Sea Monsters! The 10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in North Carolina

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: October 4, 2022
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North Carolina has a vast range of fishing from fly fishing in the Appalachian Mountains, to casting a line on Kerr Lake or deep-sea fishing off the coast of Nags Head. You know there are massive trophy fish just waiting to be caught throughout the state. Some anglers have been lucky enough to land the biggest fish in both freshwater and saltwater, with some records being held for 50 years or more. Let’s take a look at the 10 biggest trophy fish ever caught in North Carolina!

The 5 Biggest Freshwater Trophy Fish Ever Caught in North Carolina

5. Striped Bass – 66 pounds

Striped Bass
Striped bass are one of the largest type of bass fish in North Carolina.

©iStock.com/slowmotiongli

North Carolina records 8 different bass species with striped bass being one of the largest. The list includes smallmouth, largemouth, spotted, striped, rock, white, Roanoke and Bodie bass (a striped hybrid). The biggest striped bass ever caught in North Carolina was a 66-pounder caught by Tyler Shields on the Hiwassee Reservoir. The Hiwassee Reservoir is in the far southwest corner of North Carolina, created by the Hiwassee Dam. Shields snagged this good catch on March 31, 2012, using a Black Zoom Trick Worm as bait. Anglers may argue about the best bait to catch stripers, but Shields seemed to find the perfect match for this 66-pound trophy fish.

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4. Grass Carp – 68 pounds 12 ounces

grass carp
Unlike many other types of carp, grass carp do not have barbells on their face.

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Just a couple pounds heavier, a 68 pound 12 ounce grass carp was caught on Summerlin Pond by David W. Stowell. Summerlin Pond is in Leland, North Carolina, just west of Wilmington. Grass carp are longer and more slender than common carp and do not have any barbells on their face. Both kinds of carp can reach weights well over 50 pounds. Stowell used a top water popper as a lure, the Rebel Pop-R, which is typically used for topwater bass fishing. Clearly, grass carp find it appealing as well.

3. Smallmouth Buffalo – 88 pounds

Bufalo fish
The Smallmouth Buffalo fish can be found in rivers, lakes, and streams throughout North America.

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Buffalo fish – like the smallmouth buffalo, bigmouth and black buffalo  – are freshwater fish in the sucker family. The smallmouth differs from the bigmouth in that its mouth points downward, while the bigmouth has a mouth that points forward. In terms of size, they are about the same.

The biggest smallmouth buffalo ever caught in North Carolina was 88 pounds. Using pack bait, Tony Crawford reeled in this catch from Lake Wylie on November 14, 1993. Lake Wylie is on the border with South Carolina, southwest of downtown Charlotte.

2. Flathead Catfish – 74 pounds 14 ounces

Flathead Catfish
Flathead catfish are one of three types of common catfish in North Carolina.

©slowmotiongli/Shutterstock.com

The next two freshwater trophy fish are catfish. Of the three common catfish in North Carolina, blue catfish are typically the largest, with flatheads second largest, and channel cats being a bit smaller. The largest flathead catfish record in North Carolina goes to a 74 pound 14 ounce flathead caught by Tyler Barnes on the Neuse River. This is a recent record, set on July 12, 2020. It must have been a lucky catfish month because earlier that month, on July 5th, the blue catfish record was broken by Joey Baird when he caught a 121 pound 9 ounce blue cat. But if you think that is the biggest freshwater fish ever caught in North Carolina you would be wrong. That record was broken again just a year later on July 10, 2021, bringing us to the largest freshwater fish caught in North Carolina.

1. Blue Catfish – 127 pounds 1 ounce

Blue Catfish
Blue catfish are the largest type of catfish in North Carolina, followed by flathead catfish and then channel catfish.

©M Huston/Shutterstock.com

Rocky Baker was fishing on the Roanoke River on July 10, 2021, when he caught the new record-breaking blue cat that weighed 127 pounds 1 ounce. It measured 60 inches long – that is 5 feet! Blue catfish get their name from their blueish tinted color. What was Baker’s secret trophy fish winning bait? Gizzard shad. Now that you have the recipe for success, mark your calendar for next July, get yourself some gizzard shad, and head out to the Roanoke!

