PORT SALERNO, Fla. - Mark DeBlasio and Joe Miele discovered a lesser known treasure lurking in the waters of the Sailfish Capital of the World.
Quarter-ton sized swordfish.
Wednesday morning the two New Jersey charter boat captains created a stir at Sailfish Marina in the Manatee Pocket when they asked for assistance in weighing the catch they landed during the night. Using a fork lift, marina staff gingerly lifted a true leviathan from the deck of Miele's sportfishing boat Blue Runner. Using Finest Kind Offshore Tackle's scale and a hook from the Stuart Sailfish Club, the crew learned that the duo's big broadbill was a bonafide heavyweight at 510 pounds.
The mark is only 102 pounds shy of the Florida record for a swordfish caught on rod and reel, however DeBlasio's fish would not qualify. It was caught using a Lindgren-Pitman S-1200 electric reel.
DeBlasio who skippers in the Canyon Runners charter boat organization based out of Point Pleasant, N.J. said they didn't plan to swordfish at first since the weather forecast had called for sea conditions to be rougher. But after heading out and catching a couple of amberjacks bottom fishing, they decided to go ahead and make a few drifts to see how the swords were biting.
Early in the evening, a night after the new moon, drifting in about 1,600 feet of water some 30 miles east of Fort Pierce Inlet, they caught two 100-pound class swords. After running back to the south and setting lines out again around 9 p.m., they had a big strike at around 10:15 p.m.
DeBlasio said the fish took a 16-inch squid rigged on a line set at about 400 feet of depth.
"I knew right away it was a big fish," said DeBlasio, a longtime veteran of deep sea battles with swordfish, bluefin tuna, marlin and wahoo. "It stripped off about 350 yards of line."
DeBlasio and Miele have been in Stuart since early December and have enjoyed some great swordfishing and trolling for wahoo. In the past two weeks, they have brought 24 swords to the boat. Ironically, Miele said, they have yet to catch a sailfish.
Two weeks ago, DeBlasio said, they had hooks into an even bigger sword.
"We battled that one for about seven hours and had it to the boat when we lost it," he said. "It might have been 200 pounds bigger than this one."
DeBlasio said there was a reasonable chance Tuesday night's fish could have come loose, too, using 80-pound test line. But they caught a break when the fish got itself tail-wrapped and was unable to fight with all its might. It allowed DeBlasio to get it to the boat in about 30 minutes.
But that didn't make it any easier to get into the boat. He said he and Miele struggled to get it through the 60-footer's tuna door.
"It took us about 90 minutes for the two of us to get it on deck," he said since there was only the two of them and Miele's wife. "After that we just took our time getting home cruising in at about six knots."
They cleared the inlet at about 5 a.m. After docking they then rested a bit before rounding up help to unload their catch.
DeBlasio said they have not been selling their catches, but instead are sharing them with other customers and workers at the marina and others around town.
"We've been feeding Stuart, passing out swordfish all over town," he joked.
DeBlasio said they have really enjoyed fishing to the north of St. Lucie Inlet for swordfish instead of to the south. Many boats that leave Stuart and Fort Pierce to fish run south to use the natural northward drift of the Gulf Stream to end up closer to home port when finished.
"We ran south the first couple of times we went out in December and didn't do that well," he said. "So one day we ran north and wound up getting five bites. Another trip we went 8-for-9, so now we go north every time."
Treasure Coast-caught swordfish just under 100 pounds are common with ones larger than 200 fairly rare. Other large swords reported in the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers include: On Aug. 22, 2005, Stuart Capt. Tim Palmer and anglers Scott Heath and Brian Bergen excited anglers when they hauled in a sword weighing 620 pounds. Aug. 20, 2007, Fort Pierce teen Jeremy Gornto, then 16, whipped one on rod and reel weighing in at 321 pounds with dad Jim Gornto and Mark Malizia.
Florida record: 612 pounds, Stephen Sanford, Key Largo, May 7, 1978
World record: 1,182 pounds, Louis Marron, Iquique, Chile, May 7, 1953
According to www.Chefs-resources.com, a swordfish yields about 75 percent of its total weight in usable meat. DeBlasio and Miele's sword would have produced about 383 pounds of fillets and steaks. At New England Seafood Market in Jensen Beach, Wednesday's retail price per pound for swordfish was $19.99 meaning the big broadbill could have retailed for more than $7,600.
To harvest a swordfish, an angler or boat must possess a federal Highly Migratory Species permit. The swordfish must measure a minimum of 47 inches from lower jaw to fork of tail. The bag limit is one per person (with other vessel restrictions).
All swordfish landings must be reported within 24 hours to National Marine Fisheries Service. For more information visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/hms.
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