What started out as idle conversation between friends during a slow day of fishing in Cap Cana, Dominican Republic, culminated in one of the greatest angling feats in billfishing history.
In the summer of 2012, Kitt Toomey, owner of Get Lit, a tournament-rigged 60-foot Spencer sport-fisher based in Coral Gables, Florida, and Brett Cannon, owner of Killin’ It, a hunting and fishing outfitter in Parkland, Florida, toyed with the idea of Toomey breaking the IGFA Royal Billfish Slam record of catching all nine billfish species in the world in 36 days. The record, held by Miami angler Rob Ruwitch, was set in 2004. Ruwitch adhered to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) rules and regulations to catch each species and scored an individual “fantasy slam” record by catching five billfish species in a single day.
Toomey, an angler with experience all over the world, and Cannon, who went along as support and unofficial cameraman, knew that strategy, patience and lots of luck would all be necessary to break the record. Neither of them could have anticipated how much of each they would eventually need, nor how fate would intervene and cause them to question not only whether the record could be broken but who might finally bring home the prize.
March 26, 2013; Kona, Hawaii
Kona is the only place in the world where a large charter-boat fleet provides anglers with a decent shot at catching the elusive spearfish, and spring is the favored season. This time of year not only offers up a good chance of getting a striped marlin but a Pacific blue marlin as well. The fishing grounds are close enough to the coast to satisfy impatient anglers, and prevailing trade winds blowing from the east ensure calm seas most of the year.
Toomey and Cannon rose at 5 a.m. to meet Capt. Chip Van Mols aboard Monkey Biz II at the Honokohau Marina, and within minutes, lines were in the water. Their spread included two teaser lines fished from the bridge, four rigger lines pulling Kona-style hard-head lures, and a smaller lure on the shotgun rod fished out of the center rigger. All angling would be done from the fighting chair.
The first bite came midafternoon, hard on the center shotgun rigger, just as jet lag — an unexpected adversary throughout the quest — began to set in.
“It’s a spearfish!” Van Mols shouted, and Toomey moved quickly to the fighting chair, ready to catch and release his first fish. The fish pulled drag and leaped across the surface, and it looked as though they were off to an easy start, but their luck turned and the line went slack when the fish spat the hook. Day one ended without a spearfish.
Day two passed without a bite.
Day three proved to be the charm, when a small blue marlin piled on the long rigger lure and Toomey hauled in the 140-pound fish after a short but spectacular fight. After a quick tag and release, jubilation erupted on deck, since the contest had now officially begun!
The spearfish didn’t make an appearance on day four, however, so the pair decided to move on and try their luck elsewhere. With reports of a good black-marlin bite in Port Stephens, Australia, they packed up and made the 10-hour flight to Sydney.
April 3, 2013; Port Stephens, Australia
Toomey and Cannon met the crew of Tim Dean’s charter boat, the 38-foot O’Brien Calypso, the morning after a cold front moved through, making for a cool, blustery start. Capt. Ross Finlayson and mate “Lye” stopped to catch yackers and slimeys (similar to tinker mackerel) for bait and headed out to the fishing grounds, staying close to the rocky shoreline.
After deploying the live baits in less than 100 feet of water, they landed two 50- to 60-pound yellowfin tuna, surprising everyone aboard, but black marlin were suddenly scarce, and they ended their first day without a billfish strike.
Day two dawned windy, rainy and even colder. As they headed farther offshore than the previous day in rough seas, Toomey and Cannon realized that they hadn’t packed adequately for the weather. The two men were cold and jet-lagged, and their spirits began to sag as another day wore on without a bite.
A small juvenile black marlin gave Toomey a brief ray of hope for a few minutes, but after a single spectacular jump, it was gone. The boat was unavailable for use the next day, and the record seemed beyond their grasp. Even worse, frustrated and exhausted, they simply weren’t having much fun. Agreeing to cut their losses and fit in a few days of fun fishing on their way home to Miami, Toomey and Cannon called Capt. Van Mols back in Kona to ask what he was doing the next three days. “Fishing with you, of course,” he said.
They were back on a plane to Hawaii that night, each of them wondering if they’d ever have the chance, or the energy, to challenge the record again.