April 25, 2013: Duck Key, Florida
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.