How big was Dan Dillion’s Fourth of July weekend?
Very big — 873 pounds and 115 inches, to be exact.
Dillion, of Maryland, was the angler who caught a Delaware state-record bluefin tuna early in the morning of Saturday, July 2. He was fishing with three other anglers, Captain David Collins, of Frankford, and First Mate Mike Magee, of Millsboro. They were around 25 Fathoms, near the Sausages, off the coast of Ocean City, Md.
The adventure began Friday, July 1, when the charter boat Captain Ike II left Indian River Marina for a 20-hour fishing trip. The trip is a regular one and the anglers onboard for the trips fish overnight. During the day, they will fish for tuna, and when night falls they fish for tuna and shark.
That nighttime shift was when the luck changed for the six men on board for the July 1 trip. The massive tuna hit a shark line instead of the lighter tuna lines. It took Dillion and the others 90 minutes to reel the fish in and another two hours to get it on board.
“We are thankful it [the shark line] was there,” Collins said. “We wouldn’t have caught it on a regular tuna line.”
During the two-hour process of trying to get the enormous fish on board, the crew had several lines break on their pulley system. The catch occurred around 2 a.m., and the boat didn’t arrive back at Indian River Marina until 7:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Bert Adams, who runs the Hook’em and Cook’em fish-cleaning service in the marina, received the first call from Collins that they were coming in with a fish that measured 115 inches long and 80 inches around.
Luckily for the Captain Ike II, the marina has a winch at the dock for just such occasions. The fish was so heavy that, instead of cleaning the fish on the tables like most others, it had to be cleaned right on the dock.
According to Jessy Hinson, one of the fish cleaners at the marina, the fish produced almost 500 pounds of meat for Dillion and his friends.
Hinson said the loins of the tuna were bigger than his own body — not an easy feat with a guy who measures 5 feet, 7 inches, tall and in the mid-100s in weight. The steaks of the tuna were dinner-plate sized, he said. And the eye of the tuna was described as the size of a grapefruit.
One of the workers at the fish-cleaning station suggested anyone seeking to imagine the size of the catch picture the opening credits of “The Flintstones” in which Fred Flintstone has the big slab of meat on top of his car. That would be this fish, he said.
The previous record for tuna was 322 pounds, set back in 1992. The new record holder was just 93 pounds from tripling the old record. (There are different species in the tuna family, but the state doesn’t recognize the difference and lumps all the tuna in one category.)
The original photo of the fish now resides at Hook’em and Cook’em in the marina, with the official entry form for it to qualify as a state record.
According to Delaware records, the largest fish of any species caught in the state was a mako shark that weighed in at 975 pounds and was caught in 2000.
“We were very lucky to get the bite and to pull it in,” Collins said of the record-breaking tuna catch. “We’re happy with what we got.”