Swordfish success for Halco team

BEN and Neil Patrick (of Halco tackle fame) and I, recently fished with Capt Scott Stanczyk on Catch 22 based at the famous Bud & Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida. Neil had fished there before several years earlier and caught his first swordfish in those unbelievably blue gulfstream waters. He thought Ben and I would also enjoy learning the technique so we booked a day out prior to displaying at the ICAST show in Orlando.

We fished in 1800 feet of water with pretty specialised outfits, specifically set up for “deep dropping” to swords. Even with nearly 20 pounds of concrete breakaway weight attached the drop into the current was a long one, taking up to 12 minutes just to hit bottom!

Much to our surprise, our first bite came within a couple of minutes of hitting the bottom. Ben did a great job “teasing” up the fish. The rod tip bounced every time it slashed at the bait with its sword and the “tease” technique reminded me of teasing a marlin into taking a lure, only at much greater distance from the boat.

The bait was constantly worked back toward the boat and then dropped back to the fish over several minutes before the rod finally buckled over and we were tight to our first swordfish. The initial stages of the fight are pretty gruelling with the sword generally rising up through the water column until it hits the thermocline where the tough and dogged fighting characteristics of the species comes into play. Sometimes the fish will even jump clear of the water, which was the case with this fish.

Ben’s fish finally came to the boat and we were all stoked to have it on board as they are a fine table fish and we had an excellent meal of it the following evening.

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Ben Patrick with his first swordfish that fell to a proven tease teachnique.

My turn on the rod came far quicker than expected as the bait had barely hit bottom when I noticed a slight bounce of the rod tip while the others were still taking images of Ben’s fish. Winding down on the handle of the big 80W the rod tip buckled immediately and we were once again “tight” to a sword. In the humid heat of summer in Florida, I managed to work up quite a sweat while winding the long belly out of the line before the tug of war battle began in earnest. My fish jumped a long way out with the skipper saying it was a nice one for the area at around 150lb.

Another issue to contend with when fighting swords is their reputation for soft mouths and pulling hooks. With this in the back of our minds it made fighting these fish a challenge of how much pressure you dared to put on the fish without risking a pulled hook. Thankfully we found a happy medium on the day and managed to put our second sword for the day, and my first, in the space of an hour in the boat.

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Tim Carter (left) looking decidedly happy after landing his first swordfish under the heat of the Florida sun.

IT was hard to describe the feeling of capturing one of the holy grails of the game fishing world to IGFA regulations as many fish in the area are taken by electric reel given the depths involved. I think elation is probably the closest I can come up with.

Neil had been patiently waiting his turn at a return bout with the now not so elusive swordfish and had a bait in the water within minutes. In what seemed like an eternity but in reality was only about 15 minutes, the rod tip took a big bounce and Neil wound up hard. The rod buckled and instead of the fish rising immediately, his fish surged off along the bottom with great power.

Neil has this incredible knack of hooking large “things” and today was no exception. The fish refused to leave the bottom and the skipper felt we were possibly onto the “sword of all swords”. Neil did his best to juggle exactly how much pressure he dared put on the fish not knowing exactly what we were dealing with. It took him over an hour and a half and a lot of sweat before the 2000 foot maker finally came back onto the reel. He continued to slog away on the beast of a fish gaining a little only to lose it all over again. At the three hour mark the skipper spoke with all of us saying he now suspected that given the fish hadn’t risen through the column like a sword at any stage, we could be dealing instead with a large shark. While fishing in this depth of water, swords are definitely the most common capture but six gill, longfin makos and thresher sharks were not out of the question.

Neil upped the drag a little more, still very conscious that we really didn’t know one way or another what species of fish we were dealing with. Obviously the fish heard the skipper’s call because minutes later Neil started making slow but positive progress on the fish. Within half an hour he had pumped the fish back to the surface where all was revealed. Not a sword as we all hoped but a rare big eye thresher shark had taken a liking to the belly flap bait and managed to foul hook itself in the pectoral fin. It was only the second big eye thresher the crew had seen in the 10 plus years that they had been deep dropping the area.

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No “mother of all swords” unfortunately as the big eye thresher shark that had battled with Neil Patrick for hours is revealed.

While not a sword, Neil and the rest of us were intrigued by the shape and form of this truly deep water creature which after some photos was cut off to return to its cold and dark home. The long run home passed quickly with discussions of how we could target these fascinating fish in our home waters, now all we need is the time and the weather to make it a reality.

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