Jeff Jacobs of Calvert County, Maryland, set the state’s second new saltwater record in as many days on Sept. 21, hauling in a 393-pound swordfish after an epic 5-hour fight that saw him reel the leader in sight 11 times before the battle was finally won.
Jacobs, 38, was fishing with Capt. Willie Zimmerman aboard the charter vessel RoShamBo, a 65-foot Custom Carolina Boat out of Ocean City. The anglers had enjoyed a successful outing catching tilefish, mahi mahi and swordfish south of the Washington Canyon. They had just made their last drift for swords, briefly hooking one before letting it go.
Record Maryland Swordfish
“It was about 2:45, time to go home,” Zimmerman tells Salt Water Sportsman, and all that remained was to retrieve a buoy rod baited with an eel and blue-white skirt combo. “I was backing up to it and Jeff was cranking the slack up. My mate took the float off the line and Jeff made three or four cranks before the rod tip just bent straight to the water. We were like, ‘Holy hell, what’s this?’ And then we figured out that we had another fish on.”
Zimmerman initially thought Jacobs was on a smaller swordfish, like the 130-pounder they’d caught earlier in the day, because within 30 to 40 minutes they had the fish almost to the boat. “Then I got to see it,” Zimmerman recounts. “I looked at my mate and said, ‘Tell him it’s a 400-pound fish. It’s big.’ That was the point that I realized we have to stay on this fish, because it’s going to be a record.”
Galvanized by the sight of the boat and the glare of the afternoon sun, the swordfish made the first of several hard, deep runs that would keep Jacobs waging a slow but steady battle of attrition for the next several hours.
The buoy rig was a Shimano Tyrnos 50 two-speed reel on a custom JPR stand-up rod spooled with 100-pound braid from Ande Monofilament, a 250-pound Momoi wind-on, and a 300-pound Momoi leader. “It’s light tackle, so we had to just wait it out,” Zimmerman says. “I kept thinking in the back of my head, ‘The sun’s high, there’s lots of glare on the water, and every time this fish gets close it goes crazy and jumps. We’re not gonna kill this fish until it gets dark.’”
Drawn-Out Sword Fight
“The advice that I was getting was stay focused and stay consistent,” Jacobs tells Salt Water Sportsman. “Reel smooth, don’t jerk the rod, take your time and stay consistent.”
Zimmerman says Jacobs was using only about 15 pounds of drag for most of the fight.
“Literally we did it with patience. When you’re not using real heavy tackle and you’ve got light drag running, that’s all you can do. Just be patient, wear ’em out, and get your shot.”
That approach, of course, runs the risk that the angler might wear out before the fish. Most of the group aboard the RoShamBo are friends of the boat’s owners and have fished together before, and their support—making sure Jacobs had a bite of sandwich to eat and water to drink—was key to keeping his energy and confidence high, he says.
“I didn’t really have any idea how long a fight we were in for, but after the first hour and a half of reeling, I got to where I was just determined to get it to the boat. I wasn’t thinking about the burning in my arm or worrying about running out of energy. I just accepted that I’m going to be doing this for however long it’s going to take.”
On several occasions, the fish itself helped spur Jacobs on. Watching the leader come into view nearly a dozen times only to disappear back into the depths can be demoralizing, but when a nearly 400-pound swordfish shows itself by leaping clear of the water—as Jacobs’ quarry did with five electrifying, head-shaking jumps—the adrenaline surge is significant.
“It was so exciting. That’s the part that gives you the strength and the determination to want to keep fighting,” Jacobs says. “Knowing what we had on the end of the line, being able to see it. We weren’t guessing. We had a really good idea that we had something special.”
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources certified Jacobs’ catch as the new state record swordfish on Friday. It tops the previous record, a 318.5 pound sword caught in the White Marlin Open last year by New Jersey angler Jake Bertonazzi, by 74.5 pounds.
Maryland State Record Albacore Tuna
The department also certified a new state-record albacore tuna, boated Sept. 20 by Thomas “Tad” Bodmer aboard Capt. Ryan Knapp’s vessel Top Dog. That longfin, caught north of Washington Canyon in the area known as the 800 Square, topped a 74-pound albacore caught in 2004 by Victor Gardner. The first mate on Gardner’s charter two decades ago: none other than Willie Zimmerman.
“I told Ryan, ‘All right, if you’re going to beat my record, then I’ll just set another one,’” Zimmerman says with a laugh. “It was quite a day.”