What follows is the story of how Captain Jeff Wilson and the Titan Up caught the biggest Gulf swordfish of 2020. The swordfish that won the MONGO.
Captain Jeff Wilson and the Titan Up fishing team are no strangers to big swordfish. In fact with the exception of maybe a longliner or two, it’s hard to imagine anyone who has tangled with more Gulf swords in the last decade than Wilson.
Not only does he hold the Texas State Record (that’s some high cotton there boys!), but he was central to pioneering deep dropping in the Gulf of Mexico. This technique of bombing baits down to 1,200 or so feet of water to catch swordfish in the daytime is all the rage these days.
Four years ago when the veteran captain was introduced to the family that owns the Titan Up it was a match made in heaven. Hardcore, accomplished fishermen in their own right, the family owned a big center console that they fished on themselves without a captain and crew.
While the Titan Up may not fish all of the tournaments, those who pay attention to the goings on in the western Gulf have taken notice of their tendency to catch big fish (including MONGO swordfish)… with regularity.
Captain Jeff Wilson
It should come as no surprise that Captain Jeff Wilson is such an accomplished fisherman. Not only does he come by it naturally, but he can trace his passion to a specific time and place.
“My great uncle (John Callen) owned three 55’ charter boats—the Helen C 1, 2 and 3—at the Castaways Docks on Miami Beach. When I was 16, I went down thee to earn some summer money. That was the first time I had ever met my great uncle,” Wilson recalls.
“The first day we were offshore I watched a 400-pound blue marlin eat a dolphin that we fed him. The water was slick calm,” Wilson recalls. “Although we lost the fish at the boat, I knew then that this was what I wanted to do.”
For the past four decades, Wilson has done just that. He has fished the East Coast from Cape Cod to Antigua in the Caribbean. Ten years ago he came to Texas.
The 2020 MONGO
Into the swirling uncertainty of the spring of 2020, brothers Jeremy and JD Cox and their buddy Brian Johnson launched the MONGO Offshore Challenge. Armed with a great idea and a dedication to seeing it through, Johnson and the Cox brothers talked up their idea with captains and businesses involved in the Gulf Coast sportfishing scene.
Among the early adopters of the MONGO swordfish division was Wilson and the Titan Up. “What’s great about the MONGO is that it lasts 153 days. That interested us” Jeff explains. “At the beginning of 2020, who knew what anyone was going to do?”
Anyone who has ever fished a season in the Gulf understands a certain inevitability. If you fish Gulf tournaments long enough, you will eventually get your teeth kicked in (by rough weather). If you have a significant investment tied up in fishing and the weather turns bad, you’re liable to find yourself rocking and rolling for a few days.
The long fishing window (153 days compared to a traditional five) provides ample ability to pick your spots. Depending on how well you choose your windows, the MONGO is all of the tournament with none of the Gulf chop.
And so it was that the Titan Up registered for the MONGO. Were there a prohibitive favorite to stroke a big one, it was perhaps Wilson and company.
The First Trip
The 2020 MONGO Offshore Challenge kicked off May 15. On the 18th, the Titan Up headed offshore for an overnighter.
They headed straight out of Galveston, Texas to their swordfishing spot. Before leaving, Wilson checked out and joked with tournament control that he, “was going to catch a big swordfish and get it over with—so that he could spend the rest of the summer blue marlin fishing.”
After arriving at their spot, the Titan Up made three drops and caught three swordfish– none of them MONGO (the minimum qualifier was 175-pounds).
The conditions offshore were such that the team was itching to run to a floating rig to live bait in the afternoon. After making the run, the Titan Up caught their blue. They spent the night tuna fishing around the floater and boated a yellowfin.
With the sunrise, after a stint pulling live baits for marlin, the Titan Up ran back to their swordfish hole. The spot they fish involves a short drift over some bottom topography.
“We went through the spot. It is a fairly short drift and then you go back again,” Wilson recalls. “We made a drift and were reeling in the bait and the fish hit it on the way up.
“I saw the hit… I always watch (daytime swordfishing involves quite a bit of rod watching). When I saw the hit, I told them to take off the drill,” Wilson recalls.
(Drills assist the retrieve of weights from 1,000 feet. They cannot, however, be used to assist in fighting a fish once hooked).
Christina Thompson, an accomplished angler, then took the rod. As she held the bait in place, the fish returned and ate it. Christina hooked the sword and the fight was on.
An Hour Per Hundred Pounds
“Swordfish are interesting. You can tell how big they are because you average about an hour of fight time per hundred pounds,” Wilson says. He has tangled with enough big ones to know.
Christina got her fish to the boat in just over four hours. “It could have taken a lot longer,” Wilson recalls. “The fish had quite a bit left when we got it to the boat.”
“It was a tough fish. We got a couple of good jumps out of it,” Jeff recalls. “Christina is a badass, she can certainly catch a fish.”
The MONGO swordfish fish fell victim to a Shimano Talica 50 on a custom rod made by RJ Boyle.
Upon arrival at the weigh station at the Galveston Yacht Basin, the fish went 313.2 pounds. It was the first qualifying fish of any species ever to be registered in the MONGO Offshore Challenge.
Now all that Wilson, Thompson and the Titan Up team had to do was wait 149 of the most nerve-wracking days of fishing that you can imagine to see if their fish would hold up. The first qualifying swordfish turned out to be the biggest of the summer and the MONGO winner—worth some $21,675.
Congratulations to the Titan Up team. Captain Jeff Wilson, Anglers Bill Hunt, Christina and Tommy Thompson, first mate Wes Haizlip and second mate Walter Lynch. We’ll see you all in the 2021 MONGO.