I took the family and the Family Jewell for a vacation over the 4th of July week down to Marathon. Tropical Storm Elsa cost us a day and half of boating time, but we were in the Keys so we didn’t suffer too bad. We rented a really nice house in Sombrero Beach with a chilled pool, dockage for my brother’s boat and ours, an ice machine and ten minute access to the ocean. We did some light fishing the first few days catching some flag yellowtail, Spanish mackerel, a few Mahi and kept the kids busy with dockside mangroves.
Thursday was the day we set aside for our full day offshore to target swordfish and our wives would be taking the kids to Key West for the day. A last minute change to the agenda had me flying solo. No problem, I’ve done this before, but have never connected while targeting swords solo. Up before my 6am alarm, I made some breakfast and some sandwiches, topped off the coolers and was off the dock by 6:45. I cleared out of Sisters Creek and pointed the Family Jewell due south. With 31 miles ahead to the sword grounds, I thought to myself, I really need autopilot. I recently heard a story about someone’s father saying, “We won’t get there until we get there”. It was explained to me to mean that if you don’t stick with the plan, you will never get to your destination. This rang in my ears as I passed some nice sargassum patches and a few flocks of birds. I will admit to stopping once.
Once I reached the grounds, I started to get everything together. Not having another set of hands, I knew I needed to prepare for everything that could happen. I already had my safety gear readied, but I now needed to set up for swordfishing. Before even deploying the bait, I went through my action plan and considered the “what if’s” and “how bout’s”. I set up both harpoons and cleared the deck to eliminate any potential tangles. Big gaffs, check. Tail rope, check. Gloves, check. Tape measure ready, check. Lead, lights and bait, check. I had my first bait in the water by 8:30am. There wasn’t a boat in sight and the radio was eerily quiet. I made 3 long drifts and didn’t even get a sniff. I decided to make an 8 mile run to another area that I had fished before with a little luck. When I pulled up there were 2 other boats there. I thought this looks promising. I set up and didn’t have any bites on my first two drifts. My plan was to fish until 1:30 then start heading in to do some deep dropping. At 1:15, I made the call to set up for one last drift. I ran out set up on a different line and sent down a fresh bait.
Most of the day I had a live pilchard out behind the boat, but recently brought it in because the weeds were becoming a pain. I left the bait on the hook and in the live well ready to go. Not five minutes later I saw a nice mahi charging the boat all lit up. Got the first one hooked up and baited a second. I was doubled up baby! Got them both in the boat while simultaneously doing a little boat driving to keep the sword rod vertical. I did a quick bottom check with the rod and noticed the bait was closer to the bottom than I wanted. I brought it up 100 feet and started cleaning the mahi mess. I turned around and the rod looked like my bait was resting on the bottom. I thought that was weird, so I brought it up 200 feet and got the lead back and back to normal. Then the line went slack again. I was finally tight! The fish put up a decent fight, but for the most part cooperated. It stayed scoped out and even was tame while getting the 8 pound lead off the line. Once I could see color I knew it was a sword and not a shark or other bycatch. It’s bill broke the surface and it looked small, so I decided not to throw the dart. Several left handed circles, a few hard reverse rights later, I had it on the surface sliding to me. Gloves were on, bill in hand and over the rail! I did a quick tape to see 53 inches. High fives all around! Well, kind of. Being prepared and allowing luck to take over almost always works. It turned out to be quite the ride home.
Capt. Ryan Palmer
Family Jewell Fishing Charters