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Fish Tales

 

Karma - A Fisherman's Dream

 

It's easy sometimes to get caught up in sizes and numbers of fish. Greg Bohnet shares a tale of SoCal swordfish that reminds us that the joy of fishing is in the fight ...


I believe that there are different levels of karma, and that it is something that you have to earn by doing a favor, helping someone, or being a good Samaritan. Just a few weeks ago I had the karma God smile on me. I'll tell you the story ...

On our boat, the GRANDER, as with all of my boats, we have a standing rule: all guests get the first chance at the fish. I'll do my job up on the bridge. The only exception is I get the shot at the sword. Everybody likes that rule, because how many swordfish do you see in a fishing season? Once you see the sword, then there is the task of baiting the fish. If you have read the logs or Zane Grey, you know that enticing a sword into taking a prepared bait is almost as likely as getting hit by lightning, and you will probably get hit by lightening first.

We got an early start on Sunday morning. Being a one day trip, we like to leave at about 3:30 AM to reach the spot by dawn. Bait was bought the night before and the only thing to do was to make mackerel in the wee hours before we left the harbor. Three in the morning comes early even when you get to bed early.

At 3:30 AM we cast off and made our way to the mackerel grounds in front of Oceanside Harbor. The bait was scarce, even with the high intensity lights and chum out. We got underway at about 5:00. We had heard that there was a little action at the 277 Spot the day before and a friend of mine had word from a swordfish spotter plane that there were come "carp" on the east end of Catalina Island.

We arrive at the grounds and start trolling for marlin. As we neared the 277, Marty spotted a large patty, about as big as a house. We stayed and caught fish for over an hour. Mark, who I was taking on this trip for a beautiful rod he had given me, was using my brand new rod and reel which I had just purchased at Ken's Rod and Reel the day before (this is how the karma got started).

Anyway, Mark caught this huge yellowtail on the new 12-lb stick. A 24-pounder! We talked about how this was only fair that he had caught such a nice fish on my new rod, because he had given me a great trolling rod a month before, to match the ones I already have. We went on to catch more dorado and yellowtail, with son Ryan topping off the action by landing a 19-lb dorado. Once we left the patty, we saw no more action until 3:30 PM.

Marty and I were stationed up on the flybridge looking for eyeball fish and the rest of the crew was hard at watching football on the tube. It was one of those nice autumn days with the sun and the swell at our back. When you fish Catalina from Oceanside, all the way back is downhill. It was the end of the day and everyone was a little tired. Marty said that he thought he saw something, but wasn't sure what it was. I followed the look on his face until I was looking in a westerly direction, when Marty said, "Two marlin at three o'clock, hundred yards!" As I focused on the targets, I thought, "Those two marlin are real close together."

A split second later I realized it was not a pair of marlin but a swordfish - and a rather large one at that! We keep a rod on the boat just for the swords at all times, with a Ken's custom reel and 80-lb line. Earlier in the year I had caught some giant squid and rigged them with 400-lb leader and hooks that would do some serious damage. I packed them in the freezer just for this moment.

As Marty was positioning the boat, I was down below preparing the tackle and bait. The fish was up and finning, his back high and dry. He was one of the most aggressive swords I have seen, almost as if he was feeding! We dropped the bait back about one hundred yards and pinned the line to the center rigger. We slow-trolled the squid on a path to intercept the fish, and it didn't take long before the sword noticed the bait. The squid was still 50 to 75 yards away when the fish went purple and turned for the bait. This happened the weekend before, and the fish eyeballed the bait, came up, jumped and went bye-bye. Not this guy!

The swordfish went right for the bait. The center rigger dipped just slightly, and everyone's eyes were on that little cork ball at the end of the tag line. It went down one more time and wham! The rubber band disintegrated as the sword hit the bait. We let him eat that candy bait at this own pace and then set him up with the boat. The fish sounded, stripped off about one hundred yards of 80-LB test line with twenty pounds of drag, and then stopped.

We gained line at a slow pace, until we could see deep color below the transom. Marty couldn't believe the girth of the fish. All the while, Bob Puckett was going a great job at the helm with his son getting ready to leader the fish. At around the forty-minute mark, the double line went through the guide. We could see the fish down at 20 feet, swimming with the speed of the boat idling forward.

We couldn't get the fish any closer to the boat. We gained a few more feet of line. Everyone could see the fish now, all lit up and swing that big sword with the beat of his tail. I remember saying how big the fish was and how be needed a bigger flying gaff. It was like a dream - everything was in slow motion. But the dream went away as fast as it had come.

The fish finally decided to head for the abyss, taking line as he went. We would never see that fish again, as the battle went on for another hour. As we were backing down on the fish and gaining line, I felt something slip and then catch hold again. I had this feeling before - the hooks were slipping. In another instant, the line went slack and I told Bob to gun the engine, but I already knew the sad truth - the sword had fought his way to freedom.

In the past few days I have caught that fish a thousand times in my mind. I am sorry we lost the fish, but on the other hand, I was a part of that fish for one hour and forty minutes - a brief part of my life I will never forget and hope to get a chance to do again in my lifetime.

Oh yeah, karma. Even the swordfish got a little bit of that karma. Today he is swimming out there. I hope that karma stays with him.