A Mother’s Day Present....and one more item off the bucket list
By Capt. Dale Emerick
My wife Susie and I have been fishing as long as we have been together. In fact, we went to Cancun for our honeymoon, chartered a boat and she caught her first marlin. That was 23 years ago this May.
So, when she came to me and said, Dale, you take a lot of people fishing, and I am often on the boat with you when we go, but everyone else is always on the rod when we target swordfish. I want to catch one. I want to learn how to drop, feel the bottom and bring the fish to the boat.
So on May 8th, the Friday before Mother’s Day, she and I loaded the boat and headed to a spot that I have always found to be productive. Last year we landed a sword weighing in at 465lbs for the Bossman, Roger Corliss. In February of this year we also hooked and boated a sword weighing in at 330lbs for my good friend Ham Parlett.
We pulled away from the dock between 9 and 9:30 and headed out of the channel. Not in a hurry, just she and I for an easy day of fishing. We put the boat on autopilot with the coordinates installed in the GPS. As we headed out in mild seas I asked Susie to take the helm while I sat in the back and rigged fresh baits to use for our drops once we reached our destination.
Having arrived, I instructed Susie as to what the next procedures would be; how I would align the boat in the proper direction, how she should let out the bait, how I would then drop the 10lb lead and we would begin letting out line until such time as 1200 feet peeled off the reel. I would then begin to make a turn in order to set the drift. Of course all of this sounded nice, and I have done it many times, but this time maybe I was more concerned about Susie not having difficulty in completing the drop than I should have been because I immediately caught the 250lb leader in the port prop.
The leader was wrapped so tight around the hub that I had to raise the engines, climb on the back of the Yamaha and balance myself while cutting loose the leader. One leader down the drain.
Once back in the boat it was time to tie a new Bimini twist and attach a new leader secured with a cat’s paw. Next we motored my 36’ Yellowfin back into position and began the process of the drop all over again.
As we drifted along, the rod just wasn’t acting the way I thought it should and this became more evident as we reached the end of the drift, raised the bait and the weight only to find the bait completely wrapped around the lead in a manner that required complete surgery to disengage. So two drops and neither were done correctly. The leader was cut (again) and a new Bimini was retied and a new leader was (again) secured using a cat’s paw. We motored back to (again) begin the process of the “Drop” upon which the same scenario of catching the weight with the leader was repeated. At this point I was beginning to feel as though I had forgotten how to swordfish. This time however, we were able to untangle the mess we brought up, and again motored to our drop site to begin another drop.
We dropped and drifted a total of three more times before I felt the area that had always been so productive was not going to produce that day. And, since Susie wanted her “bucket list sword” the pressure was on.
I made the decision to move to an area that I had fished before with some success. On our way, we came across the mother of all weed lines in 2000 feet of water and trolled a couple of artificial plugs for about 10 -15 minutes with no results. Now we could have stayed on this weed line, and I am sure it would have produced, but that wasn’t what we were looking for so the lines came in and we continued on our mission.
Upon reaching my second good spot, we put bait on, lines in and made a very successful drift only to come up empty handed. It was now going on 4:30pm and I thought we may have time for one more drift before heading home. So far we caught a prop, a lead weight twice, and had five unsuccessful drifts where we never experienced the slightest of bites.
We positioned the boat again and began our final drift of the day. At 4:55pm the rod came to life, and that familiar tapping of a pelagic fish 1800 feet beneath the surface began to take effect. As the rod tip bent over, I free lined the weight with the thought that the sinking 10lb weight would help in hooking whatever denizen of the deep was toying with our line. The line immediately came taught. Based upon the events we experienced previously we looked at each other and both had the same thought. That thought was that I had free lined the weight and we were now hung on the bottom. There was no immediate action to the rod. However, having done this before, I immediately pressed the MOB button on my GPS to mark the position where we were “hung up” knowing that if that were the case the boat would not be moving far from the mark, only moving with the current.
As the rod stayed fully arched we started to slowly move away from the MOB mark on the GPS. At first just a couple of hundred feet, then a thousand feet, and we kept moving away from the mark on the GPS.
This provided the proof we needed that although there was no action on the rod other than being fully bent over that we indeed had a fish on and were not attached to the bottom of the ocean.
Now, I fish with Hooker electric reels, which can be engaged with the electric or disengaged with the electric and used manually. Once it became clear that Susie was “hooked up” she made the decision to go manual.
It was now going on 6:00 o’clock and the fish had been on for just a little over an hour and still wasn’t above 1200 feet. Then it was 7:00 o’clock and the fish was beginning to come up slowly. As we reached 7:30, 2 ½ hours into the fight the fish was at 600 feet. I began getting the harpoon and flying gaff ready should we get the opportunity to boat the fish. The line then became slack, and Susie reeled with all of her strength. We both thought the fish was gone, but he wasn’t. He was just swimming toward the boat and the line soon became taught again. Somewhere around 8:00 o’clock the fish was near the boat. I readied the harpoon, powered it towards the fish – and missed (I think Susie was now speaking in tongues, expletives deleted).
The fish made a beeline for the props. Having retrieved the harpoon I immediately ran to the helm to lift the motors to keep the fish and engines from getting to know one another. The fish immediately sounded taking 600’ of line. Susie again brought the fish to the surface near the boat and I immediately grabbed the harpoon... NO placed the harpoon down and ran to the helm to again lift the motors, ran again forward to grab the harpoon... NO, sat it down again ran back to again lift the motors, and the fish went down again – 600 feet. During all of this I had the boat slowly going in reverse thinking that with only the two of us on board, I could have her reel in the fish and as he approached the bow I would be able to stick him. Unfortunately, I think the fish knew that too because with every approach he made a bee line for the motors –how do they know?
As Susie brought up the fish again, I again, placed myself in position to throw the harpoon. He came at the boat perpendicular to the port side, and down around 10’ It was now around 8:30 and the sun had gone down. The only visible evidence of a moving fish was the blinking deep water lights that had slid down the leader. As the lights approached I again made an attempt to harpoon the fish. This time l was successful, however, as he was swimming straight up and down I got him behind the dorsal fin. This was not a kill shot, and in fact just made him angry. The fish then began to peel off 600 feet of line attached to the reel as well as 600 feet of line attached to the harpoon. I began helping him take the harpoon line afraid that it would wrap around the leader and pull the hook.
Susie finally brought the fish alongside again (manually), whereby I was able to place a flying gaff into the fish and secure him with a tail rope. Of course by then it was pitch black of night and Susie was spent.
But I still had to get the fish around the outboards, over the transom and into the boat.
That process took approximately an hour as we would bring the fish a few inches forward and he would inevitably slip backwards, or have his pectoral fins catch on the engines.
At 9:30pm we were finally able to get the fish into the boat and began the journey home in the darkest of nights –thank you for radar- arriving at the dock at 11pm to be met by our neighbor Roger Corliss who thought about calling the Coast Guard because of our tardiness in arriving home.
The fish was filleted and iced down, and Susie and I enjoyed a bottle of wine before finally losing the adrenaline and falling asleep at three in the morning.
This great gladiator of the sea, all 333 lbs., had taken us on a journey of over nine miles from where he was first hooked to where he was boated and proved to be a freight train because he was hooked not in the mouth but foul hooked in the dorsal fin.
How can you not love a woman who on Mother’s Day weekend would rather catch a fish than get new shoes or receive jewelry?
I love you Susie,
Capt. Dale Emerick (Cudjoe Key, Florida)
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