Quite possibly one of the oldest tools for harvesting wild aquatic game, harpoons have been relied upon for centuries across most parts of the world. Cave drawings dating back to the beginning of recorded history depict scenes of harpooned marine animals, and you’re surely familiar with the historic whaling industry of the Northeast. Can you say Nantucket sleigh ride?
Even though developing gear and modern equipment have overcome most traditional fishing methods, this time-honored technique is still widely used today. Swordfish and bluefin tuna are targeted by harpoon fleets with the goal of an incredibly low impact on the environment. Capturing large, mature fish one at time practically eliminates the accidental harvest of juveniles or unwarranted marine species.
When you have a fish on the leader and it’s time to end the game you don’t need to throw your harpoon like a javelin…take your time and make your first shot count.
While low impact techniques may be the future of sustainable commercial fishing, in pursuit of the ocean’s most formidable predators recreational anglers need to have all of the necessary tools at their disposal. While gaffs certainly get the job done with manageable game fish like dolphin, cobia, kingfish and wahoo, when targeting large predators like swordfish you normally only get one shot. In this endeavor when a large fish is boat side there’s a fine line between securing your prize catch and watching it casually swim away. Don’t let your efforts go to waste when you have an impressive fish on the leader. Bury the dart and end the fight!
Since we don’t condone the killing of sharks, and giant bluefin no longer migrate through the Florida Straits in the numbers they once used to, the only real use for a harpoon is for those who regularly target broadbill swordfish. While harpoons of years past were no more than barbed poles designed to impale, today’s harpoons are specialized pieces of equipment manufactured with lightweight metal shafts and razor sharp darts.
Starting with what matters most, dart tips are available in bronze and stainless steel and often come pre-rigged with 18 to 36-inches of multi-strand cable. Since swordfish don’t have abrasive skin like sharks, if you’d like you can do away with the cable and rig your dart directly to the main line.
At the base of the dart there is a hollow cavity that fits into a standard 3/8″ diameter stainless steel shaft. The shaft normally extends 14 to 18-inches to a weighted head, which increases accuracy and penetration power. Harpoons are available with one-piece and multi-piece shafts, and are often manufactured with aluminum due to the material’s inherent light weight and impressive strength. Besides your actual harpoon and dart you will also need at least 200 feet of 3/8″ nylon rope, a basket or milk crate to keep the rope neatly coiled, and an 18-inch poly ball. Chances are you’ll never have to toss the poly ball overboard, but it’s better to be really safe than really sorry.
Now that you have all the necessary items and your harpoon is assembled it is time to start rigging. Whether you intend to attach the main line to the cable loop or directly to the dart head, you’ll want to use a bowline knot. But before you can attach the dart you need to insert the main line through the loop at the butt end of your harpoon. This will ensure your harpoon shaft doesn’t sink to the ocean floor once the dart separates from the pole.
Next you must secure the main line to the shaft so the dart doesn’t fall off when the harpoon is held upside down. With the dart resting in place, tape the main line about two feet below the tip with electrical tape or blue painter’s tape. Since you want the main line to release from the shaft once the fish has been struck, one or two wraps with the tape will suffice. Continue down the shaft and make two more wraps with small sections of tape. When the fish is struck the harpoon shaft should separate from the dart and main line.
When you have a fish on the leader and it’s time to end the game you don’t need to throw your harpoon like a javelin. Instead, take your time and make your first shot count. With a weighted harpoon and sharp dart you don’t need much force for deep penetration, especially with the soft tissue of swordfish. A headshot will ensure you don’t damage any meat, but by all means do whatever it takes to get the fish in the boat. If you dart a fish and it decides to make a run, let it go and be aware of the line coming out of the basket. Don’t ever tie off the main line to a cleat as it could rip the dart right out of the fish.
You may think that owning a harpoon is over ambitious and unnecessary, but if you regularly target swordfish this is a tool you must have. Even so, you still won’t win every fight. Be safe and have fun.
The bowline is an extremely useful and versatile loop knot that should be in every boater’s repertoire. Start by creating a small loop, but remember that the tag line will determine the size of your finished loop. Pass the tag end through the first hole, around the standing line and back through the same hole.