It all started when I received an e-mail a couple of weeks ago, from the head of the marketing department from Aquatic Nutrition Chum, asking us if we would be interested in collaborating and trying some of their line of chum products out. After a little bit a coaxing and arm twisting, we came to a deal and I rallied the troops to put together a plan to see what this product was all about, and if it could stand-up to the insanely hard Team Rebel test.
However, some kinks needed to be worked out, and a meeting on the West coast was scheduled with Brooks and Sean Paxton of Think Out Loud Production, to hammer out some details for the upcoming collaboration appropriately dubbed "Project X". So needless to say there wasn't any time to play....... Kinda.
After a short trip over for a "productivity" meeting, it was time to head back East and assemble a group of a few of our close friends to begin to test the chum product on a "baby step" plan. So we came to the conclusion that the best way to do an easy test of their "chum slick" concoction. We would bureak out the smaller gear and head out to the bridge on incoming tide to see if we could get some small bull or lemon sharks to bite on our new tactic. I loaded up a random bottle with the Chum Slick product, which is advertised as "smelling like death",poked a few small holes in it, and proceeded to heave it off the bridge as the tide was just beginning.
On the other side of the bridge, I was alone with my 8lb setup trying to coax one of the 4 million picky ladyfish into biting my 1/8 oz white jig, but after forty minutes it was looking quite grim. Through the mounting frustration and disbelief that there is such a thing as a picky ladyfish, I finally got a hit. However, this fish decided to completely spool my 3000 sized spinning reel against the current, it was quite a surprise. And after about a 10 minute fight that took me about 100yds on foot, I landed a 41inch surprise snook. I picked it up for a moment to get a quick solo shot of it on the ground, but as it kicked, it fell out of my hands into the water, snapped the hook in half, and I just let her swim away without me pursuing. You know ladyfish are picky if you can get a 40" snook before a ladyfish.
Anyways, my crew for the night had arrived, Mike and Chris came to hang out and see what this chum was all about. And after about an hour of slicking down current, we were ready to put some baits in the water. Within about ten minutes of bait deployment, my wide 6/0 starts screaming, it was definitely a shark. However, I tried to come tight with the circle hook and somehow it just didn't connect. I still had bait on the hook so I decided to just drop it back down and hope it would get hungry again and partake in our fresh jack offering. And about 5 minutes later, the reel went off again, but this time it was much slower, and acting very funny. It didn't matter to me, because no matter what it was I was going to put the wood to it, which I did. But as soon as I came tight to the mystery taker, it was acting EXTREMELY weird, just sitting on the bottom and moving very slowly, I knew instantly it wasn't a shark, but we thought it was a Goliath Grouper, the slow moving, the head shaking was very tell tale of the super grouper. After about 15 minutes, I saw a break at the top of the water in the dark, and it didn't look normal by any standard, something weird was going on, and the head shaking was now borderline unbearable on my end of the rod. I perched myself about 5ft from the 5ft or so tall railing, trying to high stick the fish to keep pressure on it, but some of the head shakes were so brutal, that the rod would fly 10ft and slam into the railing, ripping epoxy off my rod and destroying my Aftco reel seat. It was getting ugly, and this fight was no where near over....
We fought the slow moving, head shaking fish for over an hour until we got a slight glimpse of the beast on the edge of the shadowline. "Sawfish!!!!" we all yelled as we saw its bill start thrashing ontop and violently disturbing the tranquil river water. We knew this was going to me an interesting landing attemp to say the least, and we were not prepared for what we were about to experience.
