It wasn't a big swordfish that mate Hunter Barron dragged over the transom of the Catch 22 on the afternoon of July 11 off Islamorada. But its weight of about 70 pounds really didn't matter to the men involved in the landing.
Why not? Because the catch marked an incredible milestone for a 63-year-old Florida Keys light-tackle guide and his close friends, who worked together to pioneer fishing for swordfish (also known as broadbill) in broad daylight.
Vic Gaspeny displays his 200th swordfish, and a collection of sizable dolphin fish caught. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Bennett)
The catch was Vic Gaspeny's 200th swordfish -- believed to be the most ever caught by a single angler on a sport-fishing rod and manual reel.
Vic's obsession with swordfish began June 22, 1978, when he caught his first one off Islamoradaat night. He caught a second later that year off Maryland, and then none for 23 years because of depleted swordfish populations.
When the numbers returned to a healthy level, however, Vic was ready. In late 2001, he started fishing at night again -- this time with his good friend Richard Stanczyk, owner of Bud N' Mary's Fishing Marinain Islamorada. On Dec. 17, 2001, he reeled in two of five swordfish caught on the boat Catch 22 that evening.
"That was when we realized that swordfish were swarming off the Keys, and we really became obsessed with them," said Vic, who has led shallow-water anglers to bonefish and tarpon off the island chain since 1975.
Vic, Richard Stanczyk, Richard's brother Scott (who captains the Catch 22), and Richard's son Nick continued night fishing for swordfish off the Keys.
Richard Stanczyk (left) and Vic Gaspeny, pictured here in 2007, hold a swordfish Vic caught during daylight hours off Islamorada. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Then, after reading about a doctor who had caught swordfish during daylight hours off Venezuela, Vic persuaded the Stanczyks to try for a daytime broadbill off the Keys. The small 60-pound fish they caught Dec. 21, 2003, would revolutionize the way saltwater anglers pursue the highly prized game fish.
The entourage spent time and money to pioneer new techniques. They tested baits ranging from squid to pelagic fish belly strips, pioneered break-away sinker apparatus to get baits to the bottom of the ocean in depths up to 2,000 feet, and became experts at the game.
In June 2006 Vic realized daytime swordfishing was so productive that he completely gave up fishing at night. By then, he had caught 37 at night and three during daylight hours -- an achievement worthy of any personal record book, especially when compared to many noted anglers.
According to the International Game Fish Association, William Boschen caught the first-ever swordfish on rod and reel in 1913 off Catalina Island, Calif. According to the IGFA website, fellow Californian Roy "Ted" Naftzger caught 49 between 1963 and 2002 (which, at the time, was believed to be the most ever caught by a single angler).
A swordfish leaps after being hooked off Islamorada. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)
"Swordfish are powerful, have marlin-like speed and tuna-like stamina," Vic Gaspeny stated. "They are a world-class game fish."
On Nov. 11, 2007, Vic -- who maintains a meticulous fishing database -- caught his 100th swordfish, a 251-pounder.
"I never really had (quantity) goals; I just love catching them," he said. "But when we got close to 100, that became a goal."
On July 16, 2009, Vic caught his largest swordfish ever: a 410-pounder that fought well into the night. His 150th swordfish came 37 days later, and he scored his 199th fish on Christmas Eve 2011.
But that was followed by a long lull -- because both the Catch 22, skippered by Scott Stanczyk, and the Bn'M, with Nick Stanczyk at the helm, simply were not available. Why? A high demand by customers who came to the Florida Keys from as far away as Australia to fish for swordfish.
"There really was no pressure," Vic said. "If I went to my grave with 199, it would have been fine."
There's no chance of that now, since he boated his landmark 200th fish. Yet even after achieving the personal milestone, he's not likely to stop targeting the species any time soon.
"It's really not about the numbers," Vic said simply. "It's about the excitement of fishing for and pulling on them, and the joy of doing it with people who share the passion."