Tournament-record Warsaw Grouper in Sarasota, Fla. slam

More than 35 years ago, the world record 436-pound 12-ounce Warsaw grouper was brought down to the port of Destin, Florida. In the years since, few fish have come close to breaking the record, but captains like Nick Froelich believe the biggest are found in the Gulf of Mexico.

“There are absolutely bigger Warsaw groupers. There are some who must be absolutely crazy, 600 pounds or more,” Froelich said.

“I think we hung them that big, but at that size you can’t do much. Everything would have to go perfectly to get this fish. And now with better gear, faster boats, more fuel, better electronics…I think the fish will soon be caught.

Froelich and the Double Nickel team went in search of a real Gulf monster during the Sarasota Slam from Marina Jack. When the boats left on Thursday afternoon August 5, storms lined the coast and westerly winds had Gulf seas between 3 and 5 feet. Staying Safe Froelich turned his 40-foot catamaran south into the intercoastal, heading towards Sanibel before heading west.

“From there we traveled 160 miles. The first night we went fishing for swordfish, but there wasn’t much going on, it was slow and we didn’t catch any,” recalls Froelich. “In the morning, we went to 660 feet to fish a big structure.”

Down a jumbo 16/0, 1-2 pound lead hook on an accurate 50 pound test line with a 200 pound test line and 300 pound leader and custom rod, it didn’t take long for the big skipjack to be eaten.

But the first fish won the battle, smashing them on the structure.

They prepared another and closed in when it reached 660 feet below.

“By the time the bait hit bottom it was eaten. Joe Scaraville was on the bar and played a lot of drag early on. We had to pull that fish off the structure and once it was off, we could back up a bit.As soon as it was hooked we knew it was a big fish.

Scaraville remained in a standoff for almost an hour. It was gaining 10 feet and losing 15 at times, but the crew felt more confident as it was away from the structure. When it was 60 feet down, the pressure filled the Warsaw grouper and floated it to the surface. The crew saw the giant and excitement filled them all.

“We knew it was big, but we didn’t think it was that big. It took all seven of us to get it over the gunwale. We had gaffs and ropes everywhere. The boat also heeled under the weight of the fish. When it finally hit the deck, we couldn’t believe it.

Froelich took measurements and texted them through Garmin InReach. At 88 inches long and 74 inches wide, estimates had the fish weighing between 390 and 440 pounds.

On Saturday, the crew of Double Nickel were the first back to weigh in at the dock, but took their turn before stepping on the scales.

“We saw the other big fish and we knew ours was bigger, so we wanted to give everyone a chance to see it. It’s a lifelong fish, so we took our time,” said said Froelich.

The other great Warsaw was captured by Captain Tim Noe and the Knot Waste. At 320 pounds, he broke the previous tournament record.

But that record didn’t last long, because behind them, Froelich and the Double Nickel team put the weighing equipment to the test. When the scale settled, it showed a whopping 400 pounds.

The new tournament record would earn first place for the biggest Warsaw with a 14.6-pound snapper, Double Nickel, weighed in to win the snapper division as well.

While he may not have reached the world record, the new tournament record is one that may take some time to break.

This story was originally published August 13, 2021 1:14 p.m.

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