Truth be told, I never really wanted to catch a swordfish.
But, after witnessing at least a dozen catches, I simply concluded it was just too much work.
After all, you sit in a big barbershop-like chair, holding a big game fishing rod as thick as a broomstick and a huge reel that looks like it could literally lift the world.
But on Sunday, July 19, after being “ordered” to sit in the chair, I found myself connected to a swordfish that was 1,800 feet away — with little choice but to crank that baby in.
I was out on the Catch 22, owned by Richard Stanczyk and skippered by his brother Scott. I was there simply to catch a few dolphin (mahi-mahi) and help produce a new Video of the Week for the Florida Keys website and the Keys’ You Tube channel.
But now we were backing down on this fish and I was winding furiously to recover line.
We were 25 miles off Islamorada and, quite honestly, this was not the picture-perfect day that is so typical in the Florida Keys. The wind was blowing strong and the seas were rough. As we chased the fish, water was coming over the boat’s transom and I was getting drenched.
“Aha,” I thought. “So this is what Hemingway experienced to motivate his words for ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.”
As it turned out, the overcast skies and continued saltwater “showering” were a godsend. Had there been bright sunny skies with little breeze, which is the Keys’ traditional summer weather pattern, I likely would have suffered heat stroke.
Fifteen minutes into the fight, I had cranked in almost 1,200 feet of line and the fish leaped across the ocean’s surface.
“This is the real thing, Andy,” shouted Richard, who pioneered daytime swordfishing in the Keys with his angling friend Vic Gaspeny.
Five minutes later we could see the leader, but then the fish took another run and dove deep.
I had to give up 500 feet of line. Within about 10 minutes I struggled to regain 250 feet of line — and then the stalemate began.
I’d get a few feet. He’d take it back.
We went on like that for at least half an hour and I really began to feel like Santiago, the main character in “The Old Man and the Sea.”
Finally, seemingly inch-by-inch, I was able to crank that fish to the boat and mate Hunter Baron grabbed the leader. Between Hunter and Nick Stanczyk, Richard’s son, they were able to gaff the 168-pound swordfish and slide it over the side and into the boat.
About 80 minutes after the hookup, there was backslapping and handshakes all around.
“You know, Andy, anglers from all around the world travel far and wide to catch a prized fish like that,” Richard said. “You caught one in your own backyard.”
I acknowledged Richard and reminded him he had already given me that quote for a story I wrote several years ago.
“You think back to the days of Zane Grey and Hemingway and the idea of going out and capturing one of these big monsters,” he said. “You don’t have to go to an exotic spot anymore for a world-class gamefish. People can come to the Keys, book a charterboat and have a chance of hooking a giant fish.”
My own catch certainly proved that.
Editor’s Note: Islamorada is known as the “Sportfishing Capital of the World” and features the largest offshore charterboat fleet in the Keys. Book at the following marinas: