Two weeks earlier Steve Watson had been out with a mate trying to catch a swordfish during the day with no luck, but was keen to give it another crack. So, with the weather looking good for Saturday, he did a ring around to find a crew, and the responses were: “working”, “building a fence”, “going spear fishing”… Never mind, he’d go out by himself.
It was a late 9am start at the Waitangi boat ramp. I made a quick stop at the Nine Pin to get a fresh kahawai to supplement the frozen skippies. Then it was a quick run out to the trench with the weather settling nicely.
I rigged up the kahawai, checked the drift, and deployed the bait, dropping it down to the bottom 400 metres below. Then, after bringing it up 50 winds, I placed the outfit in the holder.
I wasn’t really expecting anything, but nevertheless I pulled the gaff out, cleated off the rope, and placed the gloves, knives and mobile phone where I could easily reach them.
Only five minutes went by before there was a very slow clack, clack, clack… It couldn’t be, I thought. Nah, must be the bottom. I checked the sounder: 420m and getting deeper.
A good mate Chris Small told me there are basically two types of swordfish bites: the Jaws (the movie) bite, with the slow, steady run, or it will all go slack. I watched the tip and asked myself if the line was going slack. Maybe… Yep, it’s slack!
I started cranking the handle, and 200 metres later the mono was back on the reel but there was still no real weight. Maybe a bass? However the line kept angling further and further out, and then, finally, the weight came on – big time!
I will never forget the first run, which saw the fish charge 200 metres just under the surface, suggesting it was about to jump – but no, instead it went straight back down.
At this point I was at the stern with the fish heading down. That wasn’t going to work, so I shuffled up to the helm and swung the boat around so I could fight the fish from the helm position.
Half an hour later, I gave my mate Terry on Hot Tuna a call, as he was out on the water too.
“Mate, I’m tight on a sword and by myself, so I’ll keep in touch...”
The next couple of hours were uneventful (apart from suffering excruciating pain from a cramping winding arm), with the line repeatedly being dragged out and then me cranking it back in again, but never getting any closer than 100 metres. I only chased it once, and when I did it was very slowly; if you keep things slow and steady, it’s harder to mess up!
Then, at the two-and-a-half hour mark, while exerting 14kg of constant pressure, there was an almighty crack and the rod whipped back. What the %@&$!?
For a moment I had no idea what had happened – until I saw the top of the rod sliding down the line. Fortunately I reacted quickly, placing the reel into free-spool and pointing the rod straight at the fish. After that, still in a state of shocked disbelief, I eased the drag back up a bit… Yep, still tight – but the game had just changed dramatically, as I now had to hold the outfit without the harness, so the line wouldn’t get damaged on the broken rod.
I think my saving grace was that when the rod broke it gave the fish a wake-up call, bringing it right to the surface. Pointing the rod directly at the fish on the surface was a lot easier than when directly below the boat.
This gave me a minute to contemplate the overall situation and consider what should happen next, figuring I had two options: carry on using the rod as a winch or, alternatively, run off the full 900 metres of mono and Dacron, cut it off the spool, detach the broken rod from above the reel, attach the new rod, then thread the line through the guides and tie it back on the reel.
The second option would give me a new rod, but risked the hook falling out – or maybe the fish would head down to the bottom and never come up again? And besides, could I change the rod over fast enough before the fish started to pull on the line again?
I decided on Option One: I would keep on winching as long as the fish was close. So basically this was ‘do or die’ time.
‘I’ll give you something to think about, you mongrel!’ I thought to myself, before sliding the drag to sunset. (Later, when I checked the drag back at home, this setting was just shy of 20kg, so no wonder my arm hurt!)
Then I gave it everything, not even bothering to ease the drag back during big power runs – if the line was going to break, tough shit, I wasn’t going to stay out there all night.
After half an hour of severe winching and using the swell and roll of the boat to gain line, I was looking down into the deep blue following the high-vis line, and to my amazement I could see the weak blink of the light at the top of my wind-on leader. Crap! That was sooner than expected – I didn’t even have my gloves on. Worse, as I still had to point the rod at the fish straight down while hanging over the gunnel, getting them on was going to be a real challenge.
So, with one hand firmly around the base of the reel, I stretched out and grabbed one glove, got my fingers in, and pulled it on with my teeth. One glove – that was going to have to do!
The leader grew closer, a few centimetres each crank, and before I knew it, it was crunch time. I’d initially hoped to get some leader on the reel, but could see the first light was going to prevent that.
Looking down, I could see the shape of a large swordfish eight metres below, its massive tail thumping away.
Then, as soon as the light hit the roller on what was left of the rod, I reached down and grabbed the leader, dropping the rod to the deck.
Gripping and pulling, I brought it in a bit closer, following this up with a crimp with the left, a hold, then reaching down and singlewrapping with the gloved hand. This saw me stretched right out, but there was no turning back now, so I took another wrap!
The sword was now as clear as a bell and doing big circles, disappearing under the boat and then coming back around. I took another pinch with the left – and the trace started to slip, forcing a single wrap with the left followed by a quick double wrap with the right, saving the situation.
The fish made another big circle under the boat. I made another pinch with the left and a double-wrap with the right – one more circle and she’d be up!
Sure enough, next moment there she was, prompting a doublewrap with the right followed by a reach for the gaff, then stretching out and pulling it home for a perfect shoulder shot! (Well, good enough; there wasn’t much pull left in me!)
At this point my three-month-old pride and joy Suzuki outboard became intimately acquainted with a huge swordfish bill. (Note: if you are precious about your boat, don’t go swordfish fishing!)
Then it was tail rope on, and welcome aboard Miss Fisher – job done!
Well, not quite; getting the big swordfish onboard actually required the help of Terry and a bunch of big lads aboard the Hot Tuna. Cheers for your help, Terry!
Back at the Russell weigh-station the scales were pulled down to 247kg. Yep, very happy with that!
So now that I’ve ticked that off my bucket list, I’ll be able to watch others turn the handle from now on … for at least for a couple of weeks anyway!
For the record, I was using 37kg Momoi mono with Dacron backing, 480kg Hooker trace and a 10/0 Jobu hook. Mybreakaway 22-ounce sinker was tied to the hook with 4kg nylon, with a 10-ounce sinker attached at the swivel. I rigged a small blue diamond light at the swivel and a big disco light at the top of the wind-on leader. A fresh kahawai served as bait.
Simple as that!
This article is reproduced with permission of