First Billfish

Several years ago when we had our offshore fishing boat, Cooper Jordan, Thomas Jordan, Dawson Jordan, Ryan Stephens, and I planned a trip to Georgetown to fish in the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is 60 to 70 miles offshore and because of the distance, requires an early start in the morning. We were going to stay in Georgetown the night before but all of the hotels were booked for a wahoo tournament and I ended up calling hotels to check for vacancy.

The hotels were booked all the way up to Murrell’s Inlet and Thomas said, “I’m 52 years old and I’m about to have to sleep in my car.”
We did just that and slept in the parking lot by the marina. It was a hot summer night and we sweated out the night. We were all more than ready to start when it was time to go and we had the boat loaded and untied from the dock by 4:30.
Several other boats were on their way out into the ocean and before long, we couldn’t see the lights from the coast.
I heard a smack and turned around to see Dawson searching the deck for his glasses. We found his glasses and also a flying fish on the deck which had flown into him!
Another flying fish hit Cooper and I took one to the cheek. We had fish flying into the boat which we dropped into the ice box to use as bait.
We reached the clear blue water of the Gulf Stream and slowed to idle speed to rig up. All hands were on the back deck rigging lines and dropping them in the water. There is a lot of strategy in testing the fish’s color preferences and spacing bait for best coverage while minimizing the risk of tangling.
We spotted birds diving and turned the boat to investigate. Tuna were breaking through a bait school and were crushing the bait. We trolled around the school and hooked up with 2 tuna. We made another pass before the school disappeared and we moved on.
The weather heated up as the day went on and the action was slow. We were pulling a dredge (meant to look like a bait school to attract fish) and I was watching the lines.
A shape rose to the dredge and I said to Thomas, “I’m glad we don’t have a hook on the dredge.” “Why?” He asked. “Because there’s a shark behind it. Thomas looked and yelled, “that’s not a shark that’s a BILLFISH!”
A big sailfish was lit with color swiping its bill through the artificial bait school. We reeled in a bait to put in front of the sail fish but he lost interest and disappeared into the blue. A moment of disappointment passed knowing that we missed our chance at a billfish.
Suddenly, our center rod with the farthest bait (over 100 yards behind) bowed over and the drag peeled out. We looked behind and the sailfish pointed his head straight into the air and slammed his bill into the water. We set the hook and the chase was on. Cooper circled the boat around to follow the sailfish. There was so much line in the water that the tension was in a different direction from where the fish was jumping.
Cooper drove the boat after the fish keeping the starboard side
towards the fish and we were now able to see the sailfish under water. My focus was to hold the rod tip up and to keep constant pressure on the fish. We were to the leader now and Thomas grabbed the fish by the bill and pulled it aboard.
We took some quick pictures while I marveled over my sailfish. It was hard to believe that I had caught a billfish. It was important to make a safe release of the fish and so we held it in the water beside the boat to let water pass through his gills. The sailfish rested for a moment and gave a kick when he was ready to swim. We could see the sailfish in the clear water as it regained color and dove out of sight.
We continued to fish for the day and caught a few meat fish before returning to Georgetown. A white flag with a blue sailfish was flown upside down from the top of the boat to represent that the fish was released. We have caught many offshore meat fish over the years but nothing stood out like a sailfish. I am thankful for Cooper and Thomas taking us out into the ocean and showing us rigs, bait, and other tricks to offshore fishing. Billfish have always seemed like an untouchable goal to me and it was hard for my mind to register that this catch actually did happen. The hookup and the fight were so exciting that I would consider the day a success even if that was the only fish caught.