Sailfish, Swordfish and Blue Marlin: Where Opportunity Meets Preparation

Three billfish species, 100 of each, in one year

family fishing for swordfish
The David family — Jimmy, James, Debbi and Laurel — with a nice South Florida daytime-caught swordfish.Courtesy L&H Sportfishing

When you are part of a popular Miami charter lineage who has the opportunity to fish not only every Sunday with your family, but to travel the world in order to expand your knowledge, you take full advantage of it. James David is a 19-year-old whose resume already rivals that of most people who have been fishing their entire lives. He has successfully caught and released, hooked and passed, boated, or wired more than 300 billfish in a single year, to meet his goal of catching 100 of each species — blue marlin, sailfish and swordfish — as a captain, mate or angler. This is his story of how it all came together.

The Sailfish

"Get ready, here come three fish," my dad, Capt. Jimmy David, shouted from his perch in the tower of our family's charter boat, L&H. I hooked two of them, passing the rods to our eager charter customers. I knew there was another fish there, and it couldn't have gone far, so I kept an eye out. Then a third bite: "Got 'em on here," I said, looking up at the tower. Nothing like seeing and hooking all three, especially on a charter.

We went on to release a total of 26 sails on a full-day charter that day off Miami. This was our best day for sailfish for the 2017-18 season, just barely eclipsing a 21-fish day we had on Jichi. As the season progressed, so did the numbers. During the 2018 Islamorada Sailfish Tournament, an event we fish together every year with my dad, my mom, Debbi, and Capt. Paul Ross on Relentless, I was able to release sailfish No. 100.

The Blue Marlin

“Right teaser!” Capt. Zak Conde yelled from the bridge of Amelia as he pulled the lure away. Moments later, a blue marlin piled on the left long rigger. Line melted off the reel as the angry fish danced across the rough Cape Verde seas. My sister, Laurel, grabbed the rod and jumped in the chair. As mom and dad cleared the remaining lines, Conde drove hard on the fish and soon the leader was coming out of the water. I reached out as far as I could while salt water hit my face like needles coming out of a gun.

I leadered my sister’s blue marlin for a clean release, making this the 77th blue I saw with Conde in Cape Verde.

blue marlin leaping out of the water
James David wires a feisty blue marlin aboard Capt. Zak Conde's 44-foot Henriques during a stint in Cape Verde in 2018.Courtesy L&H Sportfishing

The rest of the blues came while fishing in St. Thomas with Luis Isaias on Jichi and on Jim Carr’s Never Say Never with Capt. Eddie Herbert, one of the most well-respected captains in the game. I came for the September moon, where we enjoyed some of the best blue-marlin fishing of the season, releasing seven blues in one day. We left them biting and headed for the Dominican Republic, landing in Cap Cana where we added more marlin to the tally, for a total of 126 for the season.

The Swordfish

“It looks like him,” I calmly said as we peered over the side of my family’s 27-foot Conch. I carefully pulled on the leader as the shape and color of a broadbill came into view. The neon-purple fish began violently slashing his massive bill but I held on, hoping he wouldn’t get the best of me. “Let’s let him go,” my dad said. I pulled the fish alongside the boat and cut the leader close to the hook. With a few strokes of the tail, my 100th swordfish swam back to the depths.

This was one of six swords we caught that night off Miami and each of the 100 came from the South Florida coast, day-dropping and night-fishing. The largest — a 400-pounder — was landed during the daytime with my friend, K.C. Spaulding, and the second largest was one of more than 300 pounds that I caught fishing with my good friend, Mat Bowman from Hawaii. I'm lucky to live in an area where we can target them year-round. —By James David, as told to Capt. Jen Copeland