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RJ Boyle’s Brush with a Grander Sword

Every morning I wake up and open the blinds to check the wind. It is one of those things you do when you have passion for swordfishing like I do.

Swordfishing is truly a disease that if not carefully treated can make you insane.

If you cannot swordfish on a day there is no wind, your mind will be lost wondering what will be caught. Even as reports of the day are posted or come to me via phone or text I know that you can never truly know what tomorrow will bring. I have taken detailed notes in my logbook over the years and I believe this has given me an edge on the sword grounds. I also know that unseen factors below the surface change daily. The days you expect the swords to bite they don’t and the days you go hoping to get one or two bites you get bit on every drop.

Recently, my mind has been filled with thoughts of a grander swordfish (1,000 pounds or more).

The fishermen are getting better year after year. Guys are catching fish more consistently due to experience. I replay old battles wondering if my tackle, harpoon lines and everything else I take with me is adequate enough to handle the task of fighting and landing a grander sword. I think about harpooning the fish on top and fighting it on both the rod and the harpoon line together. I think about the weight of the harpoon line with thousands of feet out wondering if I will be able to lift the fish with all that drag even if I land the perfect dart shot. I know some day that a giant fish will be caught and I feel like it will be soon.

Even after this story I know one thing to be true for with all big fish. Your tackle must be perfect and I feel like mine is. I have three harpoons and three baskets filled with one thousand feet of dart line for each harpoon. I feel ready to catch a grander. Over the years I have heard a few stories of so called grander fish that have been fought and lost. The guys who fought these fish are good fisherman but who can truly say if they were 1000 pounds? Without weighing a fish you cannot truly tell.

After spending all of these years on the water fishing for swordfish I was wondering when my time would come.

When would I get a chance to see what these few guys have seen? What will the bite look like? I wonder if she will go slack or will the rod just bend over and scream line. Will the fish swim to the surface quickly and give me a harpoon shot? Those questions were all answered late last week when I was given my shot.

The day started out like any other. I stopped for coffee, loaded the rods and gear, and went through the checklist of things we would needed for the day. Today would be spent with Jeff Walls and Hunter Craig two longtime friends with plenty of big fish experience. We drove down the intracoastal towards the Lighthouse Point Marina to fuel up and grab some last-minute items. As we pushed away from the dock and drove under the Hillsboro Inlet Bridge we got our first glimpse of the ocean, which we see is flat calm. The butterflies in my stomach start welling up as we turn up the volume on the music and push the throttle up. Some days we know where we want to start and some days we wait until we leave the inlet hoping to come up with the right plan for the day. This day we would start fishing inshore on a shallow spot. Some fish were caught the day before early inshore. After one or two drops we would then push offshore to deeper water. That was our plan.

The first to drop yielded a 50-pound swordfish. We were happy with the fish knowing that whatever happened that day we would eat well. We rode through that spot two more times without a bite and decided to move offshore into the deep. After 45 minutes of fishing in the deep spot without a bite we decided to move even further offshore. There were not many boats so we had it all to ourselves. We decided to put out a second rod on this drop. We deployed this rod with a bait situated roughly 500-feet off the bottom. We then turned to the south and deployed our bottom rod.

We were fishing. After no more than three minutes our bottom rod began to wobble and bend. As I ran to the rod the rod buckled as if we had pulled a hook. My initial thought was that the hook had come off the bill or the fish had swum into the leader. I retrieved the line about 20-feet and waited but nothing happened. I then started to slowly let line off the reel and within seconds the line was screaming off the spool. I pushed up the drag lever and the rod instantly warped over almost to the water. Jeff put the boat in gear to take the pressure off the rod as I slowly backed off the drag. Instantly the rod went slack straight up with no pressure as if the line had broken.

We knew that the line had not broken but we had never seen the rod go slack so quickly.

Usually with bigger fish they will stay down for a few minutes before coming up slack. It is never instant like this was. As we motored south with two engines in gear I glanced over at the rod and saw a fish in the distance jumping just inshore of us. At first it looked like a porpoise and Jeff asked was that a porpoise? Two seconds later a 350-pound swordfish went airborne and we realized that the fish was on the buoy rod.

We had hooked a doubleheader.

Knowing that the bottom rod was a big fish I told Hunter to just back off the drag on the buoy rod and let’s concentrate on this first fish. Hunter would be in charge of that rod for the next 5 1/2 hours. I had never seen a fish swim to the surface this fast. The rod never wobbled or came tight again until the fish was on the surface. The lead was just out of reach but we could see her tail and dorsal fin screaming around the surface. We chased her on the surface for 20 minutes. In my dreams this was what I hoped would happen but it was much different in real life.

The fish swam way faster than I expected and she was so unpredictable. She would change directions instantly so we were afraid to run up on top of her in fear of running her over or breaking the line. After replaying this in my mind I know we never had a clear safe shot in the beginning. The closest we got to the fish on top was about 200-feet. The line began to sink as she started to go down. She didn’t swim fast and as the boat slowed down we wondered how much line she would take. We had all seen the fish on top but it is very hard to tell how big she was from 200-feet away. I knew it was over 500-pounds but I did not know how much bigger.

She swam down to 275-feet and stopped. She sulked for about 15 minutes until the line began to rise again. We needed to get the 10-pound lead off the line so we agreed to get more aggressive once the lead got close. We got the lead off the leader and she started to rise to the surface again out in front of the boat. As Jeff pushed up the throttles my plan was to leave the reel and run to the bow to throw the harpoon.

Just before I left the reel a 350-pound swordfish jumped directly in front of the fish we had on.

At first I thought it was my fish but quickly realized by the action on my rod that it wasn’t. I then remembered the buoy rod, which had a 350-pounder on it. I turned around to locate the buoy thinking that maybe we had come too close. The buoy was so far away you could barely see it.

It was then that we realized that our fish had a partner. When the free swimmer landed our big fish peeled off 300-feet of line away from the boat and sank down to 275-feet and stopped. We were all in shock as we all realized that we now had another fish tagging along. We have caught numerous fish with free swimmers or mates. What was different about this was the mate was nearly 350-pounds and it looked tiny in comparison to our big fish. The third time she rose up Jeff positioned the boat alongside the fish driving about 10 knots. We were pointed to the west and it was mirror calm. The sun was shining and we were about to get a close look at what we were dealing with.

I stayed on the rod this time and we finally saw the fish clearly. She was electric cobalt blue and silver and was swimming effortlessly. We were both taken back by the size of the fish. It looked like a submarine! We didn’t say anything as I think we were both in shock. She slowly rose up towards the surface and I was about to make my move for the harpoon when out of nowhere the mate launched again cartwheeling in the air in front of our fish causing her to swim off a few hundred feet and then sink down. When she settled at 275-feet I looked over at Jeff and he simply put out his hand to show me the shaking. If you have ever caught giant fish one thing is for sure. You will shake with adrenalin.

The whole time this is going on you must remember that we are towing a 350-pound sword on our buoy rod. Hunter has been walking in circles around the console to keep the rod clear. At this point we did not care about the buoy rod. Over the next few hours we experienced something unexplainable. There is no question that fish communicate with each other but I have personally never seen this with swords.

I thought about sailfish balling bait and changing colors when it was their time to feed. These fish alert the others in the school by changing colors. I had never seen communication between swordfish but here is what happened. The big fish did the same thing throughout the fight. She never went back to the bottom, as she was comfortable in the thermocline. Every single time she came to the surface the other fish would cut her off by jumping obnoxiously to create a big splash or sound. The partner was alerting the giant not to come near the surface knowing in some way what might be in store.

I know that sounds crazy but after a dozen or more times doing the same thing I beg to differ.

The big fish would then scream off-line and go down again and again. At one point I asked Jeff a few hours into the fight where we were. As he read the coordinates it made no sense. The fish had dragged us five miles inshore. I have never had a fish bring me inshore over a mile and a half in the past. One of the last times we saw her after being alerted by the other fish she darted away from the boat behind us. She didn’t sink this time but instead swam right for the boat. With the rod slack she swam roughly 20 mph towards our engines. As she approached she turned on her side and seemed to look right up at me. It happened too fast for a harpoon shot. She was giant. We had to pin the throttles to get away from her.

She finally sank down again and settled but she was acting differently. She was shaking a lot and I thought in my mind that things might be changing for the better. Was she getting tired finally? She rose up one last time and her color was different. She did not have a bronze color, which you see near the end of most battles but rather a strange tannish look. She was not pinwheeling but still swimming like she wasn’t hurt at all. The other fish jumped, our fish swam out and the hook pulled.

That’s it! When all was said and done we fought the fish for 5.5 hours and 19.5 miles. Her mate stayed with her the whole time. We wound in the slack and began to recover our buoy rod. That fish had pulled off too. We all sat down for a few minutes in silence before Hunter broke the silence.

He said, “I hate to say this but I have to tell you that I am kind of relieved”. I knew what he meant! The partner was wearing on us every time it jumped. It was sooo evident that the fish was protecting its mate. It made losing the giant much easier to deal with.

The thought that they swam off together made everything okay.

I have not weighed a grander sword and probably never will. I got my shot. Was it a grander? I guess I will never know but it was by far the biggest swordfish I have ever seen. I did not sleep that night, replaying the fight over and over. Jeff and I decided to go out the next day as we could not deal with what we had experienced. We fished the same spot for an entire day and had one lousy bite. Back to reality I guess.

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