I was on my third shoot this year with the Guy Harvey Expeditions team to film a documentary about the marine life off the Yucatan Peninsula.
The expedition team, which included award-winning producer George Schellenger and Capt. Anthony Mendillo of “Keen M Sportfishing”, was based out of Isla Mujeres in the province of Quintana Roo, Mexico – a prime location to reach the big animals that congregate off the coast of this tiny island where the Gulf of Mexico meets the western Caribbean Sea.
The GHE team had been to Isla Mujeres twice this year – first in January to fish and dive with sailfish aggregations, and then again in March to study the mako population in the region. On each trip, the team utilized Pop up Archival Tags (PATs) to track the fish – 12 sails, 3 makos – in an effort to document their migratory paths after they leave the Yucatan.
For our third trip, we returned in July for whale shark season along with the thousands of snorkelers who flock to the region to swim with the docile monster fish who come to the area to gorge on fish eggs and plankton just a few miles offshore. The whale sharks gather in the area for about 60 days each year – sometimes numbering just a dozen or so, though at times as many as five hundred spread over a square mile of ocean. The socio economic benefit of these marine interactions is enormous. Close encounters with otherwise rarely seen oceanic nomads brings a lot of money to the region – it is a highly sustainable activity which is well regulated by Mexican authorities.
My daughter Jessica, who has just graduated from Edinburgh University in Scotland with honors in Zoology, joined the team for this expedition and was thrilled to be spending so much time in the water photographing whale sharks. There were so many that often two or three of the thirty foot long animals would fill the frame.
After filming the whale sharks for three consecutive days, we decided to do some swordfishing on the last day of the expedition. Capt. Anthony took us out on the 48 foot Cabo “Chachalaca” so we could hit a few spots offshore where he deep drops Florida-style for swordfish in 1,400 to 1,800 feet of water.
We were not fishing IGFA rules – we were using 100# braided nylon line with a 200# topshot 100 feet long to the leader.
We weren’t looking for a record – 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 3 knots while 1,500 feet below the bait was actually moving north at 1 knot in a 4 knot current.
Just after 10:00AM on the first drift, Jessica got a bite and the rod tip began bouncing as the line starting flying off the reel.
Capt. Anthony spun the boat around and began to chase after the fish. He already had a big smile on his face – he knew from 15 years of swordfishing that this was a good sized fish!
Jessica worked hard on the fish and after an hour it came to the surface with a single massive jump, leaving all on board speechless.
Mate Ruben yelled, “500 plus!!!”, and Capt. Anthony nodded in agreement.
We got close to the big swordfish, which was swimming just beneath the surface. Mate Gallo grabbed at the leader for a technical catch. However, the swordfish was still fresh and it spurted away with great sweeps of its tail and line dumped off the reel.
Jessica shrieked in exasperation as she watched all of her hard work melt off the spool in a few seconds as the great fish sounded.
Capt. Anthony yelled words of encouragement from the bridge –
“Jessica, take your time, this is the fish of a lifetime.”
Jessica kept heavy pressure on the fish and cruised past the 2 hour mark when again the leader came up on the rod as the great fish was swimming just below the surface. As before, 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. Tired and sore at this point, Jessica redoubled her efforts while Capt. Anthony instructed her to put on more drag while keeping pressure on the reel with her gloved left hand.
After nearly an hour, the added pressure worked and Jessica finally got the swordfish to the surface.
The crew went to work quickly, securing the fish as we marveled at its size. It took six men to slide the 14 foot long fish into the boat, and the bill protruded through the cabin doorway into the salon when they closed the transom door. Jessica gulped some water and Capt. Anthony popped the cork on a bottle of champagne as the celebration started.
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.
After 30 minutes the fish was taken down, measurements were made and then Capt. Anthony and crew cleaned the fish. The crew weighed the meat, backbone, head and fins, which totaled 590 pounds. With the loss of blood, body fluids and scraps, it was estimated that the 14 foot swordfish was easily in the 620 pound range!
The meat was shared amongst crew, family and friends – not a scrap was wasted (local fisherman even carried off the fins, head and backbone to make fish soup).
Once back home, I contacted the IGFA to ask about other large swordfish catches by lady anglers. The last catch of a swordfish over 600 pounds was a 772 pound fish caught by Mrs. Lou Marron in 1954 in Chile. So, apart from being an Isla Mujeres record, Jessica’s catch 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 catching the fish of a lifetime!
Guy Harvey PhD.