683-pound swordfish caught off the Florida Keys

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The 683.8-pound swordfish is lifted to be weighed at Key Colony Beach Marina. Photos by Natalie Velger/Florida Keys News Bureau

Professional Florida Keys fisherman Billy Rabito Jr. has caught a lot of big fish in his life, but the 683.8-pound swordfish he hauled in this week has left even him amazed.

“I feel blessed to have hooked that fish, keep it hooked and get it to the boat,” said Rabito, a second-generation Keys captain who has been fishing professionally for the past 22 years. “Daytime fish can often come unhooked, so it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Fishing on the Mystique, a 61-foot Viking owned by Katherine MacMillan, Marathon captain Rabito presided over the catch of huge broadbill hooked some 30 miles to the south of Marathon Tuesday afternoon (April 3, 2012). The approximate length and girth on the fish was 107 and 70 inches respectively, Rabito said. He added that the length measurement was taken between the lower jaw and the fork of the tail (normal for measuring fish) and that the overall length of the broadbill including its bill and tail was much longer.

The fish bit a whole 5-pound bonito hooked to 80-pound braid, spooled on an electric Shimano Tiagra reel. Mike Driskell, the boat’s mate who lives on Little Torch Key, manned the reel.

It was weighed on a scale, recently certified by the International Game Fish Association and the State of Florida, according to Byron Goss, co-owner of Big Time Bait & Tackle in Marathon, who witnessed the weigh-in at Key Colony Beach Marina. About 150 spectators, who gathered for the weigh-in, were treated to complimentary fresh swordfish steaks, Rabito said.

Rabito said it took about two hours to bring the big broadbill to the boat and additional time to get the fish onboard through the boat’s large transom tuna door with the aid of an anchor windlass. Everyone on the boat, including MacMillan, helped to get the swordfish into the cockpit.

The fish was the second swordfish more than 500 pounds caught off the Florida Keys within 10 days and is believed to be the largest ever caught in Keys waters during daytime hours.

On Sunday, March 25, Caribsea Captain Kenny Spaulding, a third-generation Keys charterboat captain, led angler Fred Beshara, 67, to a 520-pound broadbill off Islamorada caught on a Daiwa Dendoh MP3000 electric power-assist reel.

“It shows that the big fish are here (off the Keys),” said veteran Keys charterboat skipper Jim Sharpe.

The fish won’t qualify for either a state or IGFA record because it was caught on an electric reel. Thus a 612.75-pound broadbill caught off Key Largo at night May 7, 1978, will continue to be the official state record, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data.

Rabito said when he first saw the fish, he knew it was big and would weigh more than 500 pounds, but didn’t think it would approach 700 pounds.

“I’ve caught lots of swordfish, including many 300-pounders and I’ve been waiting to get a big fish,” he said.

Modern sportfishing techniques for daytime swordfishing were pioneered in the Keys about 10 years ago by Islamorada sportfishing professionals Richard Stanczyk, his brother Scott and Vic Gaspeny. Rabito lauded their efforts that have created a whole new big game sportfishing opportunity for Keys-bound anglers.

“I tip my hat to all the guys who have pioneered this thing,” Rabito said. “It has paved the path for the younger guys and gives you great respect for those that went out there, spent a lot of time and experimented.”

Source: Florida Keys News Bureau

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