We tricked the fish after almost two hours, the sawfish finally made its mistake, and ran toward the only portion of the bridge where there is a strip of land to allow us to land a fish, we knew we had him, or so we thought. We enlisted the help of three random guys who showed up to fish to help along in the landing of this extremely large specimen, and they seemed to be a gung-ho as us to get an up close look at the monster we had only viewed from 35ft above. I gave the rod to Mike to keep it close to shore, while I went down to help assist in the landing, but upon arrival on the bank, we realized that there was a 6ft rock ledge drop off mere feet from the bank, and the sawfish had posted up on it, with only its 6ft saw staring us down, peering at us just a few inches above the water line, that's when reality hit of how screwed we really were. Now everybody (including myself) seem to believe sawfish are very docile creatures, that just wrap in your leader and headshake a lot and don't do too much else, and everybody is pretty much right. HOWEVER, once we leadered it off the ledge and its tail became visible, we realized that this fish was 15-16ft long. You read that correctly, 15-16ft long including its 6ft long tooth laden bill. I yelled at Chris and the random dudes to "get the rope" on the fish, which Chris succeeded at pretty quickly. There was one of the three random guys snapping pictures on his Iphone as we were getting ready to turn it around to beach it for a couple of quick pictures before the release. Once the four of us got part of its insale long frame out of the water, that's when it all went to hell! In ONE single kick of its tail, with 4 people on the rope, it took us ALL to the ground in a split second. I wish I could have seen the looks on our faces, because we had NO idea that this fish could possess that much power. The next kick of its tail occured while we were all fumbling trying to grab the rope, and this kick threw a 20ft wall of water over everybody in range, soaking us, blinding us, and ruining cameras and phones. Now we were pretty much fighting for our own safety instead of a legendary photo opportunity. I regained my footing and looked up just as it swang its 6ft saw, in a 15ft radius in what I swear to you was an 1/8 of a second. It actually broke a rock from the impact. I was completely terrified, in 4 inches of water, 10ft from its saw. None of us could believe what was happening to the five of us, as we watched the sawfish THROW the tail-rope off of itself ,and swim away from us in 4 inches of water. In a flash, the river was once again silent, and the sawfish had slipped back to the deep channel in which it was patrolling, it was over, and this is the ONLY picture we have of it.
The fish became free from our grasp, 5 minutes past midnight on the 4th of July, it only seemed fitting for some odd reason, and the experience was something none of us will ever forget. But we fished on for another two hours, losing 3 more sharks, before we called it quits and headed home to lick our wounds, and relish in the fact that we all escaped with our limbs. The next day, I rendezvous'd with Peter Barrett from Barrett Rods, and he was less than impressed with the story (as any man as metal as him would be) and basically called us out on the whole meyley. So, I told him "screw it, I'm going back there tonight". Which he said he would show up to supervise any more hook-ups and finally get us some good pictures of some fish. I arrived a the bridge, and dropped the Chum Slick bottle back down, and went under the bridge to try to get a snook while I waited for Barrett to arrive. As the fireworks were going off around me 360 degrees , I was able to get a rogue stud trout, that was gut hooked, and was therefore cast into the fridge. I do have to say, outside this metal picture, catching a trout during the peak of a firework show was EXTREMELY American, and I was honored during that brief moment.
But, Barrett was getting close, so I decided to go up and throw a bait out on my tld 50 2-speed. I deployed the bait and posted up for about ten minutes, when the rod began to go off slowly again just as Barrett was driving past me to park, and by the time he got up on the bridge I was already bowed up to what I already KNEW was ANOTHER Sawfish. "Incredible!" I yelled to Pete as he ran up the bridge with his video camera and still camera. This time I thought I had the upper hand, A much bigger reel with much heavier line, which I dropped into low gear, and within 10 minutes I had the beast headshaking on the surface below. It was about 14-15 ft, another world-class, super rare animal, we had another chance to redeem ourselves, while his daughter was celebrating the 4th in her own unique way.....
Pete was shouting that we need to drag it down now and land it, but it was only me and him, and he was certain that the night before the four of us were just weak and let it handle us, and that two of us would be able to take one almost the same size down ourselves. But while we were having a conversation about what to do, it got another wind and dove under the bridge, we tried with everything we had to stop it, but 5-600lbs of non aerodynamic dead-weight said otherwise, and broke us off.....We blew it again, TWO back to back ,once in a lifetime chances (pretty much) gone. Now I was livid instead of intrigued. The freshwater moved in soon after, shutting down everything for the rest of the night.....
