As a captain with Canyon Runner Sport Fishing out of Point Pleasant, NJ, Capt. Mark has more than 700 canyon trips under his belt. He joined the Canyon Runner Team in 2004 after years of working 9-5 in the "real world."
January 26, 2012
Florida Swordfishing ... the next chapter
by Canyon Runner
Its been a crazy month...spur of the moment trips, epic battles, victories, losses, long sleep deprived stretches, old friends, new friends...but bottom line is that its been a blast. It all came together Tuesday in a big way as I was preparing to head home for our seminar. We had some of Joe's friends in for a long weekend and had caught swords, wahoo, mahi and bottom fish during that time. By Monday afternoon , everyone was headed home and Joe and I got caught up with cleaning the boat, going over tackle and figuring out what we were going to do with the last few days available in January. Looking at the weather forecast, Tuesday into Wednesday looked good so we set a tentative plan to get out and give the swords another try Tueday evening. We made a few calls to see if anyone was available to join us , but being midweek, most everyone local had work commitments. By Tueday morning the weather forecast had increased from 5-10 knots to 10-15 knots. It was still fishable, but with just the two of us and having fished hard the previous few weeks , we decided to pass and not get beat up. We broke down all the offshore equipment , cleaned it up and stowed it away. By early afternoon, the sun was out and it was a beautiful day, so we opted to go out for a few hours and catch some bait, then go try and bend the rods with some AJ's or Kings. Bait was a little difficult to catch, but we managed a few pieces and headed off to 180 feet of water to a reef. Joe jigged a nice AJ and we both commented on how nice it was offshore. Its was 3:30 by now and we knew the 4 pm forecast would be coming out shortly. We were chomping at the bit to continue perfecting our sword techniques and rebound from the loss of a huge sword after a 7 hour battle just two weeks prior. The updated forecast came out and had improved to 10 knots throughout the night. As we read it , we both smiled and decided to go for it...our last shot before heading home. I ran the boat and Joe defrosted baits and put rods back together. We arrived at the spot and I put her on the drift to see our exact track and go to work prepping leaders, flossing sinker loops and rigging baits. By the time we got everything prepped, it was 5:45 and the sun was very low in the sky. I checked our drift and was pleasantly surprised to see it was exactly what I had hoped for and we were in a great position to start fishing. We set out three rods, two LP1200 electrics to cover the deep lines and one Penn 50W to cover the upper part of the water. We dont normally fish two electrics with a full crew, but with just the two of us, it made clearing lines and checking baits much easier. We also knew at some points during the night, it would just be one of us in the pit while the other caught a nap. Fishing deep lines in the gulfstream requires up to 8 lbs of weight to keep the baits in the zone. Reeling in that kind of weight from 150-400 feet down all night becomes a chore. So this night , we decided on fishing two LP's. Just after getting dark, the deep rod did the classic swordfish bounce, then slack and we were tight. The fish came up in about 15 minutes and we lifted it over the side and measured it @ 50". We have been getting so many requests for fish from Joes extended family and friends in the Stuart area, that we decided to keep it as "a bird in hand is better then two in the bush". We got reset and drifted for a while with no more action. Watching the cockpit sounder , we were still marking bait but our depth was getting a little deep so we decided to run back south and restart the drift. I started reeling in the first line and it gets whacked as its coming up. The line counter reads 265, so Joe quickly moves the other LP to 265 and he gets bit and tight. We get the fish to the boat and its around the same size as the first , so we decided to release it. We pull it aboard to unhook and see its bleeding badly, so we decide not to waste it and put the fish on ice. We move back down the line and get ready to start a new drift. I have noticed that our bigger fish have come from a certain area , so I line up the drift to take us over that area. By now its past dinner time , so Joe starts whipping up an awesome salad with some grilled mahi in a ginger sauce. After dinner , he decides to start the rotation of napping that we know we will have to do to get through the night. He lays down and I am sitting on the mezzanine watching rod tips. Five minutes goes by and the deep rod gets hit hard. I wait for the line to either come tight or go slack but it doesn't , so I move the bait up quickly in hopes the sword will get aggressive and eat it. After reeling 30 or so feet , I stop and after a few seconds she piles on and we are tight. I look at the line counter and its at 380 or so. At this point I am alone in the cockpit with a fish on and two other rods to clear. I yell for Joe, but he is out cold. The LP reels have a nice auto retreive feature , allowing me to hit the button and walk away, stopping at a preset depth which we have set just a few feet from the boat. I go inside and wake Joe and rush back to the cockpit. Joe goes to work reeling in the 50W as I remove the weight and stow the LP that doesn't have a fish on it.. By the time we get cleared, the line counter is at 1100 and the fish is screaming towards the surface and towards the bow. We get the boat started and spin it so the fish is off the port corner and go to work. The fish must have realized something was wrong as she made a series of runs , then charges at the boat. The line would go slack for extended periods of time as she outpaced the