By: Emmett Hall (Sun Sentinel)
The social media world recently was buzzing about the big catch made by four Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach anglers. They teamed up to bring in a monster 767.8-pound swordfish that established a new state record. The big catch was just 5 pounds off the United States record.
Hunter Irvine is no stranger to the winner’s circle despite being only 17. The Fort Lauderdale resident and three of his best friends heard that swordfish were biting and decided to venture out on a leisurely fishing trip aboard his 31-foot center console Young Guns Too boat. That impromptu decision paved the way for an exciting adventure that the crew of Irvine, Timmy Maddock, 21, Jeremy Rafferty, 21, and Jaime Johanson, 20, will ever forget.
“We went out on a fun trip hoping to catch a swordfish and were fishing off Fort Lauderdale about 18 miles out,” Irvine said. “The ocean was a little choppy with 2-to-3-foot swells and at 1,700 feet, the bait slacked up and the fish came all the way to the surface. I was so nervous getting ready with the harpoon that my legs locked up. I got a good harpoon shot and it was then that we realized what a true sea monster we had. We tried getting it over the gunnel and it wasn’t going to happen.”
Luckily another fisherman was close by witnessing the battle. Rob Doda was taking photos and cheering on the young anglers to reel in the prize catch. With the swordfish caught, the next challenge was to secure the fish onto the 31-foot boat. Doda jumped on board to help the other four anglers pull the fish around the transom and slide it through the tuna door.
Maddock was the angler on the LP S 1200 reel and had the task of battling the fish for those five and half hours. The Pompano Beach resident was up to the challenge and engaged in an incredible fight.
“After every wave, we rocked on, I got one foot of line back on the reel and we did that for hours,” Maddock said. “We kept gaining every wave and she popped up and Hunter grabbed the dart and got her and we put two gaffs in her. We freaked out realizing what we just caught. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew with my best friends on the boat. This was a fish of a lifetime.” Realizing the size of the fish, Irvine was on the phone and made arrangements to have the fish weighed in at the Lighthouse Point Marina, which had to be reopened as the boat pulled in after 8 p.m.
The fishing community quickly mobilized to lend its assistance. Sean Miller, of Offshore Anglers of Pompano Beach, was at the dock with a certified scale that had the capacity of weighing up to 1,000 pounds. When the official IGFA weight came across at 767.8 pounds, a new Florida record was established and the supportive crowd of family and friends let out a cheer. The young crew became the pride and envy of the fishing community who came out to celebrate the record-setting catch at Big Dog Tackle in Pompano Beach. With a bounty that large, there was plenty of fresh swordfish steaks to share. Over 100 well-wishers joined in on a barbecue celebration that featured swordfish sandwiches prepared by chef Eric Kaszubinski. The Young Guns Too group also made a donation of fresh swordfish steaks to the Fillet for Friends charity that feeds the homeless. Johanson was the proud female on the boat and has been fishing since age 5. The former Cardinal Gibbons volleyball player enjoys a lifestyle that revolves around the sport of fishing. The assistant manager at Big Dog Tackle was part of the celebrated foursome to receive a hero’s welcome at the swordfish barbecue.
“Hunter is my best friend and he is very calm, but we were all freaking out when we landed that swordfish,” Johanson said, smiling. “He is the calming influence and thinks through everything and is a problem solver. It’s hard to prepare for a fish this size. When they got the fish on the side of the boat I couldn’t even blink. It was really rough out there and we had both bilge pumps going as the weight of the fish was bringing in a lot of water which was nerve-wracking. There were at least 50 people waiting at the marina for us. The greatest part was sharing the experience with my best friends.”
Irvine has been a fighter his whole life battling cancer with multiple chemo treatments and has been fishing with his father Lance Irvine who is a professional fisherman for as long as he can remember. He has created quite a reputation as one of the top junior anglers in the nation winning over 50 local and national titles. On this occasion, Hunter stepped away from his father’s shadow before turning 18. He is ending an impressive junior angler career with a bang and a Florida record.
“This was an indescribable feeling and there is a good chance I will never see another swordfish that big in my life,” Hunter said. “It’s amazing I was able to catch a fish that size at such a young age. We were just out there to have fun and catch a couple of fish. This is a very big deal and I’m happy that everyone was able to come out here and get some swordfish and take part in this. It was pretty chaotic bringing a fish that size onto the boat. I can only hope that I can top this catch someday. It is very cool to have the Florida record. Record or not it was great to catch a fish that big with my friends. The fish always tastes better when you catch it.”