Barehanded Broadbill

After a lengthy closure, grouper were once again harvestable targets and we were chomping at the bit to put fish on ice. Fortunately, everything was coming together just perfectly as we geared up for a day on the water with Captain Dave Duncan Jr. aboard Triple Header out of New Smyrna Beach. With grouper safe from capture for the last few months, Captain Dave Jr. was as excited as we were, knowing that the fish would be feeding in full force. Sure enough, as we baited up with live pigfish and dropped to the bottom it didn’t take long to get our first strike.


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Fast forward a few hours and it couldn’t have been any better. It was a flat calm day and we had already discussed the myriad ways we were going to prepare our fresh catch. We were making our last drop when out of nowhere we saw a huge commotion on the surface. It was about 300 yards out and at first we thought it was a sailfish. As the ballistic billfish continued tailwalking toward the boat we could see it had a larger profile and everyone started shouting marlin. From up in the tower Captain Dave Jr. got a better look and told us it was definitely not a marlin, but a broadbill swordfish.

We looked over the gunnel and sure enough the beaten broadbill was suspended in the shadow of the boat. Without hesitation, Dave surprisingly grabbed a gaff and literally dove in.

With nothing to lose, the mate rigged up the last pigfish on a spinning outfit and pitched it out. The bait landed a foot from the swordfish and as soon as the mate handed me the rod the line came tight and the fight was on. Everyone reeled in their lines as fast as possible and we began chasing the fish—I was getting spooled in a hurry.

Just as the knot became visible I started to gain line, but no sooner had I recaptured nearly all of the monofilament and the fish took off again. The situation continued for nearly two hours. I was holding the rod with a death grip and although my blisters were growing by the second, I was pretty excited up to the point of exhaustion. We managed to get the fish up to the boat, only to have it sound to the depths once again. Over two hours into the fight the fish started to give…so we thought.

With the crystal clear water we could see the broadbill hanging only 20 feet below the boat. However, during the heat of the battle the fish became tail wrapped. It was a stalemate and there was nothing I could do. If I applied any additional pressure I would have surely broken the leader. Dave’s father was also on the boat and came down from the bridge to coach me. I handed over the rod to see if he could move the fish and at that very moment the line parted.

Explicative’s flying and noticeably upset, Dave Jr. came flying off the bridge and shouted, “The fish is sitting under the boat just laughing at us.”

We looked over the gunnel and sure enough the beaten broadbill was suspended in the shadow of the boat. Without hesitation, Dave surprisingly grabbed a gaff and dove in. As Dave swam under the boat we momentarily lost sight of him. “Maybe a saftey line would have been a good idea,” his father exclaimed.

While it was only a matter of seconds, it felt like an hour. All of a sudden we heard a loud splash and hollering from the other side of the boat. “I’ve got him! I’ve got him!”

We shuffled to the other side of the cockpit and sure enough the fish was slashing its bill on the surface while Dave was trying to keep a firm grip on the gaff. He passed the gaff off and we managed to stick the enraged swordfish with another gaff. We pulled Dave and the fish over the gunnel and celebrated the incredible, yet unbelievable catch. When we returned to the dock no one believed our outlandish story. If I wasn’t there myself and didn’t see it with my own two eyes I wouldn’t have believed it either.