Reader Report: Cabin Fever Fishing Team gets prized 242-pound swordfish

Ernest Hemingway wrote a famous novel about the “Old Man and the Sea.” This is a story about young boys and the sea…or make that, the Gulf.

Alex invited five middle school buddies to go offshore fishing on Feb. 14, but as the day approached, the weather was rough, so he postponed. He asked when the best time for good weather and good fishing and I told him June. So he set a date four months out — June 3, 2023. The crew consisted of the captain, Will Degenhart, who runs the family’s self-proclaimed Cabin Fever Fishing Team, dad’s friend, Dustin Mule “Baby J,” Alex Degenhart “Karl,” 12, Zander Fonseca “Elvis,” 13, Treven Roppolo “Orange,” 13, Drake Woodruff “Obama,” 13, and Hunter Mule “Pickle,” 13, all of Luling, La.

After launching at Cypress Cove in Venice, they decided to go for red snapper at the 12 mile rigs. The boat was disappearing in the swells on the way out with a long rolling wave period. Two of the boys were looking pretty green when they arrived at the fishing grounds. With a full (Strawberry) moon the next day, the current was strong and baits were going sideways. The boys fought the current and reeled in several snapper and a white trout. Around noon, they decided to move on to Lightning Rod, where they hooked up, and after a good fight revealed an out of season amberjack.

Time to move

It was now 1 o’clock and time to move to the swordfish grounds. The boys deployed a buoy line with a squid and set a drift to roll over some humps and ledges at the 1000 foot mark. After the buoy line was deployed, a second line was deployed on a “tip rod.” The boys all conked out on bean bags for a nice sleep in the sun. As 3 o’clock rolled around, it was getting to be about that time to pull in baits and head in and start some dinner, but the drift was really nice and the garlic salted squid that Baby J had rigged were soaking, so we just had to give it another hour.

At 3:45, Elvis and the boys were up and stirring around and one minute later, Baby J exclaimed that we just got hit. After cranking up the bait five turns on the reel, whack! After cranking up 5 more turns, nothing. The bait was dropped down and all of a sudden the rod bent over and Baby J said we are tight! Elvis got on the reel and started cranking until he got tired and Karl got on the reel until he got tired. They took turns cranking down on the Talica 50 with the custom Bimini sword rod swapping out every few minutes.

After an hour of fighting the fish, it was close. As the leader appeared, it was a jumbled-up mess. They weren’t able to get the fish up to the boat with the leader tangle and the line went slack. They laid eyes on the fish as it swam up to the surface and made a lap under the boat. They knew it was a good one, but with only a gaff in hand, the fish stayed just out of range until it realized it didn’t want to be at the boat anymore and sounded 800 feet down.

They kept trying

It was a bit of a heartbreak moment realizing the missed opportunity. But the five boys once again took turns, reel-wait-reel-wait-reel. They began to give out and decided they couldn’t do it. At that point Baby J gave them an inspirational speech about how “nothing in life that is worth having comes easy boys” and kept them going on the reel. Now at 2 hours in, the fish was marking clearly on the sounder 200 foot down, then 180, then 160, then 140 and up it came, slow and steady with the boys asking every 3 minutes, where is it now.

The fish stalled at 20 foot under the boat. We could see it, but we just couldn’t move it. It finally drew closer to the point that Baby J was able to grab the leader and handline the fish toward the boat. Once the head was visible, we realized that this was a huge swordfish. The fish made one last circle under the boat and after a swipe of the gaff, we had a hook in it.

With a tail rope and two gaffs, the fish was dragged onto the deck through the tuna door. Then came lots of high fives and cheering, pictures and grinning from the five whipped 13-year-olds that had just boated the fish of a lifetime in a 3-hour battle. The weight guesses were all over the place from 190-222 pounds, but after a stop at Venice Marina to hang the fish. The actual weight was 242.6 pounds.

The boys took some more pictures with the fish and after cleaning it and packing up, we rode out of the marina parking lot. They didn’t even make it to the main road before they were all asleep.

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