I went home contemplating where to fish the next night, as we heard some rumors of some nice bull sharks milling around, but something told me we had to go back there again. I called up Team members Cody and Adam, and asked if they would make the 1 1/2 drive up to try to stop "Ceicel the Sawfish" which they did not hesitate in assuring me their participation. I called upon Chris and Mike from night one and asked if they wanted in on this, which they also obliged. The army had been assembled, and if the microscopic chance of us coming across another encounter like the previous two nights again, we were all there, and we were all ready. We had cameras, tackle, bait, chum, lights, we had it all when we arrived at the bridge for the late night tide.
Just as the previous two nights, I dropped down another bottle of the "lucky" Chum Slick and we deployed baits. About 2 hours went by without a click, it wasn't looking too promising, with only catfish viciously picking away at our baits while we all sat in our giant sewing circle shooting the breeze and talking about good riffs we have heard lately, when Chris' 6/0 started moving real slow. "There it is right now!" I yelled, and when Chris engaged, the mystery fish at the end remained motionless, we had ANOTHER chance.
The law of shark fishing states, that if you put out 10 rods, and one is a small rod and reel, that will be the one getting hit, and of course, that's exactly what happened here. We quickly realized that his "new" 6/0 loaded with 50lb mono, was in a lot worse shape than we could have ever imagined, the drag was sticky and began squeaking, and the gears started to slip, as the unstoppable force drug us 100yds back and forth from each side of the bridge for almost an hour, non stop. Finally, Chris couldn't stand up to the beast any longer, and the gimbal had already ripped through his shorts and cut his thigh open. It was getting ugly fast, as this fish was acting MUCH different from the previous two.....
Before we even knew it, we were moving into the second hour of the fight, and I was on the stick at this point. The shark was running back and forth in the raging current staying on the bottom of the 17ft channel making us look stupid, the drag on the reel was getting worse by the minute, as we had to assist the line off the reel with our hands every time it was trying to pull, fearing the line would just dig in and snap otherwise. The gimbal now had tore my thigh open too, and we were trying to find anything we could to use as a butt cap, so we enlisted the help of an aluminum can and some zip ties as a make shift thigh saver. After about 40 minutes, and two successful attempts to stop it from going under the bridge, I had enough and had to hand it off to Cody. But as Cody was fighting it at about the 2:30 hour mark, we realized the mystery fish had gone to the center of the channel, and sat on the bottom, and no matter what we did, for 40 minutes, it would not budge, no angle we played, nothing. It was at the bottom recharging, getting ready for another battle, or to just wait us and our patience out. That's when we had to make a drastic decision. The reel and rod we had been fighting it on had completely fallen apart, so after a short discussion we decided that we had to cut the line, and to tie into Cody's 4/0 Avet on a 10ft rod which would not only give us smooth drag and a two speed reel, but a rod that could help us overcome the 5ft tall railing. We all took our places, and Adam grabbed the front of the line to keep tension on the resting fish with a shirt, while we sprung into action. Cody ran down the bridge with the main line, and cut it as I was ready to splice it to the new line with a uni-uni. All in all, it went way to smooth with no drama, but now we felt like we had the upper hand going into hour three.........
Check out this short video of the tie-in!
Cody handed the new rod off to Adam for a little bit, as the mystery fish just stayed on the bottom, still recharging, and after 3 people sat on the rod keeping tension for about 10 min a piece, I got back on the stick. Cody suggested we free spool some mono down current to see if we could coax the fish off the bottom. I was skeptical, but we were getting tired, and something had to happen. I threw the reel into freespool and dropped about 20yds of line off the reel, and within a minute or so, the line came tight and started pouring off the reel! We tricked it, but now it was making a bee-line to the lone channel marker, we had big problems. I took off running the opposite direction of the way the fish was headed, and almost ended up in the parking lot, but I'll be damned if we didnt just barely miss that marker. But it held its position about 30yds past the marker, with the line hovering within ten feet of the jagged pole for about 10 minutes, when we got our biggest break of the night. A giant Blue Heron was flying through the sky, as we all watched it make direct impact with our extremely tight 50lb line, and fall from the sky. But that impact on the line from a weird angle was enough to spook the fish into making a kamikaze run against the tide DIRECTLY at the bridge, it was do or die now as Mike yelled from behind "we're at 4 hours".
