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
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 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
Target: Black Marlin
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.
April 5, 2013: Kona, Hawaii
Letting go of the royal slam record allowed them to relax, but they still had personal goals. Toomey was determined to get a spearfish and Cannon wanted a Pacific blue marlin, but they were fishing in Hawaii and found they couldn’t complain much. They went two days without a bite, but who cared? When the fishing was slow, they passed the time playing cards in the salon and trading stories with the crew.
On the third day, Toomey hooked a large shortbill spearfish. After a brief fight, he had the fish to the boat for pictures and a tag, and flagging spirits vanished. Now all Cannon needed was his Pacific blue marlin and they could call it a successful trip.
Then, over the next two days, everything changed.
Cannon managed to catch both a spearfish and a 200-pound Pacific blue marlin, and Toomey reeled in another spearfish. Well-rested and invigorated, Toomey proposed a new plan.
“If we’re going back to Miami anyway,” he said, “why don’t we stop by Cabo San Lucas and try for a striped marlin? It’s sort of on the way home.”
Cannon broke out into a grin and agreed, and just like that, the pursuit of the royal slam was back on.
April 17, 2013: Flamingo, Costa Rica
Target: Pacific Sailfish
Toomey, a self-admitted Internet and social-media junkie, has met many fellow anglers through Facebook, and their help proved invaluable. Facebook friend Hook Harmeling referred Toomey to Capt. Jason Coffrin of Mr. Trigger Sportfishing out of Flamingo, Costa Rica, and Panama.
With only 36 hours notice, Capt. Coffrin had Mr. Trigger ready to go, and after a half-day delay, due to water in a fuel delivery, they boarded at 6:15 a.m. It was already hot, humid and breezy. After a 30-mile run, the crew set out a spread of two teasers, two rigger baits and two flat lines. The armed baits were loaded with ballyhoo rigged on circle hooks.
After two hours without seeing a fish, doubt and travel fatigue began to creep in once again. The energy level in the boat dipped palpably. Accomplishing the royal slam was one thing, but beating the time record was a constant stressor, and Toomey and Cannon wondered if they were on their way to losing sight of the fun of it again. But, as any experienced angler will tell you, things can turn quickly.
A pack of tailing sailfish suddenly appeared, and the game was on. One hungry fish struck an outrigger bait, and after a brief drop-back, Toomey was hooked up with a feisty sailfish. He got the release moments later, and then Cannon hooked up solidly to another acrobatic sailfish. After a few pictures, he got the release, and several more sailfish followed.
To top off the already great day, Cannon managed to catch and release another striped marlin on a pitch bait. Both Toomey and Cannon now had their fourth species!
With the possibility of setting a new record by releasing the Pacific blue marlin, Pacific sailfish, shortbill spearfish and striped marlin, Toomey (21 days) and Cannon (nine days) had to decide which species to target next. Taking the time of year into account, they agreed to switch oceans altogether. It was time for the Atlantic blue marlin and white marlin, which meant going back to where they’d started the royal slam conversation in the first place.
April 20, 2013: Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
Target: Atlantic Blue Marlin and White Marlin
Capt. Tim Richardson, another one of Toomey’s Facebook friends, had been following the duo’s travels and was eager to help any way he could. Toomey and Cannon met him and his mate, Colin, in Cap Cana, Dominican Republic, on Ambush, the team’s 61-foot Garlington. The morning was partly cloudy with a brisk easterly wind coming off the water, and all worries about completing a royal slam were gone. Now it was all about the time record.
Their spread included two short teasers preceding two natural dead baits rigged with circle hooks. Behind those, a set of daisy-chain teasers was followed, again, by two circle-hook-rigged ballyhoo. Compared to the excitement in Costa Rica, the first day was slow, but Toomey managed to catch and release a white marlin by midday.
The wind picked up overnight and the seas had swelled substantially by the second day. Cannon managed to hook up with a white marlin, and in the rough seas, the fight was unusually challenging. He finally got the fish to the boat and got the release.
In a gracious, albeit difficult, nod to sportsmanship, Toomey recognized that Cannon, originally support person and cameraman, now had the better chance to beat the time record. He decided that if a blue-marlin hit came that day, it was going to Cannon.
It wouldn’t be a long wait.
Early that afternoon, the center rigger popped, and Cannon got tight on a fish. Despite the white-marlin setup (a 20-pound-test line with a 60-pound leader), a blue marlin had eaten the bait. For the next three and a half hours, Cannon fought a 250-pound blue marlin in 10-foot seas. Maneuvering was challenging — the fight was epic — but Cannon prevailed!
