Like many South Florida dads, retired football coach and school administrator Bill Springer of Tamarac celebrated Father’s Day last Sunday. But for Springer and lifelong friend Dave Gordon, also a retired coach and school administrator who lives in Lake Worth, the real blow-out came a couple of days early.
That’s when Springer’s son, Bill Jr. — first mate on captain Bouncer Smith’s Dusky 33 charterboat — hosted the pair for a swordfish day-dropping trip Friday off Miami Beach. Longtime charter client Ben Eskenazi of Pembroke Pines and I went along.
The Springers and Gordon had attempted to catch swordfish several times but without success. This time, Bill Jr. said, the odds were tilted in their favor because of the full moon that generates strong tides and incites pelagic fish to feed at mid-morning following a moonlit, late-night bite.
Smith knew just the spot — a series of deep trenches in about 1,570 feet of water where they once had hooked and fought a monster sword for six hours before breaking the line. En route, Springer Jr. deployed a couple of trolling lures and we caught some schoolie dolphin.
Arriving at the sword grounds, Smith held the boat on station as Springer Jr. broke out a short, stout rod with a Penn International 80 VSW with a Hooker electric reel attached. The 70-pound braid held two water-activated strobes and was fastened to 150 feet of 300-pound-test wind-on leader and a 10-pound stick lead. Two fresh baits were sewn onto large hooks below the lead — a squid and a bonito belly.
“The stinkier, the better,” Springer Jr. said.
He lowered the baits into the abyss as Smith pointed the boat south to counteract the strong northerly current. They figured they would have to deploy about 2,600 feet of line to get the baits close to the bottom, being careful not to snag.
“When you snag the bottom here, it’s a $400 mistake,” Springer explained.
Satisfied the baits were deep enough, he perched on the gunwales and stared fixedly at the rod tip. From 1,500 feet below the surface, even Godzilla wouldn’t register much of a bend on the stiff fiberglass, so it was important to keep watch.
For probably about half an hour, nothing much happened. Then Springer Jr. noticed an almost imperceptible dip of the rod tip, nothing more.
“Hmm, could be snagged,” he mused and deployed the electric reel. Slowly, the heavy braid wound around the spool. But occasionally it hesitated. We all looked at each other.
“There’s something on there,” the mate said.
Springer let the electric reel do all the work until he could see the long leader stretching down the water column. He unclipped the lead, then detached the electric and invited his dad to hand-crank whatever was on the line up to the surface.
The elder Springer grabbed the handle on the large reel and turned it, timing his revolutions to when pressure eased on the rod tip. It wasn’t easy. He would gain 20 or 30 feet of braid, only to watch it disappear seconds later. After about 25 minutes, Gordon spelled him on the reel, followed later by Eskenazi. When I took a turn, I had to use both hands to crank the spool. Then I would watch, disheartened, as all my hard work vanished into the deep blue.
At one point, one of the anglers managed to bring up enough line that we could make out a large, silver-ish shape about 50 feet below the surface. It sure looked like a swordfish, and it wasn’t small. But then it powered down and disappeared, taking all the leader with it. The anglers continued their rotation on the reel.
It took an hour of hand-cranking before our quarry rose to the surface and made everybody gasp with awe. Springer Jr. and Smith each used a gaff to secure it and haul it laboriously over the gunwales: an 80-inch swordfish, probably more than 300 pounds.
Bouncer’s Dusky erupted in cheers, whistles and high-fives.
“Happy Father’s Day!” the mate told his dad, then added, “I feel like I have to throw up.”
And he did – so overwhelmed by the anticipation and accomplishment. Then he and Smith wrapped the huge carcass in a vinyl body bag lined with ice and laid it on the starboard side of the boat.
As if the outing hadn’t been productive enough, we resumed trolling, found some more schoolies under some diving terns and racked up 24 to about 8 pounds, including about a half-dozen caught on fly rod. (That was really fun.) At mid-afternoon, we headed back to Miami Beach Marina where the catch was arranged for photographs and drew a small crowd. Each of us got enough swordfish steaks and dolphin fillets to feed multiple block parties. I hosted a dozen people Sunday and still had fish left over. Happy Father’s Day, indeed!