An Alabama family’s first deep-sea fishing trip yielded a memorable sendoff for their military-bound son and produced the state’s second record king mackerel in five weeks when Matthew Borden boated this 69-pound, 10-ounce smoker on May 6, just a week before shipping out for a long-term Navy deployment.
Dennis Borden, of Trussville, Ala., booked the trip for his sons, Matthew (left) and Phillip (right), and his son-in-law Dustin Sierk. For Borden it was a chance to spend time with “all three of my boys” and check an item off his bucket list. “We had talked about going for years, and with Matthew about to leave for the Navy, we decided this would be a good time,” Dennis says.
Coincidentally, Borden booked with the same Orange Beach charter company that 8-year-old Andrew Quinn used when he topped Alabama’s long-standing state record March 28. Quinn caught his 68-pound, 3-ounce mackerel aboard the Fish Trap, one of three boats operated by Captain Al Keahl’s Fish Trap Charters. Now, less than 40 days later, one of Keahl’s boats was about to make history again.
Borden and his family sailed on the Fish On with Captain Nick Leiterman and mate Jimmy Phillips. “As we boarded the boat, the captain and his mate asked what we wanted to fish for,” Dennis Borden recalls. Everyone had a different answer. “I told them I just wanted some good-eating fish for my lodge’s fish fry,” says Dennis, who serves as chaplain at the Shades Valley F&AM 829 lodge in Birmingham. Phillip told the captain he’d like to catch a shark. “Every time we’ve carried him to the beach, his whole thing is that he wanted to catch a shark,” Dennis says. “From the time he was small, all he’s ever talked about is catching a shark.” “Dustin said he didn’t care, he just wanted to catch some fish. When Matthew got on they asked him what he wanted, and he said–out of the blue–‘Well, a record fish would be nice.'” Dennis Borden laughs at the memory. “We were just making conversation, really. I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that every one of us would get our wish. But when we came back, by golly, guess what we had?”
The quartet was well on their way to catching a limit of “good-eating fish” when Matthew let out a whoop. “His line was way out behind the boat and it was bending the rod double,” Dennis says. “We knew it was something more than the fish we’d been pulling in. The captain told everyone to get their lines out of the water, and from then on we were watching Matthew.”
Dennis doesn’t remember how long his son fought the fish–“it seemed like a minute and it seemed like an eternity,” he says–but he recalls that Matthew never stopped smiling. Now that his son is far away on a mission that he can’t talk about, Dennis Borden’s voice breaks when he recounts those golden hours in the Gulf. “It was a beautiful day to be on the water, watching my boys smile,” he says. “I would have just been happy with the smiles.”
As Matthew gradually worked his fish closer to the boat, first mate Jimmy Phillips identified it as a king mackerel. “When Matthew got the fish in the boat, I thought the deck hand would jump out of the boat,” Dennis says. “He was saying, ‘This is a record fish; we’ve got to get back to shore and weigh it.'”
“Then Phillip said, ‘Wait a doggone minute: I haven’t caught a shark yet!'” The mate quickly baited a line, then turned to the captain as Phillip cast it into the sea. “He told the captain to take off for shore,” Dennis says, “and I’m not kidding you–no lie–as soon as we took off Phillip’s reel starts singing. He screams, ‘Oh, my god, I’ve got a whale!'” The mate took one look at the line and told Phillip, “Well, you’ve got your shark on.” The bull shark weighed well over 200 pounds.
With the shark secured behind the boat, the Fish On again screamed for shore. “I thought I was on a PT boat heading back,” Dennis chuckles. “I didn’t know those little boats could go that fast. The captain was on the radio saying we had a record fish, and when we got back to the dock it was crowded with 150 people wanting to take pictures.”
The king mackerel measured 60 inches at the fork and sported a girth of 26 ½ inches. Young Andrew Quinn’s record fish stretched 59 ¼ inches at the fork and 27 ¾ inches around the girth and it was officially listed as a tie for the state record because it did not top the standing record by the minimum ½ of 1 percent. At 69 pounds, 10 ounces, Borden’s mackerel tops Quinn’s by 1 pound, 7 ounces–more than enough to stand alone as Alabama’s top king once the pending application is reviewed and certified by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Because of his Navy duties, Matthew could not be contacted for an interview. He told that the four were catching vermillion and white snapper two at a time on bottom rigs when something hammered the drift line baited with a half-pound porgy. “The deckhand told me to get on it, then he started telling me how to reel it in,” Matthew said. “Twenty-five minutes later, there’s a record fish flopping on the deck.” He added, “It’s just weird how everything work out. We had no bad luck at all.” The Mobile Press-Register
Indeed, says Dennis Borden, the story is so good that he might not believe it himself had he not lived it. “To hear that story, how everything worked out for everybody, you’d think it was a bunch of malarkey,” he says. “It’s surreal. I mean, what are the odds of that? It’s just one of those things you can’t explain. It’s a fishing fairytale.”
For Dennis, the real payoff wasn’t the fish filets for his lodge buddies; it wasn’t the shark or the record mackerel. The payoff was the time spent with his boys, the chance to make a happy memory on the anxious eve of Matthew’s departure. Dennis says his family is extraordinarily close. “We’re not like most families today that spread out all over the place and never hear from each other. It was foremost on everybody’s mind that we should spend time with Matthew before he left. Our whole lives are based on family.”
So when Matthew came up to him on the dock, hugged his father, and said, “Thanks, Dad”–well, Dennis says, his voice again choked with feeling, “That was worth the whole trip.”
“That day was kind of the culmination of a lifetime of experiences with my boys. When they were born, I went to the hospital and I picked every one of them up and kissed them on the head and told them, ‘Dad loves you.’ I fell in love with them the day they were born, and it’s just grown stronger every day. So to see them smile and be happy and have families and grow, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
An Alabama family’s first deep-sea fishing trip yielded a memorable sendoff for their military-bound son and produced the state’s second record king mackerel in five weeks when Matthew Borden boated this 69-pound, 10-ounce smoker May 6, one week before shipping out for a long-term Navy deployment.