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The One (that got away)

I always thought when I got older that reflection of accomplishments and successes would be the stuff on my mind. Although I do relive some of those from time to time, the dominant is the one that got away. The fight well fought and lost. The passion lingers in those moments where the winners are complete and there is nothing left to do. I still hunger to complete those battles.


Several years ago when recreational anglers here figured out they could catch Swordfish I got the bug. I started going after Swords whenever I could. Night fishing was all we were doing then and we were having good success, with keeper size fish on almost every trip.
One of our first “loses” was a nice evening and we had a lot of life going on in the lights. The Squid and flying fish were all around the back of the boat and all kinds of bait at the edge of the light. It wasn’t long till we had a Swordie chasing flying fish behind the boat. Earlier in the charter we were fishing Mutton snapper and the only rod ready and available was a spinner used for Muttons. The forty pound three foot leader was not the perfect setup for pitching a Goggle Eye.
Steve Stearns, my mate, could not stand to not take a shot and pitched the bait. It took three big splashing pitches to attract his attention, but once we got his attention nothing else existed. Now we were getting a real good look as he chased the bait around behind the boat batting at it with that “sword”. He was in the 125 pound class and took about five minutes before he actually killed the bait and ate it. This battle had no hope with a short under classed leader and a 20 pound spinner. The hook up was solid and the fish almost spooled the spinner on his first run. Steve worked the fish in to watch him take off and almost spool again and again over the next hour. Slowly the fish started taking less line on his runs and finally discovered he could sit about 30 feet behind the boat and we could not move him. We would back up and he would swim off . Bring him back but no closer than 25 – 30 feet. This standoff, out of gaff and harpoon range went on for a while until the inevitable line break. He had chaffed through the forty pound leader. What a surprise. Needless to say we keep a proper pitch rod always on the ready now.


With all of this great Swordfish action going on it wasn’t long until a tournament was organized and off we go. It was a gorgeous evening and we made our way out to our “secret” spot and settled in amongst about twenty other boats. Nice drift with light current, all was well. Lines in the water was about a half hour before sunset and my crew, made up of a bunch of buddies, were trying to decide who would go first. No one had ever fought a fish bigger than a Yellowtail so we decided Steve would take the first fish, and then everyone could get an idea of how a fight would go. We get our baits in the water and the last bait in was the shallow close bait with no balloon. While everyone was breaking out refreshments for the wait, SNAP goes the line coming out of its release and zips towards the bow of the boat. Steve grabs the rod, I scramble up to the bridge and we both look forward just in time to see a 350 – 400 pound Swordfish crabbing sideways across the water.
The fight was on, we cleared all the other lines just in time to start backing down on this monster before she spools the two speed Penn 50 with the better part of a thousand yards of new line. The fish fought hard with powerful 400 – 500 yard runs over and over. After about an hour we managed to get the fish close enough to grab the leader and claim the catch.  Steve was still pretty fresh and managed a beer at this point which may have affected his judgment when I suggested we should try to take the fish and go for the points at the weigh in. We had a plan, except we were missing an experienced wire man since Steve was the angler. Details, we fought the fish for another five hours. She was big and learned the game quickly, she would make us pull her up to within about 50 to 75 feet from the boat and would leisurely swim off a couple of hundred yards and start again. This went on for the next five hours, and the only one wearing down was Steve. It was starting to get clear who was winning so we organized our gaff and harpoon team and mounted a furious attack of backing down turning up the drag and going after the fish. Steve’s legs were cramping so bad he was hopping around, but stayed on the fight. We were gaining a few feet at a time but we were gaining for the first time. Closer and closer the fish got , the leader was grabbed, almost 40 feet of double and 400 lb mono, and gaffs were readied. Well this fish wasn’t even started and charged under the boat and cut the line on the wheels. 

We won the tournament because we touched the leader earlier in the fight and had our “catch” before any other boat. We all wanted the big weigh-in picture though. Definitely would have been the catch of a lifetime to catch that fish in a tournament. I can see the whole thing like it was yesterday and I want the chance to fight that fish again.

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