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Angler Shatters Delaware Kingfish Record While Fishing for Sharks

"I grabbed the rod and the fish was fast and heavy. The whole time I thought it was a shark"
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Jeff McCoy and his wife Jen hold up the state-record kingfish. Courtesy Jeff McCoy

On July 20, Pennsylvania angler Jeff McCoy went shark fishing with his wife and in-laws off the Delaware coast. He ended up catching a giant king mackerel, also known as a kingfish, that crushed a 31-year-old state record. The kingfish weighed 52 pounds, 11.2 ounces, and measured 56 inches long with a 24-inch girth.   

McCoy, who owns a home in Millsboro, keeps his 25-foot boat, The Reel McCoy, at the Indian River Marina, near where the Indian River spills into the Atlantic Ocean. Launching the boat that morning, he brought along his wife Jen, along with her father Dennis Boas, mother Linda Boas, and brother Jeff Boas.

“My father-in-law wanted something big to catch that day, so I decided we’d target sharks,” McCoy tells Outdoor Life. “We got a late start and had trouble catching bait. So, we bought some frozen Boston mackerel baits at Hook ‘em & Cook ‘em Bait & Tackle, near where I keep my center console boat. Then we headed offshore about 10 a.m.”

They ran about six miles offshore and then headed south along the coast. McCoy headed straight for Fenwick Shoal, which is a large underwater ridge with reefs that hold baitfish.

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“The Shoal shallows up to about 20 feet and is a good fishing spot,” he says. “We anchored there and put out baits. I also put out a couple chump pots to attract sharks.”

McCoy ran the baits back in the current about 100 to 150 yards, using small balloons as bobbers to keep them close to the surface. The rods were paired with Penn 50W reels spooled with 80-pound test and tipped with 4-foot-long wire leaders to keep sharks from chewing through the line.

Dennis caught and released a small sand shark within a few minutes. McCoy then ran one of their lines farther behind the boat using an outrigger. Not much happened over the next 45 minutes, until something hammered the outrigger bait and started peeling line off he reel.

“I grabbed the rod, and the fish was fast and heavy,” McCoy says. “The whole time I thought it was a shark.”

He nearly lost the fish 15 minutes into the fight, when his line got wrapped around the boat’s anchor rope. His brother-in-law acted quickly, hauling up the rope and cutting out the wrapped section.

“He tied the anchor line back together and tossed over the piece of fouled rope with the fishing line,” McCoy says. “It was a miracle the line didn’t break around that anchor rope.”

The fish made a few more long runs and then began to tire as McCoy worked it near the boat. But he still wasn’t sure to make of it.

“It came by about five feet down and I saw that it wasn’t a shark, but it was so big I thought it was a wahoo,” he says. “I turned the fish, and Jeff grabbed our gaff, hit it, and hoisted the fish into the boat.”

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Back at the marina, McCoy stands next to the 52 pound, 11.2-ounce kingfish; McCoy's application for the state record. Courtesy Jeff McCoy

McCoy knew the kingfish was a giant when it hit the deck. But it was hot out, and he didn’t have any ice on board because they planned to catch-and-release sharks all day. So they reeled up and made the 20-mile run back to the marina to keep the meat from spoiling.

When they got back to the shop where they’d bought bait that morning, the owner told McCoy it was the biggest kingfish he’d ever seen. He figured it could be a state record.

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They carefully weighed the fish on certified scales while they looked up the Delaware kingfish record online. After seeing that McCoy’s fish outweighed the previous state record (set in 1992) by more than four pounds, they contacted officials with the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Wildlife officers inspected the fish and helped McCoy with his record application, which has since been accepted by the state.

McCoy says he’s having a replica mount made of the state-record kingfish. This means he was still able to fillet the fish and share the meat with others.

“We took those fillets back to our Delaware home and passed them all around to my neighbors and friends. It was delicious.”