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BETWEEN THE LINES

A Big Fish Story : With the Mighty Swordfish Making Himself Scarce, the Broadbill Invitational Is Really More of a Marlin Derby, but the Battles Remain Epic as Ever

September 07, 1996|IRENE GARCIA

What's in a name?

Not much when it comes to the Broadbill Invitational fishing tournament, which begins today at Channel Islands Harbor.

The Broadbill tournament has been around 25 years, but for the last 17 one key element has been missing:

The broadbill swordfish.

One hasn't been caught during the competition since Eve Radon hauled in a 336-pound winner in 1978.

It took five years after Radon's catch before tournament organizers finally loosened their line on regulations and labeled other billed fish as fair game.

They didn't have a choice, really. From 1979-82 there wasn't a broadbill landed during the competition, making for fairly uneventful banquets and awards ceremonies.

"None have even been spotted in these waters in years," longtime event organizer Dave Gable says of the broadbill. "There just aren't many out there."

Since 1983, the winning fish have been marlin, which, Gable says, "are a lot like broadbill anyway."

The fish, which weigh between 100 and 1,000 pounds, have similar blunt blue bodies with sharp dorsal fins, twin keels before the tail, and long bills. During the day, the fish swim so deep in the water that their image resembles that of a small, black knife.

Both species are difficult to catch since they often don't go for bait. And when they do, anglers usually have a long battle ahead.

Gable recalls one year when an angler battled a large broadbill for nearly four hours before the fish finally got away.

"During that time a shark came along and the broadbill fought it off, then resumed battling before cutting the line," Gable says. "They are the gladiators of the ocean."

For his tournament-record 454 1/2-pound broadbill catch in 1972, Leo Hubbert wrestled 4 hours 35 minutes.

"Marlin are tough, but the broadbill is the ultimate difficult fish to catch," says Fred Sweeting, a Ventura resident who has participated in the tournament the past 20 years. "No matter what, you really get pumped up when you have it on the line."

Sweeting won the tournament in 1992 using a 20-pound test line to reel in a 210-pound marlin off Santa Barbara Island.

The biggest fish doesn't always win. For years, a weight-line ratio has been used to determine the champion.

Organizers expect about two dozen entries in the tournament, which concludes Wednesday. Competitors are allowed to fish in waters anywhere along California.

Gable says anglers who land the big fish will have their "hours and hours of boredom punctuated by sheer excitement and screaming."

Other than that, he offers only one other guarantee:

That no matter how many years pass before its namesake is again landed, the Broadbill tournament will not change its name.

Imagine that, a fish story lacking in accuracy.

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