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January 25, 2013

Slam Dunk!

Texas Offers Anglers the Next Big Billfish Battleground

As the rigged squid fell away into the azure blue of the Gulf of Mexico that warm July afternoon, Capt. Brett Holden looked over at me and grinned. “Let’s see what’s down there,” he said, his smile ­broadening as the bait dropped deep, out of sight.

We had just caught and released a white marlin, a ­sailfish and a blue marlin in a mere three-and-a-half  hours of fishing time aboard Holden’s 52-foot Viking express, Booby Trap. But our mission wasn’t yet complete.


The Booby Trap crew has dropped plenty of rigged squid baits for swordfish over the past few years. (Courtesy

The bait finally reached bottom, at 1,700 feet, and Texan angler Travis Joyce cranked in the slack. Not even 30 seconds later, the 80-pound outfit bumped violently. Joyce waited like a cat and then pounced, cranking violently as the rod doubled over.

“Now!” Holden yelled to Capt. Jeff Wilson, who throttled Booby Trap forward against a solid resistance. “Tight, sucka!” screamed Holden, his trademark line, wheeling around and high-fiving it with swordfishing friend “Disco” Luis Herrera of Miami.

A half-hour later, the 125-pound swordie was leadered and carefully released, securing a coveted IGFA Super Slam for Joyce — his second while fishing with Holden and just the 21st ever registered in the IGFA record books.

That night, as you might imagine, the celebrating got a little rambunctious.

A Lifetime Achievement

In the world of billfishing, there are accomplishments, and then there are accomplishments. This ranks pretty high. After all, we’d set out with the express purpose of catching a Super Slam (four species of billfish caught by a single angler in a 24-hour period), but really, who plans to do that and actually succeeds? And in just four hours of fishing time?

We accomplished the feat as the result of several factors: an experienced crew, a healthy dose of luck and, perhaps most important, a damn good fishery. Welcome to east Texas and the offshore pelagic grounds generally referred to as the Hilltops.

Our July trip out of Surfside Marina in Freeport, Texas, spanned three days in the Gulf, where we overnighted under starlit skies and fished from 70 to 110 miles off the coast.

In addition to the slam, we released another sail and two swords, totaling seven billfish. But that wasn’t all. Our party also cashed in on 14 wahoo, averaging 20 pounds apiece, and more than a dozen big dolphin, the majority of which registered between 25 to 45 pounds.

Last year the Booby Trap caught 172 swordies in just 15 trips off Texas. (Mike Mazur)

To say the fishing was stellar would be an ­understatement. But then again, this is not so unusual ’round these parts of Texas.

“The Gulf in this region has the continental shelf, several oil rigs and deepwater mountain ranges,” says Holden, owner of a successful roofing business who has annually run 15 to 30 overnighters off the Texas coast during the past 25 years. “These areas all hold large numbers of blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish and swords. Wahoo, dorado, blackfin and yellowfin tuna also are abundant.”

Because the grounds lie far offshore, pressure isn’t ­excessive. In fact, we saw only one other boat during our trip. The dolphin and wahoo were an added bonus. We simply stumbled upon them on the troll along rips, and they provided great fun between our primary objective — cashing in on the area’s rich billfish bounty.

Many Species, Many Spots


Forty-five- to 50-pound bull dolphin are not unusual off the Texas coast, as “Disco” Luis Herrera attests.

Texas is a huge state sporting a lengthy ­coastline and, as you might expect, the offshore fisheries vary greatly from one end to the other.

“Different parts of the coastal bend offer closer fishing for billfish,” says Holden. “For example, sails and whites are pretty abundant down south around Port Aransas, with a much closer run than Freeport. The Matagorda area offers a 50-mile run to sails, whites and blue marlin action, but it’s hit or miss in that range. I’ve chosen to fish out of Freeport due to the selection of areas and structure to fish. There are several areas to target all the various billfish — the swords, blues, whites and sails.

No question, this area is extremely diverse, both in terms of fish-holding structure and the species it attracts. In fact, our slam occurred within a mere 10-mile radius. We nabbed the white first at 11 a.m. on June 23 in a deep trench known as the East Pocket, and then moved northeast to an oil platform called Little Sister, which produced the sail at 11:35 a.m. We then ran due west to another platform called West Cerveza, where we caught a 125-pound blue marlin at 2 p.m. From there, it was a direct shot southeast to a productive swordfish zone dubbed by locals as the Booby Trap Dome (yes, it’s named after these guys). The super-slam record-setting swordie was released at 3 p.m.

“Texas definitely has a great fishery for the Super Slam,” says Holden. “I would say mid-June through the end of August is the best time to target that feat. Many boats here have caught a Grand Slam (three species in one day), but they’ve never been consistent on the swords.”