The hard strike happened around 2 p.m., several hours after they’d already lost another deep swordfish off the coast of Beaufort, S.C. But the crew of young anglers had been team fishing for years and previously had boated big swordfish. Everyone knew what to do, and they all pitched in for a monumental battle that would last 3.5 hours, covering over 11 miles as they fought a deep, heavy fish 90 miles offshore.
On board the 27-foot Sea Lion boat christened “The Black Top,” were brothers Nathan and McNeal Finley, Bailey Scarborough and boat owner Owen Savage – all Palmetto State friends and coastal resident anglers.
Nathan Finley, 31, an inshore charter boat captain, said they were fishing with a single swordfish electric reel set up. They used a bonito strip bait rigged with a Diamond LP green light to draw attention to the bait that was taken down 1,800 feet with a removable 10-pound weight.
An LP electric rod and reel holding hundreds of yards of braided line was used, with a heavy wind-on monofilament leader at the terminal end. It was set up with 16-pounds of lever reel drag pressure, and Nathan says the drag pressure never was changed during the fight.
“After the fish slammed the bait we had him within 150-feet of the boat in just 20 minutes,” says Nathan. “We have the removeable 10-pound weight positioned 150 feet above the bait. So when that came topside, we knew the fish was close when we unsnapped the weight.”
That’s when the fish fight really kicked into high gear, lasting over three hours more.
“The power of that swordfish was incredible,” Nathan reports. “Several times he dove deep and fast, then would come up and jump. The fish jumped three times clear of the water, and a couple times he charged the boat, targeting the motor.”
Swordfish are well known for charging boats during a fight, and the South Carolina anglers were ready for it.
“He’d charge the motor prop and we’d surge forward to stay ahead and away from the fish when it came at us,” Nathan explains.
The only time they thought they might lose their big swordfish was about three hours into the fight.
“The fish jumped completely out of the water, and burned off 400 feet of line in a blistering run,” Nation recalls. “I know that jump covered 40 feet. I couldn’t believe he still had that much energy. He acted like he was just hooked, and the fight was just beginning.
“He turned toward the boat and went under us acting like he was going to jump again. When he cleared out from under us, I ran the boat up to him and McNeal hit him with a harpoon while standing up at the bow.”
McNeal’s harpoon throw was a perfect shot, hitting the fish behind a pectoral fin, and driving deep about half way into the sword. The harpoon has a detachable barbed head, so they now had a line leading to the mortally-wounded fish.
“He was red hot, but I ran the boat up to him fast, and we got a big gaff into him, then we got a rope around his tail,” recalls Nathan. “He was done soon after that and settled down. We got two more gaffs in him, loosened the tail rope, and slid him into the boat at the stern headfirst.”
Nathan says from where they’d first hooked the swordfish to the spot where he came aboard they’d traveled 11.5 miles.
The weather was good and as they iced the fish down and prepared to run back to Beaufort, they spotted a second swordfish estimated at 350 pounds swimming around their boat.
“That smaller fish just stayed with us, circling,” says Nathan. “I think it was with the bigger sword we pulled aboard the whole time we fought it. We never even considered trying to catch the smaller fish. We had all we could handle with the one we had in the boat. It took about 15 minutes to get ready to run home, and the smaller swordfish was there the whole time.
“We finally left him in our wake as we got the boat up on plane for the run in.”
The 95-mile run home took over four hours, and they came into a Beaufort boat landing area where a friend had a forklift type mechanism to lift the swordfish out of the boat, and weigh it on a rugged, accurate scale. It weighed 490 pounds.
“This isn’t our first offshore swordfish rodeo,” says Nathan. “We’ve been fishing together for 7 years. But no swordfish trip like this ever happened before, and no fish was ever like this one.”