Off the Hook: A New Twist On The Big One That Got Away
By Lee Toliver
If you fish, you more than likely have a story about the one that got away.
Burt Whitt’s story might be one better. His is about the one that almost got away.
Well, it got away, but then he got it back again.
Whitt was fishing offshore with several friends on John Hamilton’s boat.
They had caught a few fish when Whitt hooked up with a big dolphin. A really big one.
“I’ve caught a few around 40 pounds,” said Whitt, 56, of Norfolk. “But nothing like this one.”
The fight, Whitt said, took 20 to 30 minutes. When the fish was gaffed and finally in the boat, everyone saw how big it really was.
“Definitely the biggest I’ve ever caught,” Whitt remembers thinking.
But exactly how big, nobody would know until the fish was weighed.
That’s where the “almost got away” part comes in.
The captain had pulled his vessel up to the fueling docks at the Virginia Beach Fishing Center in Rudee Inlet. The fish was to be unloaded and taken to the scales on land.
But it was so big that it didn’t fit in the fish cart.
While mate Chris Martin was trying to wheel the fish up the ramp, it slipped out of the cart.
Right into the drink.
“I’ve been mating offshore since I was about 10,” said Martin, 30, also of Norfolk. “I’ve seen mates do the same thing and couldn’t understand how they could let that happen.”
Rudee Inlet’s swift tidal currents run their fastest at the fishing center fueling docks. And the water at high tide is about 10 feet deep.
“I just figured it was gone,” Whitt said. “Chris was very upset.”
Martin quickly jumped into the water, losing his sunglasses and hat. His wallet was soaked.
He got a hand on the fish, but only for a brief moment.
“It was deep, and I had to come up for air,” said Martin, the new wrestling coach at Western Branch High School in Chesapeake. “I went down again and couldn’t feel it.
“Everybody on the dock started putting their nets into the water, hoping to stop it from drifting off in the current.”
Then Wes Feller came to the rescue. Feller happened to have his diving equipment in his car.
“We asked him if he could go in and take a look, and he did,” Whitt said.
After a few minutes of poking around in the low-visibility water, Feller came to the surface, fish first, to the excitement of everybody on the dock.
“I went from helpless to ecstatic,” Martin said.
The ecstatic part increased tenfold when the fish was weighed – 58 pounds, 6 ounces, giving Whitt the dolphin lead in the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament.
“It wouldn’t have been a big deal had it been any other fish,” Whitt said. “But this turned out to be a pretty big catch.”
Martin said he has a better understanding of how such a thing could happen.
“Most of the time, probably all the time, that fish is gone. Lost,” Martin said. “This turned out to be a really lucky situation, and I’m so happy we got that fish back.
“You see it happen all the time. Now I see how.”
This article originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on July 27, 2008, and was reprinted with permission.
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