 34.25 inches, or 87 centimeters. The International Game Fish Association’s record for length currently stands at 79 centimeters. Pending approval, Ledbetter’s spotted seatrout will be recognized by the IGFA’s new All-Tackle Length record program, which awards catches based on length rather than weight and requires that fish be released alive and in good health.
They kept the fish out of the water for just moments to measure it and snap a few photos. They did not weigh it, but Deeks estimates the trout weighed about 14 pounds.
“The largest trout I’ve ever weighed was a 33-inch trout that was 13.9 pounds, but this one was even fatter,” Deeks said. “But I hate weighing them, hate hanging them by the jaw. They’re really sensitive fish.”
After documenting the catch, Deeks immediately called the IGFA to report the catch.
“I knew it was a big trout, but it didn’t register in my mind how special it was until Peter made that phone call,” Ledbetter said. “It was euphoric knowing I may have caught a world record.”
Before catching the big girl, Ledbetter and his father had each released a 6-pound trout and some jack crevalle. They were free-lining live mullet over a waist-deep Indian River Lagoon flat, peppered with sandy potholes and seagrass.
“We weren’t even supposed to go fishing that day,” said Ledbetter, an ordained minister with a passion for helping people overcome drug and alcohol addictions. “We were in town to take our kids to Disney, and Peter had a cancellation. God allowed us to go on that trip and it wasn’t by chance we got on a boat with a man named Peter.”
Naturally, Deeks would rather not divulge the exact location of the catch, but he says the stretch of IRL between Melbourne Beach and Fort Pierce has produced well for him all season.
“The trout fishing is really coming back in our area lately,” said the 29-year-old Deeks, who started guiding eight years ago after graduating with a biology degree from Rollins College. “There was a period after that freeze in 2010 when it was tough to find trout of any size. Now we’re seeing piles of fish in the 14- to 17-inch range like we did when I was a kid. A few years ago it was tough to find a 6- or 7-pound trout, but my clients have been catching 8-pound fish nearly every trip for the past two months.”
He’s not telling fish tales. Deeks’ Facebook page is chock full of his clients’ trophy trout snapshots and plenty of pictures of his other inshore favorites, big snook and tarpon.
“I think this record will stand for a while,” Deeks said. “It’s the biggest trout I’ve ever seen.”
For big IRL seatrout, Deeks fishes live baits almost exclusively.
“They’re pretty smart and don’t respond well to artificials,” he said. “I like mullet best, but we’ll get them on pilchards and pigfish, too. The bigger the pigfish, the bigger the trout.”