The call came late in the afternoon, and the unmistakable voice on the other end was the always-excited Venice charterboat skipper Peace Marvel.
“Swordfish, that’s what, and we’ve found them,” Marvel said. “When can you get here?”
So, drop everything, gas up and head to Louisiana’s most southernmost stretch of blacktop a couple of hours before Marvel and his handpicked crew, one among them our country’s more renowned fishing hook makers, were rigging tackle for what they hoped would be battles with maybe the most unknown deep-water fish species off the Louisiana coast.
Most of the broadbill swordfish taken in the decades before Marvel’s deliberate and determined quest to unlock the species’ secrets were only-by-chance catches. Most broadbills on our state’s Top 10 Fish Records List came at night when deep-sea charters were tied up to floating oil platforms off the continental shelf and fishing for yellowfin tuna.
What Marvel’s research and on-the-water experiments showed was that swordfish lived deep, as much as 2,000 feet down in the daylight hours, but would move to 400-foot depths at night to feed.
And, he learned to fish the curves, the drop-offs off the mouth of the Mississippi River, that are measured in fathoms, not feet. There are several at varying depths within reach of a hour or two boat ride from the mouth of the Mississippi River.
We boated a 177-pounder that night. It hit a 20-inch-long squid 500 feet down. Another deep hookup produced a much larger sword — maybe a 500-pounder — that broke the line near the boat and swam off with a flip of his huge forked tail to show us who was boss that night.
Fast forward 15 years to last month’s Fourchon Oil Man’s Rodeo, and the all-Lafourche Parish "Team Vacco" crew Kris Callais assembled from their Port Fourchon operation.
Fishing with Lance Walker’s Fish Commander Guide Service skipper Bradley Leopold, Callais said their first-day action included a hookup with four swords and landing a 65-pounder.
“The weather was supposed to calm down Saturday and we talked with the skipper and went out to catch (yellowfin) tuna, then red snapper and looked for grouper, then (went) looking for swordfish,” Callais said.
Saturday’s second-day action followed that script, a 5:45 a.m. launch from Bridge Side Marina on Grand Isle, then a calming sea allowing a take of three tuna and some small bull dolphin. Then it was noon, and time for the 20-mile ride to the deeper water.
The big question is who has more than 1,500 feet of line on their reel, because that’s the depth Leopold dropped the specially rigged squid to look for what the Vacco team hoped was a first-place swordfish.
“The first day we called it, 20, five and two, because it took 20 minutes to rig the bait, five minutes to drop to the right depth, then two minutes to get a hook-up,” Callais said.
It didn’t work out like that: Leopold rigged the squid, made the drop and told the anglers he was pleased with the current and the way the boat was drifting, but Callais said it took longer than two minutes to set fire to Team Vacco’s fishing adventure.
“The skipper asked why we didn’t see the line on the stern. I mean the bait was in the water 10 or 12 minutes and he told us to start reeling,” Callais said.
So Trenton Pitre did, and Callais said Pitre took turns on the reel, but the line didn’t move.
“We’re all oil field workers, and we told (Leopold) that we were hung on a piece of iron — we know what’s down there — but (Leopold) insisted we had a big fish,” Callais said. “It took 20-30 minutes to see the fish show up on the (sonar) at 600 feet, then the fish took off and went to 1,500 feet, but we had some line to spare.
“We kept watching the (sonar) and got the fish up to 600 (feet), and the fish dumped line again, just going straight down, so we had to get the fish back up.”
They were a couple minutes shy of a 90-minute battle with this fish, and, Callais said, the broadbill was up to 400 feet down.
“Then it started coming up and we saw color and I can’t tell you about the excitement,” Callais said. “When the fish came up we gaffed it, and it took all of us, the captain and the mate and all five of us to get the fish in the boat.”
It was two hours and 32 minutes and, Callais said, “the excitement was indescribable.”
With the 6 p.m. weigh-in deadline, the race was on to get back to Moran’s Marina at Port Fourchon, and the crew faced another challenge.
Callais said Pitre couldn’t find the chip anglers need to weigh a catch. Pitre said he believed he left it in his truck back at Grand Isle, but it wasn’t there, so it must have been at the camp seven miles down the island, but the chip wasn’t there, either.
“He eventually found it in the bag he brought on the boat,” Callais said, after the near two-hour chip search.
That done, the rodeo’s heaviest fish sent the scales to 261.8 pounds. And A.J. Maiaroto’s first day sword, 62.65-pounder, was second.
“We owe to Fish Commander, and it all goes back to the captain,” Callais said. “This was the fish of a lifetime, and we knew it.”
So, while Marvel continues to search for the state record broadbill, it looks like his secret is finally out, and the door is open to another bluewater species.
Nine weekends into the private recreational red snapper season, Louisiana’s offshore anglers have taken 487,027 pounds — 58% — of our state’s 832,493-pound allocation.
LA Creel, Wildlife and Fisheries’ heralded data-collection system, came up with the estimate through July 25 and includes the heavily fished Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo.
For the complete week-by-week breakdown, go to the LDWF’s website: wlf.louisiana.gov/page/red-snapper.
Most all of Louisiana’s inside waters will open Monday with the exception of the Biloxi Marsh area, which will open at 6 a.m. Aug. 27.
Monday’s times vary for all other waters. The season will open at 6 a.m. in waters from the Louisiana-Mississippi state line west to the Mississippi River’s South Pass and waters from the Atchafalaya River Ship Channel west to the Louisiana-Texas state line, and at 6 p.m. in waters from South Pass west to the Atchafalaya River Ship Channel.
Times and dates were approved during Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting in Baton Rouge.
In big trouble
Two Buras men, Timothy Cheramie, 56, and Michael Cone, 46, were nabbed in late July by Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Division agents for using skimmer nets during a closed inshore shrimp season.
The spring inshore shrimp season closed July 2 statewide.
According to the LDWF report, agents found Cheramie in Bastian Bay with 118 pounds of shrimp, and it was “ Cheramie’s third offense for using skimmers during a closed season.”
Cone was found in Cyprian Bay with 925 pounds of shrimp, and, the report stated, “Cone also did not possess a commercial fishing license, vessel license or gear license. This is Cone’s second offense for using skimmers during a closed shrimp season.”
Facing jail time and hefty fines, Cone could have his shrimp gear license revoked for three years, and Cheramie, if found guilty for a third violation, could face license revocation for 10 years.
The case has been forwarded to District Attorney Charles Ballay for prosecution.