Hand haul: Jim Van Pelt and his estimated 300-lb goliath grouper

Hand haul: Jim Van Pelt and his estimated 300-lb goliath grouper. Facebook photo.

Kayak Angler Grinds Out Goliath Catch
Record setter: Jim Van Pelt's 300-lb goliath grouper among the heaviest fish handled from a kayak

By Paul Lebowitz

Jim Van Pelt has conquered a 300-pound goliath of a catch—one handful of rope at a time—one of the heaviest fish ever managed from a kayak.

"For a year people have been telling me it can't be done. I don't listen to people like that," Van Pelt said.

On Thursday Van Pelt, 24, of Cape Coral, Florida dangled live 8-pound jack crevalle on huge 4-inch hooks tied onto the end of a hand line, then dropped them to the bottom of the Sanibel Causeway bridge pilings in a mere 20 feet of water, hooking up two goliath grouper. The first one was impressive, an estimated 120-pounder (see the video above), but the second one was nearly three times larger.

The feat wasn't easy. Van Pelt said every time he'd gain a few feet of line, the fish would take it right back. "It was a constant tug of war for 15 to 20 minutes," he said, just one man versus one fish, with no drag system to help. "Their broom tails are huge, a giant paddle," Van Pelt added.

Van Pelt said Captain Ben Chancey's Chew on This television crew filmed the action for an upcoming episode. Chancey and Van Pelt tagged each of the hefty fish, then used length and width measurements to estimate their weights. Federal rules prohibit lifting goliath grouper from the water according to Van Pelt.

"That 300 pounder worked me. I sat there for a minute, looked around, took a breather, a little adrenaline rush. They (the TV crew) told me not to give up," Van Pelt said.

"A hand line the only way to get a big one like that. They'll snap even a broom stick of a rod like a match," Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt said his friend and fellow Hobie Fishing pro staffer Bob Bramblet first talked about targeting goliath grouper from a kayak about a year ago. "With every idea there's the one who thinks it up and the idiot who is stupid enough to try it," Van Pelt said.

The rig and a pig grouper.

The rig and a pig grouper. Facebook photo.

Handling fish over 100 pounds from a kayak is potentially dangerous, and often requires assistance that fires up debate in hardcore kayak fishing circles. Van Pelt's goliath is no different. To prevent losing the rope, Van Pelt ran it through his scuppers, then used a second line to tether his kayak to a safety boat. A camera boat was nearby.

RELATED: Other astounding kayak catches.

Van Pelt used an electric eVolve motor rather than Hobie's trademark Mirage pedal drive to maneuver his Hobie Pro Angler into position against the bridge piling, then removed the motor. "I didn't want anything hanging in the water that the rope could catch," he said.

Now that he has a 300-pounder under his belt, Van Pelt is tempted to up his mark. 300 pounds is big for a kayak, but not for a goliath grouper—they get much larger.

"I think a 400 pounder is doable as long as you set the kayak up right and know how to use its buoyancy to your benefit. I think it can only be done on the Pro Angler," he said.

Van Pelt doesn't recommend others try it. It's "A very stupid idea. You have to be in some kind of shape," the Kayak Fish Southwest Florida guide said. And work up to the challenge with other large fish, like he does with the members of the Extreme Kayak Fishing tournament series.