Scan your eye down the list of Mississippi's Saltwater Sportfishing Records, and there in the angler column, about two-thirds down the list, you'll find the name of insurance broker John Bullock.
He holds the record for the state's largest red snapper. The date: Aug. 24, 1995. The weight: 37 pounds, 11.2 ounces.
The incident was one to remember, as the method of capture was most unorthodox. The fish floated up onto the underside of the boat. When it finally appeared in the open water, Bullock dived in and gaffed it himself.
What else can you expect from a broker with expertise in insuring marine risks? But Bullock tells it best, casting his memory back to Aug. 23, 1995, when the adventure all began.
"I had some politicians down and they wanted to go on a charter, and a friend of mine chartered a boat," he says. "It's one of those terribly rough days. And I told these guys, 'Guys, y'all don't want to go fish today. It's going to be horrible out there.' "
He fell on deaf ears. "Oh, yes, they want to go," he says. "They want to get up at 6 a.m., they're hard-chargers."
And so they're off, in Bullock's 48-foot custom sport-fishing boat. As the boat approached the farewell buoy to Mississippi Sound signaling the arrival of the vessel into the Gulf, Bullock once again tried to convince his passengers to turn back.
"I said, 'Listen, guys, we turn around now, and you don't owe me a penny.' "
" 'Oh, no, we want to go! We want to go.' "
The boat ploughed on into 10-foot seas.
"So we go pounding out there. And I'm up on top. I'm used to it. It doesn't bother me. I've fished all my life in rougher stuff than that. And so, I'm going about 10 miles to the first wreck, which is a sunk boat. By the time I get here, I look back, and there's one guy left."
Everyone else was sick in the cabin. Bullock circled the pitching boat around the wreck, a prime fishing spot. The remaining fisherman drops his line into the water.
"He drops down, and I see his rod is rising. I said, 'Hey, you getting a bite?' He looks up at me, and he just goes. . . . He just lets his rod go and he gets sick."
"So, my deckhand gets the rod, and he goes, 'They're all out.' ?
THE SUDDEN CURE
Pressing out another 10 miles to an oil rig, Bullock decided to tie up the boat. On the second try, Bullock catches a 25-pound red snapper. That was enough to capture the attention of people in the cabin.
"One guy comes out and says, 'Man, I've never seen anything that big,' " says Bullock.
There are only two cures for sea-sickness, Bullock says--land and death. "And now it's land and death and catching a big fish, because now they are all healed."
Excitement mounting, Bullock dropped the line once more. "I get halfway down and I stop."
"And everybody says, 'Dang, what have you got.' "
"I said, 'I got one twice as big as that.' So I'm pumping and pumping. In about 15 minutes, I get him up to the boat."
Instead of floating out into the water, the fish rose up underneath the boat. Bullock pulled even harder. So hard, in fact, that the hook came out.
"I start cursing. I mean, I'm making up curse words," says Bullock. "I put my rod down, and I'm kind of walking around (like) I'm going to get a water. I look out, and there he is, floating on top of the water. His swim bladder came out so he can't go back down, so I grab the gaff and I get on the back of the boat and I'm thinking of jumping in."
"My deckhand grabs me by my shorts, pulls my wallet out and pushes me in. So I'm going over with the gaff, and I hit the water. I say I'm going to stay under water because I didn't want to swim away. So I stay under, and I'm swimming and swimming and I look up and I swear to God, he was from here to here, he had his gill out.
"I gaffed him, and I start swimming back to the boat. These guys get video cameras out. It was crazy. I'm swimming back. We get it in, and finally they get me back in. And now they're all fishing. We've got this great catch."
The next day, the fishing party back at shore has the fish weighed on official scales.
"I go in there, and we weigh the sucker and blow the record out and take it to the marine biologist, because we had to get it certified."
Because the fish had been sitting on ice for 24 hours, Bullock says the real weight of the animal would have been closer to 40 pounds. Experts estimated the snapper to be nearly 30 years old, he also says.
But that's not quite the end of the story. The incident was reported on the sports wire, and newspapers from Philadelphia, Miami, Dallas and Chicago called Bullock wanting to talk. Syndicated radio talk-show host Paul Harvey broadcasted the news.
April 15, 2007
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