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By Connie Leinbach
Some Ocracoke charter fishermen have ramped up their gamesmanship with a new and exciting level of fishing.
They’ve begun going after swordfish out in the Gulf Stream, and some of the fish caught this year have exceeded 400 pounds.
“It started last year, but they really started hitting this year,” said Bill Gilbert, owner of the Anchorage Marina where several of the local charter fishermen dock their boats.
Both Robb Orr, captain of the Laura Linn, and Stevie Wilson, of the Dream Girl, caught 400-plus pounders in early July.
Since there is no scale at the Anchorage big enough to weigh that size fish, the Dream Girl crew had to cut theirs up to get a total weight.
“The filets were 100 pounds each,” said Josh Beamer, Dream Girl mate, as he washed off the boat one recent afternoon.
They’ve caught five so far this year, keeping up with Orr, who, among the Ocracoke charters, caught the first swordfish last year, Wilson said.
Farris O’Neal, owner of the Drumstick, said he hooked one, estimated to be 800 pounds, but after fighting it for several hours into the night, they lost it.
When hunting for fish this large, the entire game and equipment changes, said Wilson.
That’s because swordfish hang out during the day in 2,000-foot deep waters that are five to six miles beyond where the charters typically fish for wahoo and sailfish.
Swordfish are typically harvested at night, but small charters can’t do that.
“Instead of fishing for them at night when they come up to the surface, we fish for them at the bottom,” he said. “The fishery is a third of a mile down.”
There’s a learning curve for swordfish hunting.
Fishing boats must have certain kinds of lines that go down 1,500 feet, plus enough fuel, extra harpoons and flying gaffs to land them, which can be anywhere from 50 to 500 pounds.
“When you get them close to the boat, you gotta harpoon them,” Wilson said. “And you may not have but one chance.”
When swordfish get caught, they’re none too happy.
“You can’t be too prepared for these fish,” he said. “They’re a mean fish.”
Wilson’s braided line has blinking LED lights on the leader that attract the swordfish, but these big fish have soft mouths and their bite is very subtle, he said.
“If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it,” he said.
This new fishery off the Outer Banks seems to have a healthy stock as the limit is six fish per charter.
“That tells me it’s a healthy population,” he said.
And, swordfish can be fished for year-round.