The mystery assailant was charging the bridge, as I was already out of gas from the legendary stand-off, and now trying to playing catch-up. We all knew that this was going to make it or break it as she hugged the bottom charging the pilings with our measly 50lb line trailing behind it. I let out a yell as I got tight with it only a few feet from going under the bridge, and Adam and Chris stood on the railing on each side of me to indicate where the pilings were that I could not see. I floored the drag , put the rod on the railing , and leaned toward the ground in what we thought was a futile last attempt before we lost it to the pilings. But after about 40seconds of hell some miracle occurred, and it came out from under the bridge and headed back out. I handed the rod of to, well I don't know who, it was about the 20th time the rod had been handed off and now the fight was getting brutal. Over the next 20 minutes, it tried to run under the bridge another 4 times, which each time I was handed the rod to stop it because nobody else wanted the burden of being the one who was on the stick when the line broke. But somehow or another it didn't, and the fish was headed to the shoreline where we had our slim, but only chance to possibly land it. We had to do something, we were all out of gas, so Adam, Chris, and Cody headed down below as we coached them on where to go and tried to keep the fish in the landing zone and off the deep rock ledge. With their lights fixed on the fish, and video cameras now dead, we finally got our first short glimpse of the fish, Mike and myself saw it for a split second up high, but the landing team down low only saw a plume of mud as it took off headed back for the channel. Me and Mike kept switching off the rod, keeping an extreme angle on the fish and risking it heading back under the bridge, in an attempt to force it back to the landing zone. We were being very careless on the rod and running out of gas and people to hand the rod off to headed into hour 5....
Hour 5 had just hit, and we were in a battle that not a person on the planet would have put money on us to win, including any of us. We all thought this was a futile attempt, and we were just trying to land it to say we tried. We forced the fish back to the landing ledge, as the crew was standing in the water searching for the fish that we believed didn't have a saw. We kept yelling that the fish had to be within a few feet of them, but we still couldn't see it. Adam took his light and panned it over in front of him, when we heard Cody and Chris begin to scream " IT HAS A SAW! IT HAS A SAW!" Apparently, when Adam shined the light over, the tip of its very short bill was within "7 inches" of Cody's foot. The sawfish decided to take a blistering run toward the channel marker taking all the line off the reel we had painstaking gained over the course of five hours, including the splice we tied off to the new reel with. Tensions got extremely high, because Mike and I couldn't hold onto the rod any longer, and Chris touched its tail when it was making its retreat. I said to Mike "F*ck this man,we are an hour from sunrise, and boats are going to start showing up soon, I don't even care anymore" Mike agreed, and we yelled down below that I was either dragging it in or this 50lb line was finally going to pop. I locked the reel up, threw the rod over my shoulder, and just started walking to the parking lot down the bridge thinking to myself "this is it, its going to pop". But after about 50 steps, all of a sudden the load got light, and the fish charged RIGHT TO THE LANDING ZONE. "You have got to be kidding me!" I yelled to Mike, and then yelled down low that this was the last chance to get a rope on it! I know they were all terrified down there, especially Chris due to the experience he had of him being the rope guy on the last fish, we figured that this one was going to try to destroy and dominate everything in its path as well, and we were scared for them while we were handling the stick up on the bridge.
