Thanks to Captain Jack Sprengel of East Coast Charters out of Warwick, Rhode Island who wrote up this account of the Rhode Island State Record swordfish landed aboard the Hot Reels in Hydrographers Canyon last Friday – Jimmy Fee
The Last 36 Hours
Captain Jack Sprengel
I woke up at 4:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 11 to join my friend Captain Louis DeFusco on 38-foot Donzi Hot Reels for an offshore shark charter with Bill Dimaio, his daughter Lauren and some of their close friends. We motored the Hot Reels to Coxes Ledge and proceeded to bail mahi mahi in the warm water. After a couple hours of mahi fishing, we set up a chum slick and almost immediately got hammered by a massive thresher shark. Bill takes hold of the rod and hangs on for dear life while the beast dances across the surface of the water. Unfortunately, the shark charged the boat, quickly switching direction toward the stern, creating just enough of a bow in the line for its tail to extend past the 9-foot wire leader. There was nothing we could do but watch in horror as the thresher’s tail frayed through the 130-pound-test monofilament. We were impressed by hooking a thresher right out of the gate, but were disappointed that the fish got away.
We quickly re-rigged and got back to it. After one or two nice blue sharks, it was Lauren’s turn to fight a shark, and did she ever. On the next run-off, as soon as she set the hook, a nice mako came rocketing out of the water for a quick aerial show. After a short battle, she had the fish whipped and we secured some delicious mako steaks for her and her family to take home. We stuck it out a little while longer until everyone had a few sharks each and then around 4:00 p.m. we headed back in.
By 5:00 p.m. Captain Lou and I were refueling for the next trip, which was a tuna charter out to the canyons and was set to leave in just two hours. The anglers, Christian Haufler and his son Mark were ready for 24 hours of “Iron Man” canyon fishing.
We loaded up with the new gas, ice and crew and do a quick check on ocean temperature and settle in for the 4-hour ride to Hydrographers Canyon, 140 miles away. After 4 hours of steaming into the bright, full-moon night, we found a nice temperature break in some decent water. Lou commented on liking the bait he saw in the light of his hydro glow light. So the plan was set up a couple of bait rigs for swords and tuna and drop a few jigs, or as we like to call it deploying the probes, and then catch some shut eye for a long day of tuna fishing starting at sun up. So Lou and I set up some nice rigs including a cool new light lure from Carlson, and set them up for the evening. Exhausted from the shark charter earlier in the day, I leaned against the console and began to doze off.
At 2:00 a.m., I’m violently woken up by a screaming clicker. BRRRRRRRRRRRRR! “I’m on guys. Get ready this fish is a stross,” Lou said. (Stross is a term Lou uses to describe huge or monstrous fish.)
I sprang to my feet and begin to clear the other lines and the deck for the impending battle. Doing so, it became very apparent that Lou had gotten into the Red Bull, as even after fishing for sharks all day and heading to the canyon right after, he managed to empty and entire bag of chum baits, set up another bait rig, dead stick a RonZ lure, jig for yellowfin and hook up with this giant fish.
While the rest of our crew helped clear the deck, I hopped behind the wheel and started up the engines in case we needed to “shake and bake.”
The fish was threatening to dump the Fin-Nor Santiago 80W and the local hooker rod was seriously “getting bent,” as per their slogan. Lou turned back toward me with a concerned look and said, “He’s taking everything and the drag is at forty pounds!”
We had to make a move quickly, so I spun the boat toward the fish and Lou began the nightmarish process of gaining 6 inches then losing 20 yards. Whenever we could get the fish near the surface, it would charge the boat, spin toward the engines and then sound. To compensate for the antics of the fish, I was constantly maneuvering boat, between chasing the fish to gain line, backing down, and cutting the wheel 360 degrees and back to spin the bow away when he would charge us, bill first. I thought I was going to need splints for my wrists! If you looked at our GPS trackview of the boat’s gps track during the battle, it would probably look like calligraphy! I was getting the workout of a lifetime just handling the boat – I can’t even imagine was Lou was going through on the rod.
At one point Lou looked over at me and said, “I’m so tired right now, is this really happening.” Both Lou and I have battled giant tuna and marlin and no fish had ever given us the business the way this one did.
Three hours into the fight, when the sun was beginning to rise, the fish was finally showing signs of fatigue. The powerful circles that it was using to try and cut our line, became wider and wider and closer to the surface. Finally the fish came up to the surface and gave us a glimpse of his massive shape; we knew that it was going to be trouble. Christian readied the harpoon and basket and brought it over to Lou. The massive swordfish came up to the surface and made a move toward the stern. I cut the wheel hard into the direction of the fishes giving Lou a wide-open shot with the harpoon. He took the harpoon in one hand with the rod still in the other and nailed the fish, Spartan-style while I simultaneously sunk a flying gaff near its tail. It was officially lights out.
There we were with a fish of a lifetime, but we had a new problem – How could we get this thing into the boat? After an hour of different attempts, we were ultimately able to drag the fish through the tuna door, bill first. Home free, right? Not exactly. We dragged the fish up to the bow of the vessel to put it into the massive coffin box for storing fish. This box is big enough to fit four grown men or two huge tuna. We slid the fish into the box and to our despair the bill and tail stuck way out of box while the body stayed inside.
We wanted an official weight so we didn’t want to cut or dress the fish just yet. We had a tough call to make; fish all day for tuna and risk ruining this amazing meat or dump all of the ice we have on the fish and race home 4 hours and 140 miles away. We chose the latter.
Into a 15-knot headwind and 4-foot seas we raced back to Point Judith. The head sea made us earn every inch, as it pounded on the boat so hard that it actually snapped the shackle on the bow anchor sending it flying into the water.
Finally, we made into the Harbor of Refuge and began to text everyone we knew about the fish and invited as many people as we could to come see this catch of a lifetime put on the scale. After texting so much that I killed my phone’s battery, we made way for Snug Harbor Marina to weigh in the fish. At the dock a crowd had already began to gather and watch as we pulled up to the crane and scale. They lowered the chain and we attached the tail rope around the tree trunk this fish had for a caudal fin. Bets and heckling about the fish’s actual weight were being shouted out. The scale was barely able to get the entire fish off the ground.
When it finally did the monster swordfish tipped the scales at a whopping 434 pounds, shattering the old Rhode Island State record for swordfish by 120 pounds! We filled out a weigh slip, took a ton of pictures and shook some hands. With the help of our friend Steve from Lady K and the staff on the dock at Snug Harbor Marina, we began to process the fish. It turned out to be a rare “pumpkin” swords, a swordfish that has a rich orange to pink meat based because of its diet. Bonus!
Needless to say it’s been an interesting 36 hours, and a lot of fun doing what we love for work!
For more information about catching swords, pick up a copy of the September Issue of On The Water magazine to read Jon Pilcher’s article “Swordfish Secrets.”