The Day of the Swordfish
  |  First Published: November 2006

We have all been there. The perfect weather report, great moon phase, a leave pass for a day’s fishing from your significant other and when the alarm goes off at 3:30am, you’re up like a kid on Christmas morning.

I felt that childish excitement one memorable Saturday in June. To make sure that we cast off at precisely 4am (rules is rules!), the boat had been prepared the day before with the customary list of essential items: three oversized tackle boxes, twelve rods and enough refreshments to resupply a mother ship, and an extra three blokes.

Fifty fathoms east of the Gold Coast Seaway would have to be one of our favourite places to drop a line. As we charged out through the Seaway in the good ship Anna B we looked south over an oily sea toward the lights of Surfers Paradise and wondered if those people still enjoying the clubs and pubs knew what they were missing.

With half a dozen good pearlies on board by 8am and having just re-spooled after getting smashed by who knows what, one of the team drops a bombshell. Sinesy said to us, “Oh, by the way fellas, just thought I would remind you that I have to be back and cleaned up by 1pm for my niece’s birthday BBQ”.

To say the news hit Rob and I hard is an understatement. It was like we had received news of our imminent demise.

Denial: You never told us you dog.

Anger and Resentment: Ok, you told us, but what sort of bloke does that to his mates.

Bargaining: Since we are catching fish, do you think they will understand if you are a bit late?

Depression: This is crap. Why does this always happen to us? Should have known things were going too well. We never get to fish like we used to anymore.

Acceptance: Let’s give it another half hour and then head in and drop a couple of floaters on the 36 fathoms on the way home and make the most of the time we have left.

So it was with heavy hearts that we added a couple more pearlies to the fish bin, kicked the motor in the guts and headed off to the ever-faithful mark, 36E, on my GPS.

Upon arrival, we were filled with utter despair. Instead of the expected clouds of baitfish that indicate the presence of hungry knobbies snapper, the sounder was empty. I tried all the usual tricks of circling in case the US had once again offset the global GPS system like they did during Desert Storm. The theories were flying thick and fast about why there were no fish. I even turned up the gain until the screen was full of pretend fish but both methods were useless.

Zooming out on the GPS to .5nm, I caught a glimpse of a yet-to-be-named mark. Just as Rob and I were about to re-visit the devastation from earlier, I turned the boat slightly south and headed off to a GPS point that had been simply assigned ‘21’ by the Furuno.

As we approached ‘21’, the sounder screen magically filled with clouds of bait rising up approximately 20m from the ocean floor some 64m below. With only one hour of fishing remaining, it was a sight that almost caused three grown men to cry.

With more gear on the boat than some tackle shops, there was no time to waste; a cunning and diabolical plan was hatched. Both Rob and I ran with the tried and tested twin hook paternoster rig while Sinesy went below and returned with his baitrunner that was pre-rigged with a four gang drift rig under a very light ball sinker.

Action on the two dropper lines was instant and with a drift speed of 1.5 knots we only had one chance to drop down on each pass over the mark. We usually find the size of fish caught on the paternosters isn’t as good as those caught on the drift rig. Both Rob and I were averaging one fish per drift and returning most of them to fight another day. But that didn’t matter, because we were at least catching fish and Sinesy was paying his penance by endlessly feeding out line for no return on the drift rig.

In an act of pure frustration, he decided to change his weight up to a number seven ball sinker and sure enough, the slightly heavier lead countered the fast drift and he was hooked up on a 45cm snapper on the next drift. This continued for the next four or five drifts and it wasn’t long before we had 12 good snapper on board.

Apparently time flies, and since Sinesy doesn’t wear a watch, he had no idea of the time. His two loyal mates had a fair idea, but having left fish biting out wide earlier in the morning, we let the clock strike midday before we brought up the subject of heading home. Now remember, home is still a good hour and a half away so we hadn’t been too harsh. After all, if we left now, he would only be half an hour late and we were catching fish which would no doubt make up for poor social etiquette.

Deciding to tell Sinesy about the time also had a lot to do with us running low on bait and before we told him and invoked the ‘one more drift’ rule. Rob and I quickly rebaited with the last two pilchards and squid bodies. We left three old dried up cubes of mullet fillet that had been acting like fish repellent all morning and a huge squid head on the bait board for Sinesy – after all, that’s all he deserved.

