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July 30, 2010

Using the Power Assist

Well-designed power assists keep the sport in deep-drop fishing

I was in a serious quandary. Given that daytime swordfishing has become world-class in south Florida over the past few years, I desperately wanted to partake in it, yet not by joining this mostly electric-reel fishing fraternity.

You see, to target these fish during the day, baits are lowered into major depressions and crevices between 1,600 and 1,900 feet down with weights as heavy as 15 pounds. It's easy to understand the use of electric reels, as it would take a football team of guys to manually hand-crank that much line and weight up from those depths, and they'd still collapse onto the deck from exhaustion. But I don't and won't consider pushing a button sporting unless, of course, one's physical challenges dictate it. What's more, most of these electric-reel daytime sword drops are done as commercial ventures, to winch up swordfish to sell. Are there any sportsmen left in this fishery?

In my opinion, the hot ticket for not only this fishery but also for deep-dropping for grouper and tilefish is a simple electric assist device. I'm talking about a unit that taps into your boat's power supply, attaches to your reel and provides a power assist when it's time to bring up excessive weights from considerable distances, such as when you need to check your baits. Yet when you hook a fish, it's just you and your tackle - minus the electrical assist.

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive
Granted, there are some quality full-blown electric reels on the market that offer the option of hand-cranking a fish when desired, most notably Diawa's MP3000 and Dolphin Electreel fishing reels. And these are indeed great units. However, I was searching for one more twist, something that would allow me to easily put one of my existing standard big-game reel/rod outfits into play without spending thousands of dollars for an independent, full-blown electric reel/rod combo.

I mentioned all this to Carl Huffman, president of Elec-Tra-Mate and a longtime friend. I explained my intentions of shooting one of my television episodes on daytime swordfishing off Fort Lauderdale and how I wanted to do things the good old-fashioned sporting way and battle these fish with a traditional hand-cranked reel. Huffman and his design team went to work, and I was surprised at how quickly they developed a prototype for me. I had the opportunity to use the very first Elec-Tra-Mate Turn-A-Mate drive during a very important outing and while cameras were running - talk about holding your breath and hoping that all would go according to plan!

Meet the Turn-A-Mate
This unit, with a top-side grip, looks much like a large hand-held car vacuum cleaner. The 10-foot power cord connects to the same adapter I use to power my electric kite reels. When an assist was needed, I'd just pick up the 7-pound unit and attach it to the base of my Penn International 80 Wide reel handle. The connection between the motor and the reel handle was provided by a Reel Crankie, a coupling device marketed by Custom Rod & Reel in Lighthouse Point, Florida (954-781-5600). The Reel Crankie comes in several sizes; choose based on the type of reel you plan to use with it. It affixes to the Turn-A-Mate, and its opposite end fastens to the base of the reel handle. A flip of the switch activates the Turn-A-Mate, and up comes the line. That's basically all there is to it. Once the line has been retrieved, disengage the Crankie and you are back to manual operation.

Loves Hard Work
To get an idea of the paces this unit would be put through, you have to understand how I set up for daytime swordfish. I stripped the monofilament line off a two-speed Penn International 80 Wide reel and filled it with 65-pound. With drops to as deep as 1,900 feet, the relatively light braid serves three main purposes. Firstly, the small diameter cuts through the water and Gulf Stream current with minimum resistance; this means the bait will reach bottom faster and with less weight. Secondly, the lighter braid telegraphs the slightest tap when swordfish nearly 2,000 feet deep hit the bait. Thirdly and equally importantly, a ton of braid can be spooled onto the reel. The advantage here is that when it comes time to fight a fish or retrieve the bait, the diameter of the reel spool is still significant, which enables more line to be retrieved with each revolution of the reel handle.

Affixed to the braided line was a 100-foot, 200-pound-test wind-on monofilament leader, followed by a ball-bearing snap swivel, the actual leader (10 feet long) and the bait. The only other tackle alteration was swapping out the rod's straight butt for a small bent-butt to keep the rod tip and braided line away from the side of the boat. Yet when it came time for me to fight a fish, it slipped into the gimbal on my rod belt and enabled me to take on a fish stand-up style.