A Swordfish Story
The great thing about fishing in Islamorada is that you never know what you’re going to catch when you leave the dock. Sure, some days are slow and uneventful, but then you have the days where everything goes just right and you hook a sea monster. When you’re fighting them you tell yourself this is why you do it, why you fish for a living, why you spend years fishing and waiting for that bite. Not all big fish battles end well, but the ones that do are that much sweeter. Since 2006 I’ve been obsessed with broadbill swordfish. Something about their strength, design, and ability to come up from 1800’ deep, jump out of the water, then go right back down to the bottom again amazes me.
I had Jim and his family out on a recent swordfish trip in March. He said he had never seen a swordfish and it would be a dream come true if we could land one. I told him it wasn’t my favorite time of year, but it was great weather and we had a good shot at it.
One Bite Separates the Heroes from the Zeros
We ran 35 miles from Islamorada and started fishing bright and early. The first two drifts were quiet with no action. Swordfishing is very interesting because you literally stare at a rod tip for hours; looking for the slightest movement. When we reset for our 3rd drift I brought out a banana for a snack. Jim looked at me a little funny, but I explained to him that it was standard protocol. We sent a fresh bait down and I ate my banana, threw the peel overboard, and watched it float away in the Gulf Stream. Things weren’t looking too good at this point. We were about to finish our 3rd drop with no action and I was starting to give up hope. Sure enough though, Jim and I noticed a small bounce in the rod tip. He looked at me and I knew he saw what I saw. I didn’t have a mate on this trip because Jim told me he would prefer to release a swordfish if we caught one and if it was in good shape. After a couple more minutes the rod loaded up. The tip lowered towards the water and
we were tight! I thought it was a small foul hooked fish for the first 10 minutes as it was heavy, but it didn’t take much line. After that the fish slowly started swimming up. I realized it must be at least a decent sized fish to bring up a 10 pound weight. Jim worked the fish on the side of the boat, and I set out 2 straight gaffs in case we decided to take the fish. About 15 minutes later we got the fish on the wind on leader. Swordfish are interesting fish, they swim right at the boat many times and you get a good look at them. If they’re big, they usually go back to the bottom when they realize what’s going on. I unclipped the weight and wasn’t even sure if the fish was on there anymore, but after a few seconds we came tight on the fish again. A couple minutes later I could see the fish flashing about 50 feet away. I could tell it was a nice one, my first guess was 250 pounds or so. As the fish got closer I could see it was bleeding. When I saw that, I knew the fish was hooked deep, which explained the slow heavy fight in the beginning. I put the boat in neutral and walked back with a straight gaff. I took a wrap on the leader and gaffed the fish, then grabbed another gaff seconds later and put that one into the fish too. Right about that time the fish woke up. I started yelling for help and luckily Jim’s son ran down and grabbed one of the gaffs. The fish went ballistic by the boat. I didn’t have time to tie up the flying gaff, but Jim’s daughter handed it to me and I was able to gaff the fish with it. I held on to it rope and handle but it didn’t slow the fish down. The fish was angry and fighting for its life. At this point we had 3 straight gaffs and 1 flying gaff into the fish with people hanging onto all of them. The giant broadbill wedged itself against the back of the boat and started kicking like crazy. The boat was spinning in circles! Finally after 10 minutes of pandemonium at the boat the fish gave up. I told Jim I figured the fish was probably 300 pounds at that point. We pulled it through the tuna door and it was bigger than I realized. We measured the fish and it had a 103’’ short length with a 54’’ girth! I knew it was over 400 pounds at this point. I looked at the beautiful creature and thanked it for its life. I respect swordfish. Some of the ones I’ve lost haunt me in my sleep. This one would make a lot of people happy though. It would provide many meals for a lot of different families. We took a few pictures in the boat, caught our breath, and then headed home for the marina. I made a few phone calls and told them I’d need a hand unloading a fish. A crowd gathered when we pulled into Bud n’ Mary’s Marina. It took six of us to get the fish out of the boat and on the scale. We pulled the mighty broadbill swordfish up and the old weigh station made crackling noises. We weren’t sure if the rusted bolts would hold, but fortunately they did. The digital scale read 468.5 lbs! It was the biggest swordfish I’d ever been a part of catching! I told Jim it was a fish of a lifetime, but he already knew. We took some more pictures and then filleted the sword. I believe it’s one of the biggest swordfish ever caught here in the Keys, and the biggest one I’ve heard of so far this year. It was an incredible day, and we got lucky, real lucky. I hope this year is another good one for swordfish, so far it’s off to a great start! I also caught a 283 pounder the first week of April.
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