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Crossing Swords Under a Blue Moon

By Jay Swett

We left Port Everglades at about 4:00 p.m. on the night of the blue moon, the second full moon in November 2001.  Blue moons have always conjured up images of mysterious happenings for me and by the break of dawn the next morning that impression would only be stronger.

           Four of us roared out to the buoy marking the end of the Port Everglades channel, intent on catching blue runners and whatever else we could use for broadbill swordfish bait that night.  Our boat, a 25’ Contender named BROAD MINDED, was well equipped for the task, and the owner/captain, Keith Fleischer, a real estate broker by vocation and sword fisherman by obsession, was equal to the challenge of fishing at night for swords.  He and his friend Mike Diaz, mate aboard the Naples-based Viking 65 VERA D with my old friend Captain Bob Nichols (the reason Bob and I were invited to go), had caught a number of swords over the past year, one tipping the scales at over two hundred pounds. 

          We reached the buoy at about 5:00 p.m., quickly rigged spinning rods with multi-hook bait rigs and sonar searched the depths for schools of bait.  We soon hit shoals of blue runners and managed to put over a dozen in the well, along with a few of other varieties, before the fading sunlight indicated it was time to run for deep water.  We had about a fifteen-mile slog through 3-5 foot seas before we could set out our baits with any chance of success.  Keith had deduced that a minimum of 1000 feet of water was necessary for reliable broadbill action, and he knew right where to go.  With two hundred-and-twenty-five horses pushing us, we made it to Keith’s “honey hole” after about forty-five minutes of teeth-jarring wave smashing.  The four of us were soaked but stoked for what was to come.  The multi-hued sunset with the rising copper-colored blue moon opposite just added to the supercharged atmosphere on board.

         Keith and Mike sewed up four lively baits and set each out with a weight and a secondary dead bait rig on a tri-swivel junction.  The dead bait rig was used with the idea that a swordfish might whack the live bait with its bill and come back around to find the dead bait if the live one was knocked off the hook. 

We lowered the baits to various depths ranging from about six to sixty fathoms, using yellow Cyclume sticks at the baits so the fish could see them in the dark depths.  For each depth, we tied Cyclume sticks of red, blue, green and purple inside white balloons on the lines as bobbers.  A matching mini stick was attached to the tip of each rod so we could tell which rod went to which balloon.  All in all, it was the perfect way to fish big fish in the limited light of a full moon on a cloudy fall night.

          By eight o’clock we had everything set up.  Then the waiting began.  We were hopping and bobbing in the steep 3-5 foot Gulf Stream chop, drifting rapidly north and trying to stay between the 1000 and 1200-foot lines, occasionally firing up the engine to re-position the boat, when the green-lit orb disappeared off the starboard side.

          “Green balloon’s gone!  Jay, grab the rod with the green light-stick on it and get ready to set the hook,” Keith directed from his perch in the captain’s chair.  I did as I was told while Bob strapped the butt belt around me.  The line started peeling off the reel and Mike shouted, “Hit him!” after about three or four nerve-wracking seconds of hearing the clicker accelerate in free-spool.  I pushed the drag to strike and reared back on the pole as the line came taught.  The drag started to protest in earnest and the line continued off in steady, rhythmic pulls that broadcast the powerful sweeps of a broadbill’s tail. 

          “Could be a shark,” I said as the line pulsed off the reel.

          “Too strong, unless it’s a really big shark,” said Mike.  “Only swords pull in such a steady rhythm.”

          I kept the tip up and soon had the fish turned to the boat.  Mike and Keith thought it was just a pup until it came into the light of the bimini spots after ten more minutes of fight.

          “Hey, I think it’s a keeper!” yelled Mike as we wrestled it aboard.  We measured it and found it was fifty-four inches from lower jaw to tail fork, easily better than the then new limit of forty-seven.  We high-fived and whooped our glee for a few minutes.  If nothing else happened that night we would still have forty or fifty pounds of fresh swordfish steaks as pay for the night. 

          All thoughts of this being a one fish night disappeared half an hour later with the blue balloon.

         “Bob!  Grab the blue rod.  This one’s yours.”  Keith, Mike and I jumped to the other rods and furiously reeled them in while Bob got ready to hit the fish.  He reared back on the forty pounds of strike drag and was rewarded with a high-pitched scream from the Shimano TLD-2SPEED 50 L.R.S. as the unhappy bait-snatcher ran away.

          “Man, this one sounds like a huge fish!”  Mike’s eyes were wide and bright as he helped Bob into the harness.  The fish had hit the sixty-fathom bait; it already had a nearly four hundred-foot advantage on Bob.  The line was still pumping off the reel, too, steadily shrinking the 500-yard spool of 130-lb. Spyderwyre with every pull.  Keith started the engine and eased the boat in the direction of the fish, helping Bob gain back desperately needed line.  I stood behind Bob and held him against the padded gunwale of the bow, determined to keep him upright as the boat rocked and rolled in the Gulf Stream chop.

            Bob fought valiantly for well over an hour, gaining and losing line in a monumental tug-of-war with a fish easily as big as his rangy six-foot four frame, when suddenly we heard a loud crack and the reel lunged for the first roller guide on the rod.

          “I think the rod broke!”  Bob frantically held onto the reel, luckily still hooked to the harness by the lugs, while I peered around his back to inspect the damage.  What I saw about floored me.

          “The rod didn’t break, the reel did!  The damn thing broke right off its base!  Here, I’ll hold it while you keep cranking.”

          I came around and while we attempted to control chaos, Mike and Keith sprang into action.  Keith grabbed a Penn International TW 80 from the rack, detached the double bait rig we had reeled in more than an hour ago and attached a two-pound weight to the line.  He then free-spooled the weight a thousand feet into the inky depths, making room for the line we hoped to reel onto the International once the switchover had been made.

          Meanwhile, Mike found me a pair of canvas and rubber gloves and traded places with me holding Bob’s reel while I put them on and grabbed the line at the rod tip.  My job was to hold the fish as best I could while Mike and Keith stripped fifty or sixty feet of line from the crippled Shimano and out through the guides, cut it and tied a Bimini Twist with it and the Penn’s remaining line.  Bob’s job was to switch over to the new rod and be ready to resume the fight when the line went taut again.  This is a very tricky maneuver in the best of conditions; trying to do it at night in a small sea-tossed center console with a behemoth swordfish on the end of the line was asking for a miracle.     

  As I strained against the still lunging monster, the line slipped out in alarming three to five foot spurts, causing me to yell, “Forty feet left!  Thirty-five!  Thirty!  Come on, guys!  Twenty-five to go!”  and so forth until, as I watched the last loop on the deck head my way, Mike said, “All set!  Make sure you’re clear!  Here we go!”

            I let go with less than ten feet left.  Bob leaned back again in earnest and we all crossed our fingers, hoping the knot would hold until Bob could get it through the guides and onto the reel.  We figured we would be home free once the knot was safely buried on the spool.

          With a mighty surge of adrenaline, Bob horsed the fish’s head up and gained a quick hundred or so feet.  We all relaxed a little as we saw the knot disappear under the newly acquired line.

          After all the excitement, it was only a matter of another hour of determined bulldogging before Bob had the fish alongside.  The two of them were fairly equally spent, but it was the fish that was helped over the side by two gaffs and three very eager pairs of hands, exclamations of incredulity and primal glory rending the air.  I would not be surprised if people on shore seventeen miles away heard us. 

The broadbill had finally yielded after two hours and forty-five minutes of backbreaking work for Bob and about fifteen minutes of frantic work by the rest of us.  We estimated the weight at about two hundred and eighty pounds, a large package of goodwill to be shared by many. 

The clock showed three when we were finally ready to take her home.  Keith suggested we might want to try for a triple-header, but quickly let on that he was joking when he saw our definitely unenthused visages.  We all knew that anything more would be anti-climatic, anyway. 

So with a three foot sword sticking up from the starboard gunwale and a three foot sickle tail hanging over the port, as well as a “little” eighty pounder on ice in the 105 quart cooler, we raced south and west toward Port Everglades, feeling anything but blue as we headed into the blue moonset.


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