Marathon 16 hour fight for swordfish

Marathon 16 hour fight for swordfish

Over the years filming with Matt Watson and The ITM Hook Me Up and ITM Fishing Shows, cameraman Dan Galvin has captured many sword fights.

On January 6, the roles were reversed and he found himself hanging onto the business end of a very large and stubborn broadbill swordfish, going through all the pain and anguish many of his subjects had, before finally being tag-teamed out by crewmate Ben Afeaki after 14 hours.

The day started like so many for the ITM Hook Me Up team. The boat was launched pre-dawn with a one time ITM Hook Me Up guest and now regular crew, All Black and Chiefs prop Ben ‘Bigs’ Afeaki – on board. Matt’s son Shaw was there as part of the team, and he had the final honour of making a well-placed tag shot.

The plan was to head in the vicinity of the Nine Pin Trench to hook Ben up with a blue marlin and by mid-morning the action had been slow.

Matt had a brand-new set of his favourite Shimano Talica 50/Shimano Ultra 50/80 rods on board and for swordfishing he normally marks off 550 metres – his regular swordfishing depth – by whipping on a piece of waxed thread to the line as an indicator.

Several years ago he had noted a deep gutter off the Nine Pin Trench, intending to come back to prospect it for a swordfish. It was around the right depth, so he thought he would sort out his sword rod and while he was doing so, why not drop a bait?

Having had no intention of chasing swords and having left before first light, there was no bait on board other than a couple ‘old freezer burnt jack mackerel’ Matt had thrown in ‘just in case we wanted a snapper fish’.

A mackerel was rigged and dropped over the side, but before Matt could get it to the bottom and splice on his marker, they were bit. The line went slack and Matt new they ‘got ‘em on’ – the boat’s namesake.

“It had none of the subtleties of a normal deep-drop bite, this was more like a kingfish smashing a jig. It the hardest daytime hook-up I have ever experienced,” Matt says.

He had to drop the drag back to get the rod in the holder before Dan was nominated as the angler, being the only person on board not to battle a swordfish before.

Harnessed up, there was not a great deal of pressure as their quarry headed to the surface to ‘check us out’.

Matt had the leader in hand in the first five minutes – technically making it a caught fish under IGFA rules – but it was not until another nearly 16 hours later they could get a tag in in and a further hour or more before they finally had it under enough control to remove the hook and release it.

In the intervening 17 plus hours, the fish took them 16.7 nautical miles in a north-easterly direction and wore out the first angler, with Ben having to be called off the bench to finish the job over the final three hours.

“Dan did a great job for the first 13.5 hours and then the hurt of playing such a stubborn fish for that length of time on maximum drag took its toll.”

“To Dan’s credit, it took Ben – a fresh, big and strong angler – another good three hours before we had the fish finally to the boat. It was a true team effort.”

“You hear of big swords being caught in much shorter times. This happens normally when J-hooks are used and the fish is hooked deep in the stomach, gills or throat where it is hurting and bleeding.”

“Dan’s fish was caught on a circle hook lodged perfectly in the corner of its mouth, and it didn’t jump either, so we got to experience it’s full fighting ability”.

Over the 17 hours Matt had the leader to hand four times, but in all but the last time the fish always had the power to pull away, forcing the him to dump the trace.

For most of the fight the fish stayed in its comfort zone – between 50 and 100 metres – making the occasional longer run and coming to the surface only once after the initial bite, when it ominously circled the boat.

At one stage they tried a different tactic – pulling the fish in the opposite direction to the one it was heading in – but all that did was dump line that had to be won all over again!

As to the fish’s size, Matt says it was difficult to judge.

“I have weighed a 326kg swordfish before and this one was considerably bigger than that and this fish was in prime condition. At the anal fin, I don’t think I could have closed my arms around it and the bill was longer than I am tall – at 1.78m – and it was a fat fish.

Matt says it’s skin was unblemished and it had not suffered at the hands of cookie cutter sharks – ‘a perfect fish for mounting’.

But as to its size, even after catching over a hundred swordfish, Matt says it’s difficult to say because he’d never seen one so big, and the shape of swords changes so much.

“Initially I said 400kgs when we first got it alongside, so I’ll stick with that, all I know for certain is it’s by far the biggest I’ve seen, in or out of the water.”

“I thought looking back through the video we would be able to get a good guestimate but in some shots it looks 300kg and in other it looks over 450kg, but unless we weighed it, we can’t say it, but there’s no regrets that we released it.”

The fate of the fish – that it would be released – was decided early in the scrap and never once did the gaffs come out.

Matt says if they had, there was a good chance they might have been used!

“While we will never know the weight, it takes nothing away from Dan’s achievement and the incredible experience we all had. And it’s still out there so maybe another angler will have to opportunity to go toe-to-toe with it in the future.”

All the action with this big swordfish was filmed and is available to watch now for free at or on the Ultimate Fishing app.

Originally published in the February 2019 issue of New Zealand Fishing News magazine.

Reproduction elsewhere without permission of the publisher is prohibited.

11 February 2019

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