It all started out as a case of insomnia. Or rather, a rare case of me waking up at 6:30am on a Sunday for no good reason. I had no plans, so I started gathering my gear. Since I was heading out by myself, I decided to try something unconventional. I grabbed my sword rods, sword tackle, sword squid, and… what’s that leaning in the corner? The electric deep-drop rod. Yep, it’s time to test it out. I haven’t attempted a ‘real’ deep-dropping adventure just because, well… it’s a lot of work, I had no clue what I was doing or where to go, and it’s boring to everyone else but me.
Cleared Boynton inlet at 9am. Seas were a little bumpy running at 25kts on my 21ft Sailfish, but tolerable. And for those of you that know me well… YES, I yelled Yee-Haw! each time I “dried the prop”. (where’s a camera chase-boat when you need one?) An hour and a half later, I arrived at my destination, 20-something NM SSE of Boynton inlet.
Now, if y’all had been paying attention, ya might have noticed the few times I mentioned “sword” in that first paragraph… Yep, my goal was to try to catch a daytime swordfish. There’s only ONE other person I know that would even consider wasting time with this optimistic endevour… and his cell phone went directly to a FULL voicemail inbox. a’hem
Before you think I’m totally wacko, I did have some ballyhoo and trolling feathers ready to deploy. But, the run out to the sword grounds was clean. Really clean. Not a speck of sargasso, debris, party balloons… nothin. The seas were still choppy enough to hide the rips too. Heard several other folks on the horn reporting only a scattered weed line out 26nm… and nothing under it. So I set up my drift. Shot a super-squid, tri-color LP, and 3-1/2 pounds of lead south from my bent-butt Tiagra 50w in 1300ft. (using 130lb hollowcore braid) 3.2kt Gulfstream current, engine at idle forward, pointed south, and 3/4 of the spool out… no bottom. Set the drag, put out a 50ft deep squid on a balloon, and a ballyhoo flatlined from a spinner, and waited 1/2 an hour. Yeah, I was hoping for a stray mahi too.
Reel up the deep bait. (it takes about a song and a half on the radio to bring it up) Perfect condition. So I dropped it again, as fast as it would go, with the boat idling into the current. Still no slack in 1200ft. Let it drift for another 20 minutes. Then decided to go shallow to increase my odds of “touchdown”. Went in to (bleep)ft of water. Nearing noon, the seas and winds were calming down quite a bit, which meant the drift would be slower with less “jig” from boat motion.
Sent the Tiagra down, and sure enough… touchdown! Waited. More line. Touchdown. Waited. More line. Touchdown. Waited. More line. Touchdown. Waited. (kinda like ANY team -vs- the Miami Dolphins ) …okay, time to reel it up. Song and a half later, the bait was chewed! Not a sword slash, but it was definately a snack for something down there. I happened to look at the depth reading, and it was getting shallow quick. Waited to see what it was gonna do. Sure enough, within about a quarter mile it came up about 100ft from the average, dropped 50, rose 50, then dropped 100ft and leveled out. I BLINDLY found me some (bleep)ft deep structure in the middle of the dang ocean! Yee-Haaw!
I setup ahead of “Buck’s Humps” and fired the Tiagra down again. Hit bottom. Felt a lot of “thumps”. Since I wasn’t familiar with the “feel” of deep dropping, of course I thought I had a fish. Reeled it up with a clean bait. Dropped again for the second hump. Nothing. Kept trying a few more times. Nothing… but my baits were getting chewed. Ran south and dropped again. Hit bottom. A few seconds later, bam! Hmm, was that just bottom bouncing again? Reeled quick, and holy ****! Sword rod nearly doubled over! I started cranking with some drag-pull at 25lb strike! Two or three songs later (and my arm about to fall off) the mystery fish is still fighting it’s way to the surface.
My thoughts after 10 minutes: “don’t most deep dwellers bloat and die half way up from (bleep) feet? Could it actually be a small swordfish?” Nope. Not that lucky…
Grabbed the gaff… put it in the boat.
I asked myself, “what the F*** is it?”
I answered, “looks like a cubera snapper with big eyes and the face of a permit. It’s a… um… uh…” …I had no friggin clue, but it was big and funky lookin… so I threw it on ice and went back to try it again. (yeah, insert another “yee-haw!” here)
Started ahead of the spot this time and fired down the Tiagra with another swordfish squid. Sure enough, bounced a few times on the top of the hump, and let line out as the depth increased. BAM! Another solid hit. A few songs later I put another, larger, mystery fish on ice. By this time, I was thinking how lucky these fish were to be bathing in ice… ’cause my right arm was feeling the burn.
So… out comes the electric reel, 5lb sash weight, and a make-shift 2-hook chicken rig. Blue LP this time. Set up at the start of my new “deep drop drift”, fired down the Tiagra again. (yes, more punishment) 1/2 way down, I rocketed the electric towards the bottom. They reached dirt at the same time. As soon as the hump dropped off, both rods bounced. With one hand on the electric reel’s switch and the other cranking the Tiagra, up came 2 more fish. This time it was another mystery fish on the electric, and (thankfully) a little rosie on the Tiagra. Setup again. My right arm was spent, so only the electric went down. Over the first hump. Nothing. Over the second hump. Nothing. My new-found confidence was dwindling. Dragged another 500ft across the bottom after the second hump and BAM! Another mystery fish on the deck, along with another rosie on the 2-hook chicken rig.
By now it was about 5:30pm and I was still 18-something miles from the marina. To be honest, the thought of an early evening of swordfishing DID cross my mind. But I was tired, hungry, and sore from the un-Godly amount of cranking on the reel from (bleep)feet down. I still had no friggin clue what I had caught. Even the “phone a friend” option yielded no results. So, I took a few self-portraits (not easy to do without a tripod on the ocean) and headed in.
The dock office was closed by now, so I called a nearby friend to ask if he could bring some ice to the marina. Luckily, his buddy had worked as a mate on charter boats, and was happy to clean all the fish in exchange for one. I was too tired to deal with it anyway. The four mystery fish yielded 4 gallon-bags of clean, snapper-looking meat.
Once I got home, I started Google-ing. It took nearly an hour for me to positively identify what I had caught. Barrelfish. I searched for another hour trying to figure out if it was good, and more importantly, SAFE to eat. No solid results. I went to bed.
Got into work Monday morning and started doing some more research. I eventually discovered that it was “fine eating”. The same article from 2001 stated that the world all-tackle record at that time was 16lbs. True or not, that really got me wondering, because my largest one weighed-in at 25lbs on my Rapala 50lb spring scale. More internet searches revealed no conclusive data about the world Barrelfish record.
So, that was my Sunday. I got to try something new. I caught 2 species that I have personally never caught before. I marked a “honey hole” that is dang near impossible to find. I’ve got a bunch of “fine eating” deepwater Barrelfish in my fridge. And most important… I had a fun time catching ’em, and sharing the tale. That’s what it’s all about.
(Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon.) I now have an IGFA membership, and have spoken to one of the records-keepers at their headquarters. If my mainline does not over-test past 132lbs, I will be eligible to submit my Barrelfish as an all-tackle world record! Unfortunately, hollowcore spectra braid is known to be at least as strong as it’s rating (130lb). My chances are slim, but if it fails, I know where to catch ’em… with lighter line next time.
Pictures and full report here: