I was on the third consecutive shoot for a documentary about the marine life off the Yucatan peninsula, based out of Isla Mujeres. In January I started the project by fishing and diving on sailfish aggregations with world famous Captain Anthony Mendillo of “Keen M Sportfishing.”
With the help of Dr. Molly Lutcavage we tagged 12 sailfish with Pop up Archival Tags (PATs) to better understand their migratory paths after they leave the Yucatan.
July is whale shark season and thousands of snorkellers flock to the region to swim with the docile monster fish while they gorge on fish eggs and plankton just a few miles offshore. On any day for 60 days the whale sharks can be as few as a dozen and if conditions are right as many as five hundred spread over a square mile of ocean. George and I had the cameras rolling all day for three consecutive days.
On this expedition, my daughter Jessica who has just graduated from Edinburgh University, Scotland with honors in Zoology was thrilled to spend so much time in the water photographing whale sharks.
The last day of this expedition was planned for swordfishing. Capt Anthony Mendillo took us out on a 48 foot Cabo, the “Chachalaca” by kind courtesy of the owner Lawrence Berry from Texas.
He had a few good spots offshore where he deep drops Florida-style for swordfish in 1400 to 1800 feet of water. Similar to the Florida east coast oceanographic situation, the Gulf Stream roars north past Isla Mujeres, squeezing between the west end of Cuba and the eastern tip of the Yucatan. We were not fishing IGFA rules here, 100# braided nylon line with a 200# topshot 100 feet long to the leader. We just wanted to catch one on rod and reel.
Dropping the squid bait, with light and heavy weight a hundred feet from the hook Capt Anthony kept the boat moving into the current at three knots while 1500 feet below the bait was actually moving north at one knot in a four knot current.
Jessica got the bite minutes after 10 a.m. on the first drift, the rod tip bounced and the line flew off the reel from the start. Mates Ruben and Gallo helped get her set up in the chair with harness and gloves braced for what could be a long duel. Capt Anthony spun the boat around and began to chase after the fish. Jessica worked hard on it and after an hour it came to the surface and did one massive jump, leaving all on board speechless. “500 plus!!!” said Ruben. Capt Anthony nodded in agreement.
We got close to the big swordfish swimming just beneath the surface, purple and blue. Standing next to Capt Anthony on the bridge I could see the bait hanging from the left side of its mouth. No one wants to fight a big swordfish that is foul hooked.
Capt Anthony got close to the fish, Gallo the mate got the leader for a technical catch but the swordfish was still fresh and spurted away with great sweeps of its tail, its back was electric blue/purple as line dumped off the reel and Jessica shrieked in exasperation, all her hard work melted off the spool in a few seconds as the great fish sounded. Capt Anthony was encouraging said, “Jessica, take your time, this is the fish of a lifetime.”
While Capt Anthony turned the boat this way and that, Jessica kept heavy pressure on the fish, and cruised past the two hour mark when again the leader came up on the rod and the great fish was swimming below.
Again Gallo had the leader to hand but the swordfish turned on the after burner and paddled off into the deep as if the fight was just beginning. Sweating, tired and sore, Jessica redoubled her efforts and Capt Anthony instructed her to put on some more drag, while keeping pressure on the reel with her gloved left hand. Over the next 50 minutes this added pressure worked and Jessica pumped the swordfish to the surface.
The crew went quickly to work, securing the fish as we gazed and marvelled at its size and girth. It took six men to slide the fourteen foot long fish into the boat. The bill was through the cabin door into the salon when they closed the transom door.
Capt Anthony popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and the celebrations started. Capt Anthony said it looked a hundred pounds bigger than anything he had caught off Isla Mujeres or Florida.
Back at the dock, the giant fish was swum across to the public beach by willing hands where an expectant crowd helped to pull the fish up on the wooden gantry. Hundreds of locals gathered to take photos with the fish. Capt Anthony had to exert a little pressure to create an opening for the team to take some shots.
After 30 minutes the fish was taken down, measurements were made and then Capt Anthony and crew cleaned the fish. Jessica found remains of a large squid in its stomach.
The chunks of meat were all weighed as well as the rest of the backbone, head and fins totaling 590 pounds. With the loss of blood, body fluids and scraps the swordfish was clearly in the 620 pound range. Total length was 14 feet. The meat was shared amongst crew, family and friends, not a scrap was wasted. I watched fisherman carry off the fins, head and backbone to make fish soup.
Back home I contacted the IGFA inquiring about other large swordfish catches by lady anglers. The last catch of a swordfish over 600 pounds was a 772 pound fish by Mrs. Lou Marron in 1954 in Chile.
That is before I was born! Apart from being an island record, it is probably a record swordfish for the Caribbean coast of Mexico on rod and reel.
Congratulations to Capt Anthony Mendillo, his crew and to Jessica for an outstanding angling achievement.