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
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.