On Saturday, August 13, Capt. Jim Kingsmill was at the helm of Chaser, owned by Greg Chase, heading up the California coast to Dana from San Diego, where they had participated in the Wounded Warrior Fishing Trip event.
The weather and sea conditions were terrific, convincing Kingsmill to take a slight detour out to the Mackerel Bank to check out a rumor he’d heard of a few marlin showing up there. Prior to this trip, the boys on Chaser had been on a few white sea bass and tuna trips, but this impromptu run for billfish was the season’s first and crewmembers Barry Brightenburg and Bobby Chase were in full agreement on the decision to go looking for billfish.
As the boat sped toward the bank, Barry and Bobby busily readied the tackle, placing the trolling rods in the holders rigged with marlin lures, and taking a couple of marlin casters to the bow. When Kingsmill slowed the boat to trolling speed, he lowered the riggers and the crew positioned the trolling lures in the spread. Kingsmill picked up his Fraser-Volpe Gyro Stabilized Binoculars and began scanning the horizon.
It was mid-afternoon before the captain finally spotted a billfish just barely scratching the surface. He pulled the throttles back and shouted to his team in the cockpit, “Got one! It’s a two-finner — get the swordfish rod!”
The crew sprang into action. Barry quickly retrieved the lures while Bobby ran into the salon for a swordfish caster.
Like many West Coast skippers, Kingsmill considered it bad luck to bust out the special swordfish rod unless he spotted a fish. So, last spring he moved a couple of heavier swordfish outfits loaded with braid, wind-on leaders and as he put it, “a big-ass hook” from the salon to a special cabinet on the flybridge.
Never setting the gyros down, Kingsmill watched the barely visible fish move toward the boat — well within casting range. Realizing no one was on the bow, Kingsmill bellowed with a sense of urgency. “Barry, go to the bow NOW!” he yelled.
In an instant Barry flew to the bow and grabbed a marlin caster as Bobby continued to frantically search for the swordfish rods beneath the couch where they’d always been.
In one fluid motion, Barry spotted the fish and threw out a live bait which hit the water with a splat, startling the swordfish that instantly inhaled the mackerel and accelerated away from the boat. Barry came tight and swinging a few times, firmly set the hook.
Kingsmill noted the hookup time — 2:40 p.m.
The captain was feeling pretty good as Barry moved back to the cockpit and began putting pressure on the sounding fish. When Barry asked for a fighting belt, Kingsmill suddenly realized that he was fighting the fish on a marlin caster with 30-pound test line!
“Where’s the swordfish rod?” the captain asked.
“We couldn’t find it!” the crew said. The captain let out an expletive.
“You might as well break it off,” he said. “You’ll never catch it on 30.”
“Yes, I will,” Barry countered. “I had a good look at the fish when I took a cast. It’s small, maybe a buck and a quarter, no more than a buck fifty.”
An hour later the fish jumped twice and everyone agreed it weighed maybe 225 to 250 pounds.
With a jury-rigged kidney harness and rope, Barry continued to put the maximum pressure the 30-pound line allowed. The battle between man and fish went on throughout the afternoon and into early evening. Before sunset the fish could be seen on its side, 50 feet below Chaser.
As the sun disappeared below the western horizon a few minutes before 8 p.m., the battle intensified as the fish, emboldened by darkness, seemed to gain strength. Barry slid the drag up a click at a time on the Trinidad 30. The reel responded flawlessly.
This exhausting game of give a little, take a little went on until the early morning.
By 4 a.m., a little more than 13 grueling hours after the hookup, Barry was beyond fatigued.
“Give Bobby the rod,” Kingsmill said, but Barry refused. “Then put the rod in a holder with the drag backed off, clicker on, and take a nap.”
Barry grudgingly conceded and took a break on the couch. The rod sat in the holder with the fish barely putting a bend in the rod.
Less than an hour later, the struggle resumed and as the sun came up and continued to climb higher in the sky, both angler and fish waited for the other to make a mistake.
A little before 9 a.m., the swordy suddenly plunged straight down a couple of hundred feet, only to reverse direction and charge for the surface where it came straight toward the boat. Barry reeled as fast as he could and came tight with the fish facing him.
Abruptly, after 19 hours the 8/0 hook in the corner of the fish’s mouth broke and just like that the fish was gone, leaving Barry with only the shank of the hook — not exactly the trophy he had been fighting for.
A few days later Barry posted a comment on Facebook, “We rolled the dice… it was an E-ticket ride that left me a little sore, but I can’t wait for the next shot!”
Experience has taught us that some of our most unforgettable fishing trips don’t necessarily end in triumph. I am pretty sure that 20 years from now if someone asks Capt. Jim Kingsmill, Barry Brightenburg or Bobby Chase about the night they fought a swordfish for 19 hours on 30-pound test, each one will have quite a tale to tell.
Photo credits: Always An Adventure Charters