Ryan Keany of Manteo was sort of planning on fishing for white marlin when he left the dock on Oct. 14, heading offshore out of Oregon Inlet, but he’d also heard talk that Hurricane Michael had blown all of those popular billfish out of the area.
He decided to target swordfish, however, and that turned into a capital decision. That day, fishing in 180 fathoms of water north of Oregon Inlet, Keany won a 2 1/2-hour battle with a swordfish that bettered the North Carolina state record by 87 pounds.
But because Keany was using an electric reel, the 528-pound, 105-inch fish won’t be eligible for record status; it was a stunning catch nonetheless.
Keany was fishing on his father’s boat, Horseplay, which he keeps at Pirate’s Cove Marina on the causeway between Manteo and Nags Head.
“We had planned to fish for white marlin, but after (Hurricane) Michael came through, they were really gone,” Keany said. “There were no white marlin caught that Saturday, so we decided to go after swordfish on Sunday.
“We went to a place where we have had a few bites, but the Navy had a carrier out there and asked us to move, so we went to this other place. That’s where we caught the fish.”
Keany was fishing on an 18-inch Hogy Eel on a two-hook bottom rig, with a squid tube on top and a rubber skirt around the bait to give it more appeal when it bounced off the bottom.
The swordfish struck, and there was no doubt about the bite.
“It was a suicide bite,” Keany said. “One tap, and the rod doubled over. He didn’t play with the bait at all.”
Keany was on the rod, and two hours and 35 minutes later, he had the fish at the side of the boat, where it was harpooned and hit with the flying gaff before it came aboard.
“We fish for swordfish with electric reels and crank reels,” he said. “We just happened to have electric reels out. If we’re fishing a spot where we feel like we are going to get a bite, we’ll put out the crank reels, but you’re sending them down with an 8-pound weight, so if you’re just fishing around, looking, we’ll send them down on an electric reel.”
Back at Pirates’ Cove, Keany and his crew got a 528-pound weight on the marina’s digital scales. They measured the fish, which was 105 inches from the lower jaw to the tail, and was 61 inches in girth.
“The way we fish for swordfish is popular down in south Florida, and a lot more people are starting to do it up here. More and more guys are trying it and finding out where the swordfish live.”
North Carolina’s state-record swordfish is a 441-pound specimen caught in 1979 off Wrightsville Beach by J. Horace Murray.