WASHINGTON — Dan Dillon was 13 hours into a recreational fishing trip off the coast of Delaware on Friday night when a sharp tug jolted his arms.
Under the glare of a spotlight on the charter boat's bridge, he could see a monstrous, dark mass slinking under the surface of the Atlantic.
For the next 1 ½ hours, Dillon fought and gave and pulled until he hauled in the largest tuna caught in Delaware: 873 pounds of bluefin, 9 feet, 7 inches long and more than 6 feet in girth. It beat the state record by more than 500 pounds.
"I'm just a casual fisherman who got lucky," said Dillon, 39, an executive for a suburban real-estate-services company who goes fishing two or three times a year.
Reeling in the fish, Dillon said, was strenuous and systematic. At first, the tuna swam under the boat, almost snapping the 80-pound test monofilament line. Several times the fish took off, trying to break free.
When that happens, Dillon said, fishermen let their catch swim, making sure to keep the line tight. When the fish tires and slows, that's when fishermen pull, and that's what Dillon did.
Dillon, at 6 feet, 2 inches and 270 pounds, said he felt well-suited to the task. But several times, his boat mates had to keep him from being dragged overboard, he said.
Once Dillon had brought the tuna close to the boat, the Captain Ike II, skipper David Collins said the fish would have to be shot, Dillon said. Because of its size, having it onboard alive could have been dangerous.
It took six men two hours to haul the tuna onto the boat using pulleys and ropes.
Don Klein, president of the Indian River Boating Association, a Delaware fishing club that runs tournaments and advocates for wildlife in the area, said Dillon's catch was a once-in-a-lifetime event. The old record of 322 pounds for a tuna was set in 1992.
What makes this catch unusual, Klein said, is that large tuna rarely venture so far south. Toward Maine, where the water is cooler, tuna can grow to more than 1,000 pounds, he said.
The largest bluefin tuna ever caught was a 1,496-pound fish caught off Nova Scotia in 1979, according to the International Game Fish Association.
Saturday, after spending $400 to fillet the bluefin, Dillon and his family tossed part of it on the grill. The rest is in the freezer.
The delectability of the fish matched its size, Dillon said. "When you catch it yourself, it has a special flavor to it."
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