Youth Angler Catches State-Record Fish and Pending World Record in a Day

by Vern Evans

By any measure, 12-year-old Julia Bernstein of Miami is a high achiever. The seventh grader, who’s also a straight-A student, was recently recognized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for catching both a state-record cobia and a state-record mangrove snapper in the Florida Keys on Jan. 5. Both records were certified in FWC’s new youth all-tackle weight category, which was just established in January.

On that same day, Bernstein also caught and released a cobia that measured more than 42 inches long and had an estimated weight of around 30 pounds. That fish was released and is now a pending IGFA all-tackle junior length record.

Bernstein’s mom, Dr. Heidi Mason, tells Outdoor Life that they were fishing with Capt. Dale Bittner on his 27-foot Conch boat, Bait Stealer. Mason says they went out with the intention of catching a record that would add to Bernstein’s already long list of fishing accomplishments. Although she’s only 12, Bernstein currently has 11 IGFA world-record catches to her credit.

“It was an amazing morning of fishing off Key West,” Mason says. “We fish a lot with Dale, and we knew Florida had just established its youth all-tackle records.”

Capt. Bittner first took the duo to a shallow-water wreck to target cobia. The fish were there waiting for them.  

“As we slowed down, we saw a cloud of fish on the surface – and they were all cobia, a big school, and they were all very hungry,” Mason explains. “They were very aggressive, and Julia hooked a fish on every cast.”

Using heavy spinning tackle and 30-pound braid, Bernstein got to work. Because they were targeting record-size fish, she tried to pick out the biggest ones and cast squid baits to them.

Bernstein caught a couple small cobia first, and then she cast to a bigger fish. She hooked the big cobia and landed it after a 15-minute fight. After measuring the fish at 107 centimeters, they released it back into the ocean. The cobia is now a pending IGFA length record in the Junior division.

The very next fish Bernstein caught from the school was a 20-pound 15-ounce cobia, which was big enough to set the first youth all-tackle weight record for the species.

The anglers kept fishing near the wreck and caught a couple more cobia from the school. Then they decided to move on and target mangrove (gray) snapper to see if Julia could score another record.

“Dale knew right where they’d be, on a reef in deeper water,” says Mason. “She used spinning gear and a small live bait, dropped it to the bottom, and got a strike. It was a big 1.5-pound mangrove snapper, which was large enough to become the Florida youth record for the species.”

To be fair, FWC’s youth all-tackle weight category was only created a few months ago, and 12 different saltwater species are now eligible for a record. If an angler under the age of 15 catches any one of these species weighing more than 1 pound, the fish can qualify as a potential record, according to the new regulations.

Read Next: Are Record Fish Stories as Captivating as They Used to Be?

Mason also says that while Jan. 5 was a special day for her and her daughter, Bernstein has had even better record-setting days on the water. In April 2023, she caught eight IGFA junior length records in one day while fishing with Capt. Bittner. Mason’s no stranger to the record book either and she currently holds three IGFA world records, including the 8-pound line class cobia record.

Capt. Bittner, who also took Bernstein out last April, says he enjoys fishing with the young, determined angler.

“Julia’s most remarkable trait I’ve observed is how much willpower she has when she is overmatched by the strength of big fish,” he says. “She never gives up.”

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