In 1978, Vic Gaspeny caught a swordfish — his first. Last week, the Florida Keys light-tackle guide caught another swordfish — his 200th.
It certainly was not a large swordfish that mate Hunter Barron dragged over the transom of the Catch 22 late Wednesday afternoon off Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
But its weight of about 70 pounds was not the priority to those involved in the landing.
What counted was the incredible milestone achieved for a 63-year-old guide and his close friends who worked together to pioneer fishing for swordfish, or broadbill as they also are known, in broad daylight.
That 200th swordfish that Gaspeny reeled in is believed to be the most ever caught by a single angler on sport-fishing tackle.
Although he did not realize it back then, Gaspeny's obsession with swordfish began June 22, 1978, when he caught his first swordfish off Islamorada at night. He caught a second one later that year off Maryland — and then none for 23 years.
"Industrial fishing off the Straits of Florida during that time really depleted swordfish resources," Gaspeny says. "But they (the U.S. government) banned longlining for swordfish off the east coast of Florida just after the millennium.
"The fishery was coming back," he said.
So in late 2001, Gaspeny started fishing at night again. But this time he began fishing with his good friend Richard Stanczyk, owner of Bud N' Mary's Fishing Marina in Islamorada.
On Dec. 17, 2001, Gaspeny reeled in two of five swordfish caught on the Catch 22 that evening.
"That was when we realized that swordfish were swarming off the Keys and we really became obsessed with them," said Gaspeny, who has led shallow-water anglers to bonefish and tarpon off the island chain since 1975.
Gaspeny, Richard Stanczyk, Stanczyk's brother Scott, who captains the Catch 22, and Richard's son Nick continued night fishing for swordfish off the Keys.
After reading a magazine story about a doctor who had caught swordfish during daylight hours off Venezuela, Gaspeny persuaded the Stanczyks to try for a daytime broadbill off the Keys in December, 2003. The small 60-pound fish they caught would revolutionize the way saltwater anglers pursue the highly prized game fish.
The entourage spent time and money to pioneer new techniques. They tested baits ranging from squid to pelagic fish belly strips, pioneered break-away sinker apparatus to get baits to the bottom of the ocean in depths up to 2,000 feet and became experts at the game.
In June 2006, Gaspeny realized that daytime swordfishing was so productive that he completely gave up fishing at night.
By then, Gaspeny had caught 37 at night and three during daylight hours, an achievement worthy of any personal record book, especially when compared to many noted anglers.
According to the International Game Fish Association, William Boschen caught the first-ever swordfish on rod and reel in 1913 off Catalina Island, California.
In 1973, author George Reiger, wrote in his Profiles in Saltwater Angling that adventure novelist Zane Grey had landed 24 fish in a 10-year period aboard his 52-foot cruiser Gladiator.
"Today (1973), with still fewer than 500 anglers worldwide who have caught even one broadbill swordfish, the Gladiator's record stands as a monument to Grey's skill and tenacity," Reiger wrote in the book.
When inducted into the IGFA Hall of Fame in 2002, California angler Roy "Ted" Naftzger had caught 49 swordfish since he began fishing for them in 1963, according to the IGFA website. At the time, that was believed to be the most ever caught by a single angler. Naftzger died in 2007.
"Swordfish are powerful, have marlin-like speed and tuna-like stamina," Gaspeny says. "They are a world-class game fish."
On Nov. 11, 2007, Gaspeny, who maintains a meticulous fishing databank, caught his 100th fish, a 251-pounder.
"I never really had (quantity) goals, I just love catching them," Gaspeny says. "But when we got close to 100, that became a goal.
"But it's really not about the numbers," he says. "It's about the excitement of fishing for and pulling on them and the joy of doing it with people who share the passion."
On July 16, 2009, Gaspeny caught his largest swordfish ever, a 410-pounder that fought well into the night.
The 150th swordfish came 37 days later.
On Nov. 17, 2010, Gaspeny caught six of seven swordfish caught on the Bn'M, skippered by Nick Stanczyk, that day.
The 199th fish came on Christmas Eve 2011 and then a lull, because both the Catch 22, skippered by Scott Stanczyk, and the Bn'M, with Nick Stanczyk at the helm, simply were not available.
The reason: a high demand by customers who came to the Florida Keys from as far away as Australia to fish for swordfish.
"There really was no pressure," Gaspeny said. "If I went to my grave with 199, it would have been fine."
But now Gaspeny has a new goal.
He wants to catch at least five more while fishing with the Stanczyks.
"I want to be able to say that Richard has helped to lead one angler to more than 200 swordfish," Gaspeny said. "He, Scott and Nick really deserve the credit.
"They've done 90 percent of the work," he said. "I just turn the handle."
Highlights of a Personal Swordfish Quest
Source: Vic Gaspeny's angling database
June 22, 1978: Gaspeny scores his first swordfish, a 112-pounder caught off Islamorada on the charter boat Heidi Baby.
Aug. 27, 1978: Gaspeny catches a second swordfish, a 175-pound fish off the coast of Maryland.
Dec. 17, 2001: Gaspeny reels in two of five swordfish caught while night fishing off Islamorada.
Dec. 21, 2003: Gaspeny persuades Richard and Scott Stanzcyk to try daytime swordfishing. He lands a 60-pounder and realizes one can be caught by dropping a bait "deep in the abyss" when the sun is shining.
Oct. 21, 2006: Gaspeny lands his 50th swordfish, a 220-pounder.
June 2006: Gaspeny and the Stanczyks come to the realization that daytime swordfishing is so productive, they abandon fishing for them at night.
Sept. 6, 2007: Gaspeny catches a 313-pound swordfish. His first catch that weighed more than 300 pounds and his 91st reeled in.
Nov. 11. 2007: Gaspeny catches his 100th swordfish. A "quality" fish of 251 pounds and the entire team of Richard, Scott and Nick Stanzcyk are on the boat.
July 16, 2009: Gaspeny catches a 410-pound swordfish that fought well into the night. It was the fourth fish caught on the Catch 22 that day.
Aug. 22, 2009: Gaspeny catches a 150-pound swordfish that is his 150th reeled in.
Nov. 17, 2010: Gaspeny catches six of seven swordfish landed on the Bn'M that day.
July 11, 2012: Gaspeny lands his 200th swordfish.