With time marching on, Rob and I dropped down and were immediately baited by the hoard of small fish, but since it was the last drift, we kept our lines down in the event there was still a small morsel on the hooks that would tease up something worth keeping. Then the slack in Sinesy’s drift line straightened.

As Rob and I got our lines clear of the water, Sinesy declared with much confidence that he was hooked onto a knobby – the knobby of all knobbies.

At about three minutes into the fight, the knobby had obviously grown in size or realised that it was hooked and went for an unbelievable run. With a 10kg main line, Sinesy resisted the temptation to increase the drag and simply sat back and watched as the line on his spool got shorter and shorter.

Suddenly, the angle of the line in the water changed and it looked like the knobby was going to surface. But how could this be? Knobbies don’t run for a hundred or so metres and then rise to the surface. Instantly, the knobby theory was ditched. It was decided he was hooked onto at least 30kg of cobia and as if to prove us correct, we saw a dark object rise to the surface and thrash around in the way that cobia do after their initial run.

With time against us and knowing we could be in for the usual 40 minutes of hard slog on 10kg line, the call went out for me to crank up the engine and start backing down on the cobia to speed things up a bit.

Sinesy was busy fighting the fish, I was pretending to be the skipper of Zane Grey’s game boat and Rob opened up the esky and made sure we all had sufficient throat lubricant to ward off any risk of dehydration during the mammoth battle that ensued.

I have to admit, for a run of the mill cobia, this fish was putting up one hell of a fight and as we started to discuss how strange it was that Sinesy’s cobia had not yet done its trademark torpedo run at the boat, we were silenced by the sight of a small black marlin leaping gracefully from the water approximately 50m behind us.

We were stunned. Who would believe that in the middle of winter off the Gold Coast on the last drift of the day, a small black marlin would come along and decide to take down one of the most poorly presented and least attractive baits that has ever been put over the side of a boat? With much hooting and hollering, Sinesy increased his calls on how he wanted the boat positioned, I focused on my efforts to reverse down on the fish without chopping Sinesy off and Rob instinctively knew it was time for another beer – what a mate!

After another 20 minutes or so, we finally got the marlin up close behind the boat and with a huge splash just metres from the stern, a marlin like no other that we have ever seen leapt from the water still full of fight and trying to break free.

Surely we were hallucinating. This fish had gone from being the world’s largest snapper to a decent cobia and morphed into a black marlin and now, after three quarters of an hour, we are staring at what we thought was a broadbilled swordfish. We had only ever heard of guys catching them on long lines at night in deep water with glow sticks and fancy rigs. Never of a few old cubes of dried up mullet flesh and a squid head on a drifting rig mid water at 36-fathoms.

Looking like something out of a Goofy cartoon with his red long-john underwear protruding through the legs of his shorts, Rob leaned over the side to grab the bill of this strange creature and instantly regretted forgetting to use a glove. I hastily located an old yellow fishing glove and Rob had another attempt at landing this beast of the depths.

With that, it was all over and three blokes who had fished all their lives together were again hooting, hollering and jumping up and down like idiots.

A very brief discussion on what we should do with it ended with a unanimous vote to release this beautiful animal back to fight another day. So, with Rob leaning over the side of the boat with his ridiculous red legs sticking in the air and with a vice-like grip holding onto the razor sharp beak, I shifted into forward gear and after about thirty seconds of water flowing through that remarkable creature’s gills, it kicked off and swam solidly away.

It wasn’t until we got home and started talking to people we knew that we truly realised the unique nature of our experience.

A few weeks after the event, I happened to be at a conference with Bill Gilliland from the Sunshine Coast and gave him the same blow-by-blow story that you have just read. Bill and I meet up about once a year at the same conference and with Bill’s background in the commercial fishing industry I asked him about the uniqueness of our catch. After showing him the photo and confirming the identity of the fish in question, Bill encouraged me to write it down because the last broadbill he had seen caught off the Gold Coast area was one he caught about 30 years ago and he ended up with his picture on the front page of the local paper.

Perhaps some of the readers of this article are everyday hunters of broadbill swordfish or perhaps some readers are not impressed by the size of the fish and to them, our catch is nothing special. But for three blokes who have been life long mates, an experience like this is what fishing is all about.

By the way, Sinesy ended up three hours late by the time we washed the boat and cleaned the fish. And the grief that Sinsey copped was tempered by the fresh snapper for the BBQ and the story of the ‘Day of the Swordfish’. – Allan Herse

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