The day ended with exhaustion, pain, relief and jubilation. It was happening.
The following day brought lighter winds and calmer seas, and, as a karmic reward for his patience, Toomey released his own Atlantic blue marlin late that afternoon.
April 23, 2013: Coral Gables, Florida
Target: Atlantic Sailfish and Broadbill Swordfish
After checking billfish species No. 5 and 6 off their lists, they were off, with no time to rest or recuperate, to their home waters of South Florida. Capt. Quinton Dieterle and the rest of the fishing crew and teammates of Toomey’s boat, Get Lit, met them in Key Biscayne with the boat loaded and ready to fish.
They reached the fishing grounds off the reef in just 20 minutes. The wind was blowing from the north and against the powerful Gulf Stream current, resulting in steep waves and sailfish tending to rise to the top and tail down-sea into the current.
They were fishing 20-pound spinning outfits with 50-pound mono leader and 7/0 circle hooks, and Toomey successfully cast the first bait, a live threadfin herring, into the path of a hungry sailfish. The fish bit, and after a brief drop-back, Toomey was tight. The fish took to the air for a single jump and then settled down quickly. They had the release in no time. After some pictures and high-fives all around, it was back to work.
It didn’t take long. With more tailers coming down-sea, Cannon cast into a pack of sailfish, and they all watched as two fish competed for his bait. Competitive feeding typically results in more aggressive bites, and this was no exception. Cannon reeled tight and was hooked up to a lively sailfish, even as more sailfish cruised through Get Lit‘s wake.
They both released Atlantic sailfish that day and checked No. 7 off the list. By the end of the day, they had released three sailfish each and swam with a whale shark — not a bad day at home.
April 25, 2013: Duck Key, Florida
Target: Broadbill Swordfish
Riding on adrenaline, Toomey and Cannon were ready to tackle species No. 8 of nine: the broadbill swordfish. They arranged to meet Capt. Brandon Mullar, a daytime swording expert accustomed to manually deep-dropping for swords in 1,700 to 2,000 feet of water, without the aid of an electric reel, on a 60-foot Hatteras, Fish Tank, in Duck Key, smack in the middle of the Florida Keys.
Mullar, his father and a couple of friends met Toomey and Cannon at the boat at 7 a.m., the wind brisk and out of the east, typical for that time of year but not ideal deep-dropping conditions in the middle of the Florida Straits. They made the 30-mile run south from Duck Key and began a long, arduous day of deep-dropping and manually retrieving, with Toomey and Cannon taking turns.
Cannon hooked up in early afternoon. The fish made a few powerful runs before heading for the surface from 1,800 feet, and Cannon struggled to keep up with the slack in the line, finally getting tight again as the fish neared the surface. The leader slowly appeared, and the swordfish was in the books at 80 pounds and officially No. 8 of the royal slam in only 17 days!
Toomey wouldn’t get his fish that day, but they were confident they would get it done early the next day, and they made plans to fly to Exmouth, Australia, to finish off their royal slams by releasing black marlin.
Their confidence was short-lived. The wind had picked up overnight and the seas had grown. Drop after drop ended with a missed bite, slashed bait or no action at all. Toomey was on day 29 and running out of time.
Late in the afternoon, Toomey felt a tap on his line. Reeling as fast as he could, he was soon tight on the fish, and over the next 90 minutes, he fought the fish up from the depths. Eventually, the line began to scope up and the swordfish broke the surface, leaping into the air 100 yards behind the boat. They backed down-sea, and as the leader slowly became visible in the waves, their excitement rose. Then, nothing. Toomey’s line went slack, and the fish tailed away as silence fell over the boat.
On the long run back to Duck Key, Toomey had to laugh at it all. After five weeks of traveling, strategizing, sleep deprivation and hard fishing, he’d hit the wall.
To beat the record, Toomey had 24 hours left to release a swordfish, hop a plane to Australia and, on his first day of fishing, manage to release a black marlin. Impossible? Maybe. But they were going to try anyway.
May 2, 2013; Exmouth, Australia
Target: Black Marlin
When Toomey and Cannon explained to Capt. Josh Bruynzeel and his wife, Jae, owners of On Strike Charters, that they were pursuing a record-breaking royal slam, the couple excitedly scrambled to accommodate them in less than 30 hours.
