You might say Dr. J.J. Tabor has become somewhat of a giant grouper specialist — and he just beat his own record Friday when he reeled in a massive 383-pounder during the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo that once certified will likely became the state’s new No. 1-ranked Warsaw.
In fact, when his latest fish is approved by the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, the 34-year-old Baton Rouge surgeon will have personally reeled in four of the state’s Top 10 Warsaw grouper, including Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 10.
And if that’s not enough, four of the other Top 10-ranked Louisiana grouper were caught on his boat, The Double J, by other anglers.
“The first one we ever caught - the 277 - was completely on accident,” Tabor said Monday afternoon. “People hook these fish all the time, but they can’t get them out of the rig — that’s the biggest thing.
“They’re not very difficult to fish for as far as making them bite — it’s more about how to get them out of the structure.”
Tabor and his crew loaded up his 42-foot Freeman early Friday morning and charted a course to a rig in 500 feet of water about 180 miles southwest of Grand Isle on a specific mission to catch another monster for the rodeo.
And it didn't take long — the giant fish hit on Tabor's first drop. He was using 250-pound Power Pro braid with a 600-pound mono leader and a 20/0 Mustad circle hook when the grouper inhaled it.
But the battle lasted only about 30 to 45 minutes.
“It doesn’t take that long because once you get them up a few hundred feet off the bottom, they start losing control of their swim bladder and they start blowing up as the pressure decreases,” he said. “So they actually start to float up after a while.
“The first 30 seconds or minute is the most crucial part in getting them out the rig. After that, it’s not too hard.”
Tabor said he could tell he had a quality fish early on in the battle.
“I could feel his weight as we were backing him out of the rig,” he said. “We had about 50 pounds of drag on the reel, and he was still pulling a little drag off and trying to stay on the bottom.
“Those big fish have a really big head shake. I told the guys it was a good one, but I didn’t think it was 380 pounds.”
Tabor eventually reeled the giant to the boat, and that’s when the heavy lifting began — his Freeman doesn’t have a tuna door, so he and three members of his crew had to drag the giant up and over the gunwale.
“We went out there to catch that grouper and we caught him, so then we just started bouncing back in, catching a few snapper here and there,” he said.
They caught their limit of snapper, as well as some nice scamp and gag grouper — and a potential Top 10 amberjack that was released because the season is closed.
On Saturday back at Sand Dollar Marina on Grand Isle, the big grouper tipped the certified scales at 383 pounds, 2 ounces, smashing the rodeo record and beating Tabor’s current No. 1-ranked Warsaw he caught in 2008 by almost 25 pounds.
"We were about 100 miles from where I caught the other (current No. 1) fish," Tabor said.
The big 383-pounder measured 84 ½ inches long, with a whopping girth of 68 inches.
Tabor said he had the ear bones of his 359-pounder examined back in 2008, and biologists determined that fish was between 33 and 35 years old.
“So this fish is probably at least 35 years old or older,” he said.