Lesson Learned

If you’ve never been skunked, shutout or whatever you call it, then you simply haven’t spent enough time on the water. Regardless if it’s inshore, on the flats or somewhere over the horizon, you will eventually be served a piece of humble pie.


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In preparation of a recent daytime swordfish trip our crew thought we had taken care of everything. Our Mercury-powered SeaVee was fueled and loaded to the hilt with harpoon, flying gaff, extra leather gloves, tail ropes…you name it and we had it covered. Our tackle was also meticulously inspected to ensure our equipment was in perfect working order. We can’t forget to mention the many hours invested in procuring and rigging the freshest swordfish baits possible in an effort to fool the baddest of all broadbills. With everyone and everything in place, at daybreak the following morning we shoved off on the 24-mile run to a proven hot-spot.

The key is carefully evaluating what went wrong and why, and then taking the necessary measures to ensure the same issues don’t rear their ugly heads in the future.

Encountering fair conditions with minimal current upon our arrival, we proceeded to deploy our first bait into the dark depths almost 2,000 feet below. An uneventful 45-minutes later, we decided to retrieve and reset, which is where and when the unexpected trouble arose.

Just minutes into our second drift the notorious sign of a hungry swordfish slashing our bait became apparent. The Chaos rod did a good job translating the scene unfolding below. Certain the hungry fish had consumed the bait, we began retrieving line in an attempt to drive the hook home. Up until this point everything was coming together as expected…that is until the rod loaded and instantly unloaded.
With very little tension or weight on the line we were left to believe we pulled the hook and somehow lost our lead. Was a shark somehow to blame? The answer became evident a few minutes later as we were surprised to see a jagged cut in the line more than 500 feet from the wind-on leader. Baffled by the mishap, we dismissed it to a random chafe or nick and proceeded to re-rig the enitre outfit.

Now a few more miles north and back in the game, we deployed another bait in hopes of a second chance. A few minutes later we finally made contact with the bottom as we slowly powered into the northerly flowing Gulf Stream. As luck would have it, as soon as we began retrieving slack in an effort to suspend our bait in the strike zone, the weight or bait (we’ll never know which) snagged an unforgiving ledge below. In an instant the rod loaded and just as fast it was all over again.

Puzzled, this time our line unexplainably parted nearly 1,000 feet below the surface nowhere near the bottom and nowhere near a fish. Now truly frustrated with 500 yards of braid, two wind-on leaders, a pair of sash weights and six strobe lights donated to the fish gods, not to mention two meticulously rigged strip baits with skirts and stainless steel hooks, our swordfish efforts were officially done for the day. All of our hard work and effort along with fuel and time was completely in vain. We had fished for a total of 45 minutes, with zero to show for our efforts. Truly humbled, we sat quietly for a few minutes before pointing the bow west.

This is just one of countless similar stories from seasoned anglers all over the state when and where a random, unexpected act arises when least expected. In our case, we later determined the braid was on the reel for over a year. It was used and abused on many occasions and had caught a ton of fish from deepwater snapper and grouper to tackle-testing swordfish and sharks. We certainly got our money’s worth out of it, but wet braid never gets a chance to thoroughly dry once packed tightly on a spool, so it was concluded that the line must have deteriorated to the point where it created numerous weak points. The only other explanation is that the line could have crisscrossed on the spool at some point and unknowingly damaged the fibers. Either way, our day was doomed before we even left the dock.

Since you have to believe there’s a silver lining to every dark cloud, we learned a big lesson that day—never take anything for granted. While we consider ourselves educated anglers and inspect everything meticulously, we never gave our line, perhaps the most important part of the entire equation, the time and consideration it deserved. We simply assumed it was fine.

I tell you all of this because I want you to learn from and value the experiences of others who have made the same mistakes. This applies in every arena and with every species. Pay close attention to fishing guides and professional anglers who have long ago experienced the same trials and tribulations that you may be experiencing. These guys typically do things for a certain reason because they’ve already learned the lesson of what happens when you try and take the easy way out. Charter boat skippers and backcountry guides are on the water 200 or more days per year and they’ve seen almost everything go wrong. Their learning curves are arced completely different than that of a recreation angler who is lucky if he/she can fish once a week. It is a numbers game, and their livelihood depends on their ability to overcome adversity and consistently achieve success.

You know the saying, $&!% happens and it always will. Yet you must grow and learn from each mishap. The key is carefully evaluating what went wrong and why, and then taking the necessary measures to ensure the same issues don’t rear their ugly heads in the future. Continuing to do the same thing while expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Instead, take steps to eliminate tackle and angler failure and you will become a more successful angler. You can take that to the bank!