A 2.5-Hour Battle With a 500-Pound, State-Record Swordfish

After the electric reel went dead, a North Carolina angler fought a giant sword to the boat—and likely crushed the existing state record.
North Carolina record swordfish
The Willow B crew and the likely new North Carolina record swordfish. Courtesy Joshua Meekins

Brandon Carney, 33, pointed his 32-foot Contender boat the “Willow-B” offshore out of Beaufort Inlet, N.C. on Aug. 21 to begin a day no one aboard will soon forget.

The deep-water target was swordfish, and the boat crew of Stephen Beaman, Joshua Meekins, Justin Meekins, Shelly Carney, and Cary Carne were all primed and prepared for the challenge.

“We stopped in 1,300 feet of water and dropped our bait down, but had no takers, so we moved to a new location at 10:30 and sent an albacore belly on a 10/0 hook with a glow skirt down,” says Carney. “We were 50 to 60 miles offshore, using an 11-pound weight rigged 100 feet above the bait to get it deep.”

Often swordfish just lightly tickle a bait before taking it and starting the fight. But Brandon says this fish slammed their bait and screamed off on a run pulling 26-pounds of reel drag like it was nothing.

The fish was hooked with an electric fishing reel ready to be pressed into service, but the reel wouldn’t function because of a faulty fuse. So, Brandon’s dad, Cary, jumped into action and began a 2.5-hour brutal battle of reeling, cranking, and fighting the biggest fish any of the anglers had ever seen.

“The fish never jumped and after about 30 minutes, dad brought it up to about 20 feet of the surface and we could see how huge it was,” Capt. Brandon says. “We got the 11-pound weight detached from the line, then the swordfish came back to life, going deeper and deeper and deeper, pulling a lot of 65-pound test line with him.”

The same 26-pound drag pressure stayed on the fish and Cary cranked and cranked and cranked.

The fish fight lasted 2.5 hours, with the boat being pulled and drifting about 12 miles. Finally, while hovering over 4,000 feet of water, the massive swordfish came up, and now the anglers had to figure how to get it in the boat.

“It wouldn’t fit through our open tuna door, so we brought it in tail first, wedging the body against the hull,” says Brandon. “We fitted a rope around its bill, then tossed it over the T-top frame, then hoisted it into the boat. It took us about an hour of trying to figure how to get it into our Contender, and then muscling it in that way.”

The anglers curled the fish around the boat console from the stern, packed it in 100 pounds of ice, and started the run back to Beaufort Inlet.

Massive NC swordfish
The massive sword weighed more than 500 pounds. Courtesy Joshua Meekins

About 90-minutes later they pulled in to Portside Marina where the fish was hauled out of their boat with a fork lift, measured and weighed on certified scales, according to Brandon.

The massive swordfish weighed 504.4 pounds, with a 53-inch girth and 104-inch length from lower jaw to fork of tail. The sword’s impressive bill was 47-inches long.

A regional swordfish tournament was underway at the time, but the crew of the “Willow-B” (named after Brandon’s daughter Willow) was not entered in it or they’d have won the event.

The current North Carolina record swordfish is a 441-pounder (1979 off Wrightsville Beach by Horace Murray), so their fish would easily eclipse that mark.

Their catch has been submitted as a potential state record for North Carolina swordfish, and authorities are reviewing it to ascertain that the catch was indeed made by sporting means and not using an electric reel, which would disqualify it.

“We have nothing to hide, and my dad did a great job fighting the fish,” Brandon says. “We’ve filed all the paperwork with the state and have offered to do testing to show how valid the catch is.

“We’re thrilled to have caught that fish and be a part of hopefully a record catch.”