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Floundzilla Hear A Whopping Tale About One Whopper Of A Fish


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FLOUNDZILLA Hear a Whopping Tale About One Whopper of a Fish

Wade Hastings will tell you flat out: "There's no way I should have caught that fish."

Instead, he credits fate or providence. He talks of ripped nets, fishing alone, big pilings, sharp barnacles and a fish that "could have run to Sister's Creek and waved hello if she'd wanted to."

But despite all that, Hastings whipped a flounder that buried the 15-pound scale on his Boga Grip in the boat that day and ended up dragging the tournament scale to 16.16 pounds.

Hastings was fishing Oct. 14 in a Florida Lure Anglers flounder tournament held out of the Vilano Beach boat ramp in St. Augustine. His Team Trek Safari fishing partner, Scott O'Brien, had a conflict, leaving Hastings alone in the boat, but the two had worked out a detailed plan.

"Scott has a way with boats and tides," Hastings said. He fished the game plan they had devised - "what part of the tide to be where."

The plan was to leave St. Augustine and make the 75-minute run back north to Jacksonville. Hastings fished Mill Cove, Broward Creek, Chicopit Bay - never out of sight of Blount Island. Everything was working - but the game plan.

"I fished my rear end off," Hastings said, but didn't have bites by 1 p.m.

He was out of fishing spots to hit, and running out of time and luck as well. With the high side of two hours left until the weigh- in, and over an hour's ride to get there, Hastings' options were closing down fast.

But a former fishing partner, Randy Padgett, had told him about another spot where he'd had some luck. Ten minutes later, Hastings was working his 17-foot Action Craft into a tight, 10-foot "hole" between a barge and the pilings at Atlantic Dry Dock.

Hastings flipped a root beer-colored Gulp jerkbait pinned to a quarter-ounce Jaw Jacker jig under the dock. He felt the tentative tap of a flounder and brought up a 13-incher. The second cast resulted in another just like it. In a couple of minutes, he had brought a 10-inch flounder to the boat and released it.

"I was feeling a little better," he said. "At least it looked like I'd have something to weigh in."

Hastings pitched the jerkbait once more and brought it back directly under the boat, where he bounced it vertically a couple of times.

The lure stopped.

Hastings felt another tap and lightly lifted the rod. He thought he felt the head-shake of a flounder. He lifted again and thought he felt the heavy head-shake of a big flounder. When he set the hook, "it felt like a boot," he said - all dead weight. Hooking old dock lines left on the bottom or wads of monofilament feels the same way.

But just then, the "boot" took off, headed for the pilings. Matched against a medium weight Loomis GLX spinning rod, a Daiwa Sol 2500 reel and 14-pound Stren super braid, the fish could have ended the fight right there. Sixteen pounds of mad flounder, big eyes bulging in tandem and bull-dogging toward a barnacle-encrusted concrete pier isn't something an angler can usually whoa-up.

Hastings said he had no choice but to palm the spool, snub the line off and hope for the best. And somehow, the fish stopped and turned back toward the boat. Now Hastings was into the fray with a slim but fighting chance to whip whatever it was on the other end of his line in eight feet of water.

The fish took him around the boat. It was about this time that workers on the dry dock noticed the earnest ballet onboard.

"Seems like the whole dock put down their air hammers and spray guns, and came over to watch the show," Hastings said.

And here's a coincidence. One of those workers was his old partner, Padgett, who had told him to fish that spot in the first place.

Around that time, Hastings received a first glimpse of the fish.

There are a number of things that can hit and pull like that. A stingray is the most aggravating and frequent impersonator of a big flounder. So the first sighting of that broad, dotted back had to be an epiphany for Hastings.

"That fish has got to be 10 pounds," he said to himself. And I'll wager that there was a quieter whisper leaving his lips in that moment too.

Chances are, it started something like this: "Lord, I know we haven't spoken a lot lately, but ..."

The fish stayed on the hook, despite all the ways it might not have - including the fact a flounder that big has teeth that can make short work of a mono leader.

It was about the time the flounder was wearing down that Hastings remembered the new landing net he had won in a tournament last month. It had blown off the boat a week or so prior, but Hastings had his old backup net, which was recently ripped. However, he had tied a knot in it.

Hastings said the fish wouldn't fit in the net sideways. He had to turn it parallel to the flounder, and "all of a sudden, she just swam in." He didn't know just how big the fish was, but it became clearer when he lifted it out of the water.

"I just freaked," he said. So did the workers on the dock.

But the story isn't over yet. It now was about 1:25 p.m., the weigh-in was 50 miles and 75 minutes away, and Hastings was out of gas. But he fixed that, and, with the help of a falling tide and a 20-mph northeast wind at his back, made it to the weigh-in on time running 47 knots, bell to bell.

On the ride back, Hastings had figured it all out. He would sandbag at the weigh-in, pulling the 13-inchers out first and then Floundzilla. But by the time he reached the boat ramp, the story of the big fish had preceded him. It seems that guys on dry docks carry cell phones and aren't afraid to use them.

The International Game Fish Association doesn't keep records on the Southern Flounder by line class, but what most fishing guys will tell you is this: Hastings' fish likely is the biggest ever caught on an artificial lure.

But here might be the best part of this tale. In one significant way, this story is just beginning.

I asked Hastings how the fillets looked on a fish that measured 32 inches long, 16 inches across and 4 inches thick.

"I released her," he quietly replied. "Somebody else should experience that, too."

And with the traits of survival, size and savvy she has locked into her genetically turbo-charged mix of DNA, it might be that the fish will leave behind a brood stock of whopper baby flounder. The implications of that will be infinitely more important to her species than our own.

Wade Hastings gave her that chance. He won more than a tournament that day.

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