What started out as a potential world record yellowmouth grouper for Michael Hebert last month in the Garden Banks didn’t play out exactly like he expected it would.

After much deliberation by several biologists with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Hebert’s 54.6-pound fish did turn out to be a new record — just not the one he was hoping for.

Biologists late last month ultimately determined the fish was, in fact, a potential new state record black grouper — not a new world record yellowmouth.

“The world record sounded a whole lot better,” Hebert said with a grin. “But I’ll take it.”

He was fishing about 100 miles out of Cypremort Point aboard Al Theriot’s 44-foot Starfisher, The Better Half, when the black grouper hit a dead pogey about midday on Saturday, July 25.

“We were in about 175 feet of water, where it dropped off on the sides of the rock down to 800 or a thousand feet,” he said. “I was jigging it hard on the rocks. I was trying to catch an amberjack or a blackfin snapper, so I was just jigging it real hard.

“I guess I bumped it in the head.”

Hebert used a 6-foot, 6-inch Ugly Stik and a Penn 340 GTI reel spooled with 60-pound braid and a 60-pound leader to land the fish after a 20-minute battle.

“We just thought it was a big snapper, or a small grouper, maybe,” said Hebert, 37, of Baton Rouge. “He didn’t fight real, real hard. I horsed him up pretty quick, and when it lost its bladder about halfway up, it was like reeling up dead weight.”

Theriot, who was captaining The Better Half when the current world record yellowfin grouper was landed out of Cypremort Point in 2002, had an International Game Fish Association record book onboard and suspected Hebert’s fish could be a new world record yellowmouth.

When the crew returned to the Point the next day, Hebert weighed the fish on certified scales at Dago’s in Lydia: the 54.6-pounder measured 47 inches long with a 36-inch girth. 

The grouper was delivered to LDWF’s New Iberia office, but it wasn’t until a few days later that Hebert said a visiting biologist from Destin, Fla. who was headed to UL-Lafayette confirmed the fish was a black grouper.

As it turns out, Harry Blanchet with LDWF, who also examined the fish in Baton Rouge, told Hebert some grouper can be tough to correctly ID.

“He said the colorations can change. They can look like each other at certain times of their growth, if they’re spawning and depending on the water they’re in,” Hebert said. “And he said now they have hybrids, so they can be mixed.

“He said it’s a Caribbean fish, and we’re starting to see more and more of these fish show up over here.”

The Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association maintains fishing records for the state, and currently has no entries in the black grouper category. If Hebert’s application is ultimately approved, it will be the new default state record.

The current IGFA world record black grouper was caught in 2003 off the Texas coast, but according to online reports, a Florida angler may have caught a new record fish earlier this summer at slightly more than 124 pounds.