When he shoved off the dock June 10, 2017, Daryl Johnson was looking forward to a day spent fishing with his friend. He had no idea what was in store for him. Just after daylight, Daryl and his fishing partner, Jason Cornelius, left the beach house Daryl had rented on Dauphin Island and motored toward their favorite fishing spot. Along the way, something told the two lifelong Alabama anglers to change plans, and stop and throw topwater plugs parallel to the island’s airstrip. Maybe it was the knowledge that this well-known rock and oyster shell bottom creates a perfect trout habitat. Maybe it was divine intervention. Either way, Daryl and Jason cut the engine, put their trolling motor overboard and began to quietly troll alongside the vacant airstrip.
Bait showering and slicks on top of the water let the two anglers know they had made a good decision to stop short of their intended destination. Jason sent out the first cast with a bone-colored Rapala Skitterwalk, and it landed among the showering bait. Daryl followed, casting a pink Skitterwalk. Almost immediately, an enormous fish erupted on Jason’s bait. The excitement was short-lived. After a few seconds, the fish was off. The hit had tangled the bait in Jason’s main line, as so often large treble hooks do on a topwater bait, so he reeled in to untangle. “We don’t know if that first fish to hit Jason’s lure was the same fish I hooked or not,” said Daryl. “I kept working my bait back towards the boat and then something that sounded like a five-gallon bucket being dumped into the water hit it.” Line immediately began stripping from the reel and both anglers knew Daryl had tied into a large fish.
Pulling hard in the way a big redfish normally does, the fish started to work its way back to the boat. Daryl told Jason to grab the net “just in case.” Working its way to the stern, the big fish made a showing that sent both anglers’ jaws to the deck. The fish was a speckled trout unlike anything the duo had ever hooked. “It looked like a silver 2×12 just under the surface,” said Daryl. Daryl screamed at Jason to get the net, and he credits his friend for remaining calm. “Jason knew not to rush it.” Jason leaned over the side of the boat, and placed the net just under the head of the massive speck. “One half of the fish was in the net and one half was hanging out,” said Daryl. “He lifted the fish and went straight into the cooler with it.” Both anglers sat down on the cooler looking at each other in disbelief.
After catching their breath, the fishermen opened the cooler and stood in awe of a speck the size that neither, most likely, will ever see again. With no scales on the boat to weigh the fish, they estimated it at more than seven, maybe even eight pounds. It didn’t matter how big it was. Daryl and Jason wanted to celebrate, so they headed back to the boat ramp.
The early start gave way to quite a long day. Weigh-in for a tournament Daryl was fishing in wasn’t until five that evening. After a long day of anticipation, the time arrived to see how the fish measured up. The speckled trout was an impressive 30 and 1/8 inches long, with a girth of 15 inches. Placed on certified scales at the tournament, the monster speck tallied an unbelievable 9.22 pounds. “No one could believe how big this thing was,” said Daryl. The speck was the clear winner, with the second place fish looking like something Daryl’s trophy fish would have eyed for dinner.
Most any angler who has caught the fish of a lifetime understands the bittersweet feeling that comes from the experience. On one hand, you know that you’ve been blessed with an exceptional catch. On the other hand, you know that you might not get an experience like it again. Either way, Daryl said it’s a gift he’ll always remember. “The only thing left to do is decide who is going to put this one on the wall.”
Boat: Mako Bay 22
Motor: 225HP Mercury
Reel: Abu Garcia 5500 C3
Lure: Rapala Skitterwalk in Pink