Looking for swordfish in Tasmania

John 'Bear' Willis — 3 July 2017

Fishing has taken me to amazing places. It’s a trigger to travel and explore new destinations with hopes of achieving that elusive dream. 

I’ve been game fishing since the late 1980s. It was always a childhood ambition. The memories and images of terrific tussles linger in my mind much longer than any dust-encased trophy. However, one species always carried a personal mystique – the broadbill swordfish.

There was little known of this deep sea species in Australian waters until recently, making it the Holy Grail for those of us with the briny in their blood. There were tales from old adventurers about these denizens of the deep, but mainly nocturnal stories of accidental encounters. 

New technologies introduced better methods and equipment to target the depths. We once navigated by compass, not GPS, and our primitive depth sounders were lucky to reach bottom around 200m of water. We now have fuel-efficient trailer boats with the ability to travel safely to sea, and electronics that show us what’s in, on, around and under the boat, and then take you home safely. We now enjoy accurate weather forecasting, improved safety equipment and services, sea surface temperature charts and constant communication. Hence, we are now far more in tune with the fish.

Tackle has also allowed greater exploration of the depths. Modern ‘braid’ fishing line is extremely strong yet thin, allowing us to fish deep with very little line pressure, drag or stretch. Hence, all these new methods and equipment are revealing untapped secrets of the abyss. A new breed of anglers are targeting swordfish with some really encouraging results, particularly from cooler southern regions in Tasmania, eastern Victoria and reaching right up into southern Queensland.

Let’s just say I love Tasmania and it seems to like me. I love that its game fishing fraternity wear blundies, flannies and woolly hats instead of the traditional Bermuda shorts, Lacoste shirts and funny yuppie boat shoes with little white socks. There’s home-grown beauty to Tasmania and its people as well as a rugged awesomeness about the coastline at the bottom of the world. These are gutsy fishos that regularly tackle huge Antarctic swells in surprisingly small boats, but their southern hospitality is most heartwarming.

Yet the broadbill had remained elusive to me, until Anzac Day weekend just past when local guru Josh Hammersley invited me to join him in an anticipated ‘swordfight’. At first, I wasn’t aware that he intended to put me in the hurt locker, yep the man on the rod – maybe I was the only big, strong and stupid sucker that would suffer the pain of battling such a big powerful fish up from great depths?)

The big day dawned with an average forecast, but the fleet went seaward regardless. Josh’s little daughter Mollie never missed a beat on the iPad as we crashed through the swell. Jason Probey joined the fray as decky – and a very capable one at that. Josh had a weighpoint marked in around 700m of water on a ridgeline where the subterranean continent dropped to the abyss of the shelf. Probey rigged two lines, one with a whole squid and the other a slimy mackerel and set them off on their long drop to the bottom of the sea with huge weights rigged with breakaways. The idea is to get the bait to the bottom where the weight drops off, allowing the morsels to drift freely as a swordfish lollypop.

It’s not only ‘Mr Stickface’ that lives at this depth. The bait often attracts sharks, tuna and an odd bod array of ooglies from the dark depths. There is virtually no light at 700m so we use flashing lights pinned to the swivels as attractors. It must look like a flashing Christmas tree down there and it wasn’t long before someone came looking for a tasty present. Line slowly trickled off the reel and skipper Josh called “fish on!” Probey thought I was the coolest fisho ever when I opened the side door and took a leak before I tackled the submerged monster that was stripping line off the big outfit. In real terms, I just needed a pee before I went into battle! 

On went the gimbal and harness and I locked in the big Tiagra 80 set with 60kg line. The rod buckled, and so did my back when I set the lever to strike drag with the clutch set to pull out at around 20kg. In real terms, that’s equivalent to a thrashing, lunging beastie pulling a constant weight equivalent to a bag of cement on your rod tip, and you’re strapped into it standing up in a pitching and rocking swell as the monolith tries to pull you over the side.

I must admit that I truly had to reach for deep inner strength on a number of occasions. I began growling back at the monster, swearing and cursing that I would win this tussle for life and death. We battled on for three and a half hours without reprieve until the leviathan finally rose to the surface completely wasted from fight. So was I!

It took three of us to drag the 208kg beast on board with rubbery-kneed high fives all round before we began the long haul back to port and an awaiting crowd all eager to see the majestic 3.5m-long fish with its massive 1.4m girth.

Little Mollie began to shed a tear for the mighty beast and I must admit that I was also quite emotional, but I’m happy to kill a fish provided the flesh is eaten. Yet this fish was a warrior and deserved our full respect. Mollie snuggled under my arm all the way back to port as we sat out back with the fish at our feet discussing the battle, love, family and the circle of life totally in awe of this mighty apex predator. I now know what it’s like to achieve the angling Holy Grail, and it certainly comes with mixed emotion. But, yep, I loved it! 

The full feature appears in Caravan World #564. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!


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