Last summer we had an unfortunate incident with a swordfish we brought to the boat.
It was about 8:30pm and we had been set up for about 45minutes when we had our first bite, the second balloon at 150′ baited with a dead squid started to scream. My brother Rocky was on the rod and the instant he pushed the drag up to strike, which on our rods is set at 25-30lbs of drag, the fish stopped and Rocky cranked the fish in effortlessly. Less then five minutes later we had a small swordfish boat side. We couldn’t see the hook and since this fish was brought to the boat so quickly we didn’t want to put this green fish through any trauma.
Rocky handed me the pliers and I clipped the leader as close to the swordfish’s mouth as possible. The swordfish kicked away and seemed to be fine, then less then a minute later on the other side of the boat we spotted the swordfish belly up. We pulled in the drift anchor and moved the boat to the swordfish. Rocky grabbed its bill and brought it along boat side. I put one engine in gear and Rocky held the fish’s bill underwater in the hopes of reviving this small swordfish. After a minute or so of attempted reviving, the swordfish just became even more copper colored, stiff and lifeless. We realized there was no hope of reviving this fish so we brought him in the boat. Once he was in the boat we inspected the fish and the hook which we decided to cut was just a little bit inside the corner of its mouth and not bleeding what so ever. Since this fish was brought to the boat in minutes and received no trauma from the fight or from us upon release made us believe that this fish must have had heart failure.
Incidents like this are rare, especially when the fight time is kept to a minimum. But, they do happen and it reminds us that even though we are conservation minded and try to practice good catch and release, there is always a chance that a caught fish will not survive after being released.
There are many things we as fisherman can do to try and ensure a healthy release for any billfish we catch. For one, whenever we get a green billfish to the boat which we are planning on releasing simply cut the leader as close to the fishes mouth as possible and as quickly as possible. Holding any large billfish along boat side is one of the most dangerous things we can do in the sport of fishing. When a mate leans over the gunwale to hold a boated billfish, especially on a boat with high freeboard, he or she can seriously injure themselves and the fish. Billfish struggling along boat side often damage their eyes, bills and gills banging against the side of the boat. This is why simply cutting the leader as close to the fish’s mouth, is much safer for the fish and the people on board.
Any attempt to remove the hook from a billfish can do much more harm then good to the fish. Poor attempts to remove the hook from a struggling fish can cause sever bleeding and bruising to the fish. So, unless you have a smaller billfish at the boat and you can clearly see that de-hooking the fish will be an easy task due to where the hook is placed, simply cut the leader as close to the fish’s mouth as possible, it will have a much better chance of survival.
In the event you try and de-hook a smaller billfish, attempt to de-hook the fish while its head is underwater. Once a billfish’s head is above water it will violently thrash its head.
When you are about to release a billfish if it’s not struggling to get away, is not lit up and has a copper color, grab the fish’s bill holding the bill and the fish’s head under water then put the boat in gear so water will run through the fish’s gills. Once the fish starts to kick on its own or starts to struggle, gently let go of the bill and let it swim free.
Never consider a billfish dead, always try to revive the fish as it may just be exhausted from a long battle or unconscious from lack of water (oxygen) running through its gills.