Capt. Bruynzeel and Chris, his deckhand for the day, met the duo aboard a 40-foot O’Brien sport-fisher and headed into the Indian Ocean, off the north tip of North West Cape. They trolled a spread of artificial lures on 50- and 80-pound-test line, but the afternoon passed with no bites.
The following morning dawned crisp and breezy, the ocean alive with schools of skipjack tuna, whales and birds. During the course of the day, they spotted four black marlin and got strikes out of two. They broke the mainline on one and pulled the hook on another. Jae served as the deckhand on the third day, explaining that she was good luck on the boat. Everyone hoped she was right. Late that morning, a dark shadow appeared under the left short lures.
The black marlin struck the left short, and the drag began to scream. Cannon grabbed the rod and started the fight for billfish species No. 9, the completion of his royal slam, as well as the record for fewest days taken to accomplish a royal slam. An eerie silence settled over the boat as Toomey, Bruynzeel and the entire crew realized the significance of the fish. Within minutes the leader appeared on the surface, and with one more powerful crank, the leader was at the rod tip and in Jae’s hand for an official catch.
Cannon — along on the trip to have fun, fish and support a friend — had just completed a royal slam in a world-record time of 26 days!
But after a short round of congratulations and picture-taking, the team quickly got back to work; Toomey may well have been out of the record-breaking game, but he still had a royal slam to complete. He didn’t have to wait long for his black-marlin bite. Within an hour he was hooked up and fighting a black marlin, and he got a successful release.
You’d think he would be content.
You’d think the story was over.
You’d be wrong.
He still wanted that broadbill swordfish.
May 8, 2013: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Target: Broadbill Swordfish
With Get Lit out for maintenance, Toomey decided to use his captain’s charter, Cutting Edge, and contacted R. J. Boyle of R. J. Boyle Studios in Lighthouse Point, Florida, who is known to be one of the best swordfishermen in Florida. He agreed to help Toomey in his quest to close out his royal slam with a swordfish.
The day was sunny and calm when they set out from Fort Lauderdale, and within minutes of dropping their first bait of the day, Toomey felt a strike. He reeled down, but nothing was there. He dropped bait again and felt another bite. He reeled as fast as he could, and this time he was tight on a swordfish. He’d been in this position before and knew he had a lot of work ahead of him.
After more than 30 minutes of battling, the leader was within reach, but Toomey wasn’t willing to believe it yet. As Boyle reached for the leader, he held his breath.
“Got it!” Boyle yelled, and finally, at day 41, Toomey’s royal slam was complete!
Toomey felt good about the slam — heck, he felt great about the slam! But he still wished he could have done better. As everyone celebrated around him, a new plan was quickly coming together in his head.
If he could catch another blue marlin quickly — the first release of his royal slam, 41 days earlier — he could, in effect, reset his start date and shave 11 days off his time, coming in under his goal of 36 days.
Was it worth it? Of course it was.
May 15, 2013: Los Sueños, Costa Rica
Target: Pacific Blue Marlin
A good friend, Joan Vernon, arranged for Toomey and Miller to stay at the Los Sueños Resort and fish with Capt. Bubba Carter aboard Tijereta, along with Capt. Dana Thomas. After a one-hour run to the fishing grounds, they deployed the baits with a spread that included two teasers and four circle-hook-rigged ballyhoo.
Schools of bait and porpoises stretched for miles, and it wasn’t long before a blue marlin appeared. As Carter teased the fish toward the boat, Toomey positioned the pitch. The marlin disappeared off the teaser and then, in a textbook bite, reappeared on the bait, opened its mouth and ate the ballyhoo.
Toomey immediately dropped back, let the fish disappear with the bait, engaged the drag and waited for the circle hook to do its thing. As the line went tight, a beautiful 225-pound blue marlin leaped out of the water in a series of impressive jumps. As line peeled off the reel, Toomey knew he’d had a good, clean hookup, and within a few action-packed minutes, the marlin was boat-side for pictures and release.
Toomey had done it — caught the Pacific blue marlin and reduced his royal slam time down to 32 days, besting the original Ruwitch record by four days!
Despite the convoluted logistics, the weather forecasts around the world that had needed deciphering, and enduring grueling conditions, jet lag, close quarters and countless pulled hooks, they’d done it. Fifty-three days after Toomey and Cannon had left Miami, they had both achieved royal slams, both beat the previously held 36-day record, and both had memories and bragging rights to last a lifetime.