Sunburn Swordfish Tournament

The Best of the Best Hunt the Gladiator

Capt. Steve Dougherty March 10, 2015

Daytime swordfishing is an incredibly specialized fishery, and the crews out of South Florida have become adept at putting big fish in the boat. Make no mistake though, swordfish will exploit the weakest link in angler or tackle and consistently catching these apex predators is no easy task. Headaches and heartbreaks are part of the learning curve when chasing one of the most powerful predators in all of the world’s oceans.

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Photo: Steve Dougherty

However, as difficult and challenging as the task is, daytime swordfishing has received a host of negative press from those looking in because it’s perceived that it simply requires the push of a button to bring fish to the surface. Electric reels are the norm, but the reality is that the techniques and precision required to present baits in the unforgiving territory make it a true challenge even with the most modern tackle.

Electric reels are the norm, but the reality is that the techniques and precision required to present baits in the unforgiving territory make it a true challenge even with the most modern tackle.

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, anglers searching out swordfish along South Florida’s canyons and trenches of the continental shelf faced tough conditions with five knots of current blanketing the grounds. This presents a difficult challenge when dropping baits nearly 1,800 feet below the surface, but those who fished through the tough conditions caught quality fish, so everyone was expecting big things to come. And there was a lot to live up to, with past Sunburn Swordfish winners bringing big fish to the scales.

Everyone in South Florida knows RJ Boyle as not only the owner of one of the most outfitted tackle shops around, but also as one of the pioneers of daytime swordfishing techniques. What anglers really like about his tournaments is the fact that he offers 100 percent payout. The tournament had a $750 entry fee that put anglers across the board for several categories including biggest fish in Broward, biggest fish in Palm Beach, biggest fish overall, aggregate weight and largest dolphin. With 27 boats fishing from Ft. Pierce to Miami, there was upwards of $20,000 at stake.

As anglers reached the grounds in anticipation of lines in at 7:30 a.m. crews were excited to see that the current had slowed considerably from the ripping speed of weeks prior. Fishing aboard Shea-D-Lady with Kyle Shea and Christopher Fay, we reached what we believed was the magic number and held our line jogging into the current until it was time to send our bait to the depths. Swordfish are migratory predators, but the technique and territory means boats were going to be fishing in close proximity, and we were expecting to see multiple boats fishing the same trenches.

We had a bait near the bottom for about 30 minutes when the telltale tap alerted us there was something happening below. In typical fashion of a big fish, after bending the rod on the initial run, the sword slacked off as it swam to the surface. Within 30 minutes of the initial strike we had the opportunity to clear the weight from the wind-on leader before the fish ripped nearly 1,000 feet of line off the reel. Looking at the boats motoring aggressively around us it was clear that we weren’t the only team with a sword on the line and it was critical we got the fish to the boat fast to capitalize on the calcutta for catching the first fish of the day.

After a stalemate battle with the fish sulking 700 feet below the surface, we managed to work it to the boat one foot at a time. Two hours later, the monster sword was secured boatside and we called in our catch and coordinates to the tournament committee boat. It was the first caught fish of the tournament and we secured the calcutta, but only three minutes later Hoos Naked called in the tournament’s second fish.

With a fish in the boat by mid-morning we were well on our way to a day to remember forever, but with an assembly of the best swordfishermen in the state we knew it wasn’t over yet and the tournament was still anyone’s game. The radio went quiet for the rest of the afternoon until 30 minutes before lines in when five boats hooked up simultaneously. The bite turned on and there was no telling who would come out on top. We also had a bite 11 minutes before lines in and managed to bring a 50-inch fish to the boat that qualified us for the aggregate division.

At the end of the day, catching two swordfish was incredibly special, and doing it in a tournament was even more memorable. When we cruised up to the dock we knew we had a big fish, but we really had no idea how big she truly was. Hoisting up the winch at the Lighthouse Point Marina, there was risk of the block and tackle breaking as the scale read 480 pounds with the head of the fish still on the deck. The final weight was 501 pounds, and with an additional 70-pound swordfish we ended up securing 1st Place with the biggest fish overall and a cumulative weight of 571 pounds.

In the end, Hoos Naked captured the biggest fish in the Broward County division at 150.5 pounds, which was also good enough to secure the 2nd Place biggest fish. Piracy took 2nd Place in the aggregate division with a 144 and 109.3-pounder for a total of 253.3 pounds, with Live Action capturing a 74.5 and 109-pounder for 183.5 pounds. The largest dolphin weighed 34.8 pounds.

While catching a swordfish that weighs 500 pounds is truly remarkable, what was even more special was that the fish was very short for its size. “The fish was 87 inches from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail and it had a 72 inch girth. It’s the shortest, fattest fish anyone’s ever seen,” said Christopher Fay. Our crew won over $12,000 for our efforts and set the bar high with a new tournament record that will be challenging to top. Visit rjboylestudio.com for complete results and information on how to participate in the next Sunburn Swordfish Tournament.

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