reel. On more then one occasion I thought we had pulled the hook, but each time she would turn and the rod would resume its bend. Although fishing heavy weights can be a royal pain, my feeling is they keep enough tension on the line to keep a fish hooked when they charge the boat like this fish did. After one of these violent runs, she settled in near the surface. I eased the boat back a little and to my surprise, we closed the gap. We watched as the line counter steadily decreased until she was within 130 feet. We had already decided I would work the rod, remove the weight and harpoon, while Joe ran the boat to make sure the fish stayed where we wanted it. Soon, she popped to the surface on the edge of the lights and slashed her sword. We knew she was big and by know I could see she had gotten tailwrapped on her last charge at the boat. Everything went according to plan and we got a clean harpoon shot. Joe followed with a gaff and we had her secure. I was worried she would light up and create havoc, so I got a tailrope on the fish to give us a minute to regroup. At this point everything was good and we went about opening the transom door and getting prepared to pull her in the boat. We were drifting side to the wind with the swords head pointed to the starboard side of the boat and her tail to port. We attempted to pull her in for a good while and just could not manage to get her in. The fish carried a lot of weight in the mid section and was laying at an angle and with the tail down in the water. The two of us could not get her angled correctly to slide in. I tied a poly ball to her tail to give us a better angle and got the same result. We tried turning the boat down sea with the troll valves moving us ahead very slowly and still could not get her in. By now we were spent and had to look for other alternatives. I started thinking about the potential of sharks getting the fish so we had to come up with a plan. I had run across this issue a few years ago when fishing in Chatham for Giant Bluefin and ended up using the anchor windlass to get a large bluefin in the boat. Fortunately for us, Joe has a windlass on the Blue Runner so we got it rigged up. We put a flying gaff in the most solid part of the fish near the base of the bill. We ran the anchor rope down the starboard side of the boat, outside the cleats, from the windlass to the flying gaff head. The windlass was the capstan type, where you take three or four wraps around the windlass and have to keep tension on it for it to pull the anchor. The controls for it are on the bridge, which meant on of us would have to be on the bow, while the other was on the bridge. This also meant the cockpit would be empty so we couldn't guide the fish or watch to be sure the gaff wasn't ripping out or damaging the boat. We didn't like those options , so Joe came up with the idea to run the other end of the rope down the port side so we could keep tension on the rope from the cockpit. I was in the cockpit and Joe on the bridge controlling the capstan. I added pressure and the rope came tight and started pulling but the dorsal fin and pec fins were hanging up and she still would not come in. We needed to guide the fish towards the port with a gaff so the dorsal had a chance to clear, but that meant both of us would have to be in the cockpit , one guiding the fish and one tensioning the rope.This also meant no one could operate the windlass and we worried that once she came in we would not be able to stop the windlass and the fish would be pulled into the mezzanine and the gaff would damage the boat. We tried unsuccessfully for a bit then gave in a decided to let the windlass run. Joe would tension the rope as needed and I would pull and guide with the gaff. We started pulling and she started coming in, then hung up and the gaff starting tearing through and straightening the hook. At that point,she suddenly popped through the door. I'm not sure why, but I really didn't care .. she was on deck and huge.
We looked at each other and said at the same time "we are not putting lines back in the water". We pointed her towards the inlet and brought her up to 8 knots while we got cleaned up. As tired as we were at this point, neither one of us could sleep so we just chugged in at 8 knots the entire way and enjoyed the ride. I go back in Febuary, not sure what to do for an encore ....
January 19, 2012
by Canyon Runner
After a 5 day stretch of flat calm conditions, the wind is starting to blow again here in Stuart,Florida and its a good thing as I need to get some sleep. When the owner of the Blue Runner, a 60 foot Ritchie Howell, asked me back in August if I had an interest in running his boat this winter in Florida, I weighed the fact that the last few winters were slow for bluefin commercially, but on the other hand, I really wasn't that interested in sailfishing. With a promise that we would go exploring and focus on Swords, wahoo and bottom fishing as well as knowing the owner has a very relaxed program, my decision was easy. Fast forward to Wednesday January 4, I am sitting in the airport on my way back to Florida after spending the holidays with my family. I am looking at the forecast and seeing flat calm conditions for days so I start calling my friends that had expressed an interest in fishing with us this winter. With such short notice I really didn't expect anyone to be able to make it, but with just the owner and I as crew, any help was appreciated. By the time I landed at West Palm later in the afternoon, I had a firm commitment from one of my childhood friends and another friend that had a long history fishing for Giant Bluefin Tuna . Lewis and Jimmy had fished together for many years for giants with much success, but had never caught wahoo or swords. After picking them up Thursday afternoon at the airport, we spend the rest of the day preparing for a Friday/ Saturday overnight trip.