The sawfish rode the ledge again, and Cody wrapped a few feet of fray 50lb around a shirt in his hand, and coaxed the fish to come off the ledge a little bit. That's when Chris and Adam rushed to the tail to get a rope on the behemoth in front of them. Which Chris again succeeded at doing, but as soon as Chris and Adam came tight on the tail rope the sawfish threw its weight once so violently that it nearly popped Chris's arm out of the socket. You read that right as well, it floored both of them in a split second, and from our point of view it looked like somebody died. The explosion was comparable to Shamu hitting the water at Sea World. And I remember myself screaming "OH MY GOD" as everybody and the fish disappeared into the wall of water. Chris popped back up yelling "Its gone!" As line started flying off the reel, the tail rope was still attached to the Sawfish, and the line was frayed and curled beyond belief. We started panicking, we cant leave the rope on this thing and have it get away!!! But somehow or another with the drag pinned and the line shredded and curling from rubbing on the ledge, that 50lb line WOULD NOT BREAK, it was our final miracle that would never happen again in a million trys. I horsed the fish back to the ledge one last time, as Chris and Adam readjusted his arm. They had one more chance, and with Cody spotting the head, Chris and Adam ran out and grabbed the still attached rope. Cody jumped in on it too, and beached it as far up as they could (which was not far at all) and screamed for us to run down.
Me and Mike ran around the bridge and sprinted down the hill to meet them at the miracle fish, and when we ran up on it we could not believe it. It was the most solid, most muscular, and widest fish imaginable (for something that's relatively flat). It was almost 4ft wide and its back was about 3ft off the ground, every bit of 700+ lbs. Mike grabbed the camera as we clipped the leader as close as we could to its unusually short shafted saw and kept yelling at Mike to square the picture up, but like everybody else he was completely shell shocked and unresponsive and we pretty much failed at pictures again. After a few extremely fast shots, the sawfish began to lose its mind and threw the tail-rope off of it in one insane thrust. War was in this beasts' blood, and even though it was practically beached, within 7 seconds it threw the rope off and was gone. We watched it quickly glide over the drop-off, never to be seen again.............
The celebration as soon as the war had ended might have been number one in the history of Team Rebel, as we were all soaked, screaming and just grabbing each other and falling down over rocks onto the ground. I dont know if we were more excited that we pulled it off, or that we could finally go home and escape our sawfish hell. One by one, it tried to crush us all, from the first sawfish to the last sawfish, it was something none of us who participated will ever forget. For those off you who know us, you know what we have done, and what we are about, from 500lb Goliaths, to 1200lb Hammerheads to my tenure as a gator trapper. We have climbed to the top of almost every land-based catagorey imaginable over the years, and not only land-based, but world-class fish, that's why we are here, and that's what we are about. But coming from somebody who tail roped a 1200lb hammerhead by himself in 5ft of water while it was swimming, I will tell you RIGHT NOW, that though the sawfish fight isn't too impressive, it is the SINGLE strongest animal I have ever been near in my life, and seriously doubt anything will compare to the power these animals have when you get them close. For something that is 15ft, or 700lbs to have that much power after a 2 hour and a 5 hour fight, to be able to DESTROY 4 people in the blink of an eye is nothing short of breath taking. No picture or film could possibly capture what it is like up close, and I don't say that lightly. These two landings, were by far the most terrifying thing any of us have ever participated it, and I'm glad to say that it is out of the way, and we do not look forward to experiencing this ever again.
In the end, "Cecil" or "Cecil's" the sawfish drove us insane for 72 hours, and though catching one is a big deal, never mind a 15ftr. We got three in three nights, all world-class size, which is completely unheard of. We are in touch with a big sawfish research outfit right now, and will keep everybody posted when something happens with the organization. As not only were they shocked at the area we caught them in, or the size, but the number. It was truly legendary in every aspect, and none of the army that I called on to do what was almost impossible with all the obstacles in the area will ever forget. I can honestly say I am extremely proud of everybody involved in this, especially the 5 hour standoff on 50lb test on the final night, and am honored to have done it with everybody there. It is definitely toward the top of our list of most legendary throw downs we have ever been part of, and that is really saying something. And 40ft of sawfish later, and only a couple of crappy pictures to show for what we did, I almost feel like that is how it should have happened, because we (along) with the camera were lucky to even get a glimpse of something like this in our lifetimes. And I can speak for everyone of us, as I sit here typing this with my entire body aching, and bruising and cuts all over my groin and thigh, barely able to walk without pain, that we will all be suffering from Post Traumatic Sawfish Disorder for a long time, maybe a life-time.
Until next time.......
-Team Rebel Out
Special thanks on this one to every one of our sponsors that helped make this possible.