A reluctant angler in Hemingway’s wake

Posted on 01 October 2010 Written by Andy Newman
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16_hemingways_01He never wanted to fight a swordfish, but then the skipper ordered him into the chair

Truth be told, I never really wanted to catch a swordfish. Sure, I had written about how daytime swordfishing, or catching a broadbill in broad daylight, had been fully developed off Islamorada in the Florida Keys (see Soundings, December 2007).

But after witnessing at least a dozen catches, I simply concluded it was just too much work. You sit in a big barbershop-like chair, holding a big-game fishing rod as thick as a broomstick and with a huge reel that looks as if it could literally lift the world.

But on July 19, after being "ordered" into 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 for our Keys tourism website.

16_swordfish_01But now we were backing down on this fish, and I was reeling furiously to recover line. We were about 28 miles off Islamorada and, quite honestly, this was not a picture-perfect Keys day. The wind was strong, and the seas were rough. As we chased the fish, water was coming over the transom, and I was getting drenched.

"Aha," I thought. "So this is what motivated Hemingway for 'The Old Man and the Sea.' "

As it turned out, the overcast skies and saltwater "showering" were a godsend. Had the skies been bright and sunny with little breeze - typical for the Keys in summer - I likely would have suffered heatstroke.

Fifteen minutes into the fight, I had cranked in almost 1,200 feet of line, and the fish was leaping 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. After 10 minutes of struggling, I managed to recover 250 feet of it - 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 old man of "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.

It had been about 80 minutes since the hookup, and now 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."

Editor's note: Andy Newman directs media relations for the Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Council. Learn more about fishing in the Keys at www.fla-keys.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.