Friday morning dawns still as predicted and we set off in search of wahoo. We started with the standard high speed set up and after a few hours of trolling, have nothing to show for it. We collectively decide that the trolling weights don't look natural and it just doesn't feel right trolling at 12-15 knots, so we slow down and go to a more standard spread that we would pull in the canyons of the Northeast. Shortly thereafter we get two flatline bites and one rigger bite, coming tight on two. Jimmy and Lewis land their first wahoo and high fives follow. We end up the day going 6 for 11 on the wahoo and adding a Blackfin tuna to the mix. As the sun gets low in the sky, we start looking around for prime bottom to set out the sword spread. During December , we tried the normal spots with little success, so we make up our mind the think outside the box and find an area that has seen little pressure .. we find an area that looks good on the chart, but its a long run. We make the run and set out the first rod. As soon as we get it set, the rod doubles over and we all look at each other in amazement. It was short lived as we bring up a shark, not a good sign. We reset the spread and wait about half an hour when the lines start to cross. I picked up the rod to move it around and feel the "tap, tap" of a sword then slack. I reel like hell and come tight and the battle begins. Lewis is up and lands his first sword pretty quickly , a nice 55" fish. We get another shark bite , then another sword, releasing another keeper about the same size as the first. The bites continue with another shark, a missed sword, then a good hookup around 4:15am. I get my chance on the rod and boat a nice 170 lb sword in about 20 minutes.
We reset and miss one more sword bite before dawn, ending the night 3 for 5 on swords. We decide to finish up the trip with a little bottom fishing and catch a nice mixed bag of snapper, grouper, AJ's and a really nice African Pompano, releasing everything except the pompano.
With the weather cooperating and feeling really upbeat about our trip , we decide to get in early and prep for a Sunday/Monday trip.
Sunday dawns beautiful and we set off in search of wahoo again. We find the bites , but pull a bunch of hooks only landing one hoo. With the sun bright, the bite slowed down so we go exploring some more bottom fishing spots and end up with a mixed bag much the same as the day before. With the sun getting low, we decide to overthink things and go to a different sword spot that looks even better on the charts. We get set up and spend four hours with one shark bite and one Blackfin tuna before we decide to go back to where we had fished two nights earlier. We get set out and start the wait. We wanted to fish a deep bait with the full moon, so we set out the LP1200 electric as the 400 foot rod. This reel is used for daytime swording and deep drop and puts out tremendous drag for extended periods. About 12:30 am the line starts burning off the reel and we begin what would become the most epic battle any of us have ever seen.
The fish showed itself after only 20 minutes or so , coming to the surface and slashing its huge sword and jumping once. It then decided it did not like what it saw on the surface and sounded. We watched the line counter on the reel start its descent, not stopping until the sword was at 1300 feet. For the next 3 hrs we battled it out with the fish between 1000-1400 feet and showing no signs of slowing down. We started adding more drag hoping to break the swords will, bit it wouldn't budge. I started adding pressure with my gloved hand and very slowly we started to gain foot by foot. By the 6 hour mark we had the fish within a few hundred feet of the boat but fatigue was setting in and the gear was becoming a worry. With no choice we continued adding drag and continued gaining line. By the 7 hour mark we were getting the 50 foot topshot on the reel. The topshot was on and off the reel at least a dozen times but we were slowly gaining. By now the sun was up and the swivel finally breaks the surface. We reach for the weight but its just out of reach. As the fish circles we are looking right at it and ready to harpoon but it takes back a little line. We work it close again and are getting ready for the harpoon shot when the fish decides to turn and burn. As she takes off the top shot flies off the reel and the braid explodes as it clears the rod and the fish is gone. She was the sword of a lifetime for us , and easily over 500 lbs. It was one of the most difficult losses I have ever had, but at the same time I know that fish swam away strongly and we have something to shoot for. Fatigue has set in and we decide to just go in early and regroup. We get back to the dock and plan for a day of rest and tackle prep. Well the owner has different ideas. He says "I can't go tonight, but this is the last day of great weather and you guys need to get back on the horse". We look at each other and say what the hell and start prepping tackle, re-fueling and food shopping. By 3:45 we are off and headed to the spot we had left dejected only hours before. With just three of us on the boat and being tired , we plan for 2 guys up and one sleeping on rotation. We get to the grounds and Jimmy and I start setting out while Lou goes to take a shower. Within minutes I see a bite on the deep rod and we are tight .. its not even dark yet and its game on . The fish cooperates and we have number one sword of the evening on deck at 58". We reset and begin the wait. It doesn't take long and we are tight again. This continues and by 1am we are 7 for 8 and very low on bait. I am taking a nap when Jimmy comes in and wakes me to say he popped a hamstring trying to net a flying fish. He is in a lot of pain and is officially out of commission but insists we keep fishing. I make the call to fish until 4:30 or so, so that we will have some light coming in the inlet. I lay back down and leave Lewis on watch. At around 2:15 he announces we are tight once again and he and I go to work with Jimmy coaching us on from the couch in the salon. We make good progress and have color in 25 minutes or so, we unclip the weight and get leader in hand. I sink the poon and we have the fish secure. Lewis and I decide to pull her over the transom and I guess adrenaline had kicked in because we pulled her over and were very surprised to see she was 78 inches in the 270 lb class. We started cleaning up as we had used up all our bait, ending fishing before 3am with my best night of swordfishing ever under my belt going 8 for 9 on swords. All in all a great trip for everyone. With a night of sleep , I am chomping at the bit for the wind to lay out and get on the sword grounds again.