The 5 Biggest Saltwater Trophy Fish Ever Caught in North Carolina

5. Dusky Shark – 610 pounds

Dusky shark
A dusky shark swims in the ocean.

©Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

While a 120-pound catfish is impressive, when we look at trophy-sized saltwater fish they are all more than 500 pounds. The next three fish on our list are all sharks! The next two records were caught by the same brave angler… Robert T. Keller. Keller has a lucky fishing spot as well, with both sharks being caught off Jeanette’s Pier on Nags Head Island. The dusky shark he caught was 610 pounds and was reeled in in 1962. Dusky sharks prefer shallow coastal waters and are a very classic looking shark. Keller’s dusky shark was caught just one year after he caught his record-breaking hammerhead!

4. Hammerhead Shark – 710 pounds

Hammerhead shark
The eyes of Great Hammerhead Sharks sit on the edge of their mallet-shaped heads, they have excellent eyesight and a 360 view of their surroundings, making them skilled hunters.

©Martin Prochazkacz/Shutterstock.com

As mentioned above, the biggest hammerhead shark was caught by Robert T. Keller off of Jeanette’s Pier. This one weighed a hundred pounds more that Keller’s dusky shark, coming in at 710 pounds! Hammerheads are a classic looking shark except for their outrageously unique heads that look like… you guessed it, a hammer. Their eyes are on either side of their heads and they actually have very excellent eyesight. Keller caught this hammerhead in 1961 and the record still stands today, more than 60 years later.

3) Mako Shark – 768 pounds

Short fin mako shark
Mako sharks have long, slender bodies that are streamlined and have a greyish-blue coloring.

©wildestanimal/Shutterstock.com

The third shark on our list is one of the fastest fish in the ocean. Mako sharks can reach speeds of 45 mph in short spurts. They can get to be 14 feet long and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. The most distinguishing feature of the mako is its large eyes. Both longfin and shortfin makos have big black eyes and also have good eyesight. The biggest mako caught in North Carolina was a 768-pound mako caught by Russell J. Langford off the Oregon Inlet (which is just south of Jeanett’s Pier on Nags Island). The Oregon Inlet seems to be a great fishing spot as well with 14 of the record-breaking saltwater fish being caught in that area, including our next two.

2) Bluefin Tuna – 877 pounds

Bluefin Tuna
Bluefin tuna are fierce predators that feed on herring, mackerel, and other ocean fish.

©lunamarina/Shutterstock.com

Atlantic bluefin tuna are a prized trophy fish in North Carolina. They have a silvery blue coloration and are fast, like mako sharks. Bluefins can be seen breaching the water and they can also dive deep, up to 3,000 feet, so they are a versatile fish. The biggest bluefin tuna ever caught in North Carolina was an 877-pound tuna caught off the Oregon Inlet by Scott Chambers in 2017. The other types of tuna you might find off the coast of North Carolina include yellowfin, blackfin, and bigeye.

1) Blue Marlin – 1,228 pounds 8 ounces

Blue marlin fish
Marlins are among the fastest marine swimmers, reaching ~110 km/h (68 mph) in short bursts.

©Hayk_Shalunts/Shutterstock.com

The biggest trophy fish in North Carolina was more than 1,000 pounds! A blue marlin weighing 1,228 pounds 8 ounces was caught off the Oregon Inlet by Trey Irvine in 2008. Irvine, who is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was fishing in the 25th annual Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament with his team. It took them more than two hours to finally get the massive marlin into their boat.

How does that compare to the world record? The world record biggest blue marlin weighed 1,402 pounds and was caught by Paolo Roberto Amorim in Vitoria, Brazil, in February of 1992.

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Jumping Marlin
Marlin hooked on a fisherman's line.
© Colin MacDonald/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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Sources
  1. North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Available here: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Fishing/Fishing-Records/NC-Freshwater-Fishing-State-Record-Program#108842209-catfish
  2. North Carolina Environmental Quality, Available here: https://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/marine-fisheries/public-information-and-education/coastal-fishing-information/nc-saltwater-fishing-tournament/north-carolina-state-saltwater-records
  3. The International Game Fish Association, Available here: https://igfa.org/igfa-world-records-search/?search_type=SpeciesID&search_term_1=91