After an almost two-hour battle, the 24-year-old from Des Allemands celebrated his birthday in style and reeled in a yellowfin tuna that tipped Cypress Cove Marina's scale at 214 pounds.
And, to top it off, he caught the 74-inch giant in a 24-foot Skeeter bay boat equipped with a trolling motor and Power-Pole.
"On my birthday, I had the big boy bite," Cortez said with a laugh. "I never heard a reel scream like that in my life."
The adventure began early Wednesday as he and Jake Folse took off with Casey LeBlanc in LeBlanc's Skeeter. But Cortez admitted that fishing for tuna 40 miles south of South Pass in a bay boat probably isn't right for everyone.
"We're experienced, and we don't always normally fish out of bay boats," he said. "Casey and Jake both have captain's licenses."
It was still a little rough early, so they stopped at the first set of rigs for red snapper.
"About 9:30 it laid down, and we decided it was now or never," Cortez said. "So we headed to the floater we normally fish about 40 miles out of South Pass."
With 150 pounds of pogies on board, the three men started some chum lines a little after 10 a.m.
"The sharks were eating us up pretty good," Cortez said. "We tried on the other side of the rig and weren't picking anything up on the depth finder. So we moved back to the other side, and we chummed for a good while."
That's when the birthday boy got his present — the Shimano Tiagra 30WLRSA signaled the battle had begun, and in very short order about 1,000 feet of line vanished.
"I really thought he was going to spool me," said Cortez, who works for Monsanto. "I didn't want to tighten down the drag and pop him (off) because I'm fishing with 80-pound fluorocarbon, so I just let him scream. Finally he slowed down enough so I could get suited up, and the fight was on."
For about the next 40 minutes, the 6-foot, 230-pound angler fought the 6-foot-2-inch, 214-pound fish in an epic tug-of-war.
"We were just pulling each other," Cortez said. "I was gaining on him a little bit, then he made a run straight up and I thought I had lost him. We got tightened up again, and then he fought hard for about another 20 minutes."
That's about when the big tuna died, and Cortez had to reel in the dead weight — straight up.
"I'm still sore today," he said yesterday.
Cortez used 130-pound Jerry Brown braid with a No. 6 Frenzy hook and 80-pound Frenzy fluorocarbon for the fight.
As for the Skeeter, it was equipped with two rod holders on either side of the boat for chumming, a 250-quart Yeti and, luckily, a 6-foot tuna bag inside a front compartment.
"We almost didn't bring the tuna bag because we never thought we'd catch something that wouldn't fit in the Yeti," he said.
The trio triumphantly returned to Cypress Cove for the weigh-in, and enjoyed the reaction the bay boat's trophy received at the marina.
"When it hit the dock, everybody's eyes opened up, and they came from all directions," Cortez said. "They were like, 'We can't believe y'all caught that fish in that boat, with a Power-Pole and a trolling motor!'"
Cortez noted that it was a team effort to successfully land the fish: Everyone participated in chumming, running the lines and maneuvering the boat. So all three men are planning to purchase a replica of the big yellowfin in what turned out to be a very special birthday trip for Cortez.
"It's definitely a lifetime fish if you ask me," he said.