Keith DeGraff set out in the deep waters of Prince William Sound in Alaska to fish for black cod alongside his friends and fiancé. When DeGraff felt his line tug, instead of feeling happy, he was disappointed as he assumed it was a halibut fighting and dragging at 1,000 feet. Halibut are easy to hook in shallow waters, so fighting with one in deeper areas seems like a letdown, especially when trying to go after a more exciting black cod.
But DeGraff is an angler, so he took the fight he could get. And a fight it was: he told Saltwater Sportsman, "With a thousand feet of line out, it can be hard to tell [what kind of fish it is]. This one pulled drag. I got it up about 75 feet, and he took 40 feet. I'm fishing on pretty big gear, so for a fish to pull drag, I knew it was a decent size, which made me think it was a halibut between 30 and 35 pounds." DeGraff was fishing on a custom rod, using an Avet 2-speed 3/0 reel.
However, DeGraff's feelings changed when he finally caught sight of what he was battling: "When we got it to the surface, I saw it was the biggest rockfish I'd ever seen," he said to Saltwater Sportsman. Instead of the milky color of a halibut rising to the surface, DeGraff saw orange—and a lot of it.
The initial weigh-in at the Port Ashton Lodge later that day said the fish was 48 pounds, meaning it weighed more than the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) record holder. The previous record-holding fish was caught by Glacier Bay National Park in 2017 by Angelo Sciubba and weighed 44.1 pounds.
Degraff wanted to get an official weight without tainting the meat. Since it would be three days until he could get to a certified scale, he bled the fish.
And while that sounds like the sad part, in actuality, the fish would not have qualified for the IGFA record either way: Standards require that the rod be held, and DeGraff's was in a holder.
Days later, with an Alaska Department of Fish and Game representative present, the fish weighed 42.4 pounds, setting a new state record. Henry Liebman from Seattle, Washington, previously held the record with his 39.1-pound fish.
While DeGraff lives in Anchorage, he isn't an Alaska native. He hails from Amityville, Long Island, New York. "I grew up on the Great South Bay," he said. "I had a 13-foot Boston Whaler that caught more fish per inch of boat than most boats out there other than commercials." DeGraff has been in Alaska as a charter captain since 2016.