When you're a charter captain 148 miles offshore in the wee hours of the morning and your clients are sleeping on deck, what do you do when your deep bait gets hit? Naturally, you wake up the paying customers and hand off the rod. That's what Captain Louis J. DeFusco did on August 12, 2011, but his groggy clients passed on rod duty. Instead, DeFusco took on the fight himself and ended up landing a broadbill swordfish that turned out to be the largest sword ever taken on rod and reel in Rhode Island. The 434-pound broadbill toppled the state's old record by 120 pounds. It was so massive that it took the crew over an hour just to get it into the boat after the beast had been subdued. Editor's Note: The holdup on this gallery was due to Hurricane Irene, which rolled over Rhode Island soon after Captain DeFusco's record-setting catch. Before the storm's landfall, DeFusco was busy battening down all hatches; after damage was done, it was over a week before power and Internet in his area were back on line..
DeFusco’s broadbill swordfish (sometimes referred to as a pumpkin or salmon sword due to its bright orange colored meat) replaces Rhode Island’s old record, a 314-pounder, caught by angler Web Goodwin in 1964. The world’s largest swordfish ever recorded, according to the International Gamefish Association, was a 1,182-pounder landed off Iquique, Chile, by Louis Marron on May 7, 1953.
Measuring a whopping 13 feet and 1 inch from the tip of the bill to the fork of the tail, DeFusco’s sword had an even more impressive girth of 96 inches.
The story started the evening before the fish was landed, when DeFusco’s clients boarded his 38-foot center console “Hot Reels” at Snug Harbor Marina in South Kingstown, RI.
DeFusco set a course for Hydrographer Canyon, ­an 832-foot-deep trench nearly 150 miles offshore.
DeFusco wasted no time dropping a 14-inch squid down deep on a rig similar to what’s pictured here. Instead of a glowstick, however, the captain opted for a Carlson strobe light, which he believes “was crucial in making the fish eat this bait.” As swordfish are deep-dwelling nocturnal hunters, their eyes are incredibly sensitive to light in the water and often swim over to investigate. When the fish struck, DeFusco’s clients (and mate Jack Sprengel) were all asleep on deck. “But I was wide awake and pumped like I just drank a case of Red Bull,” DeFusco said. “I knew it was a swordfish the moment it hit. There was the telltale whack with the bill, and then the fish grabbed the bait about 10 seconds later.”
DeFusco quickly retrieved the slack line until the handle of the 80-wide big game reel would no longer turn. Then he heaved back on the rod to set the hook. “I hollered and woke everybody up, but my clients refused to take the rod. They were groggy and didn’t want to screw anything up,” said DeFusco. First mate Sprengel manned the helm while the captain leaned into the brute.
“The fight was amazing,” DeFusco said. “The fish charged the boat as soon as the hook was set, and then dove deep. We could see it on the sonar 800 feet down.” Over the next three hours, the behemoth circled as it was slowly lifted towards the surface. With no fighting chair on board, DeFusco had no choice but to stand throughout the fight. Once the giant swordfish neared the boat, it was finally subdued with a perfect harpoon shot.
With the harpoon in place, the fish’s tail was gaffed as a secondary hold. Two tail ropes were then tied to the fish and snugged to the boat. “The fish was so long, we had to be extra careful not to get its tail caught up in the props,” DeFusco said.
Here, the captain musters a thumb up after a 3 1/2-hour battle with the swordfish. “These fish are all muscle and their huge tail makes them torpedo-fast,” he said. “The reel was set with 40 pounds of drag, and I was standing up and fighting this fish the entire time. I was worn out, to say the least.”
It took four men a full hour to slide the huge broadbill into the boat. Three had to pull it in over the transom while DeFusco laid over the outboards to maneuver the bill and fins so that they did not damage the fuel lines or steering cables. In this photo, first mate Sprengel lifts the head of the beast.
In this close-up of the fish back at the harbor, you get a better look at the hard, sharp fins that can slice through hoses and cables in an instant.
Here you see the fish box at the bow of DeFusco’s boat, where he says three large fish can be stored. This record-setting sword, however, was so big that the fish box was of little use. Instead, the fish was sprawled out on deck.
Also a well-known artist on the East Coast, DeFusco plans on painting a scene portraying the fight and landing of his Rhode Island state-record swordfish onto the fish’s dried bill. Here you see one of DeFusco’s framed paintings of sailfish.