There’s a world record holder in Cayman who in any other sport would be a celebrity; only his achievements are in fishing.
It’s seen more as a recreation but the money can be considerable and Charles Ebanks is good enough to go professional if he chooses to.
A couple of weeks ago he was the only one in the Cayman Swordfish Challenge to hook a 189-pound swordfish that snagged him the first three prizes, totalling $10,000.
It’s been a marvellous year for Ebanks. In July he became a world record holder after catching a 151-pound escolar off Rum Point. The old record was a mere 88 pounds. It was ratified in September by world fishing authorities.
Amazingly, he was on the verge of letting it go because he had caught five big ones before. That day he was swordfishing and there were no prizes for escolar.
‘When we got him, I was trying to get him close enough to get the hook out to let him go but he was carrying on too bad, man. One minute he hit the boat and was thrashing the engine, tossing up and was all over the place. We ended up putting him in the boat and he went berserk. There were screws and bolts flying everywhere. Some are still missing. My buddy Rob Jones who was fishing that night, he doesn’t bruise very easy but when the fish hit him with his tail his lower leg got beat up pretty bad. That world record is pleasing and good for the Island as well.’
His most recent success in the swordfish competition came two weeks ago when he left the dock at 4.30pm with mate Curtis White in Ebanks’ 28-foot Jamaican boat Run Tings. An hour later they started putting their lines down off South West Point, about three and half miles off South Sound. Within minutes, the third line they had in the water caught the monster swordfish. It was so huge that they took 35 minutes to board it. Ebanks had forgotten his fish bag so he phoned his father to bring it down to the dock in George Town.
Despite its size, Ebanks did not assume it was an automatic winner because there were 16 other boats dotted around Grand Cayman’s coastline fishing like crazy for the $5,000 first prize and the competition went on to 2am.
‘There was a big possibility that somebody else out there would catch a good fish. I knew it was the biggest swordfish I’d caught – the previous was 165-pounds in Miami. I’d caught five smaller ones before from 50-75 pounds, but this was easily the biggest one.’
He went out again with White but didn’t get another bite. No one else caught anything so Ebanks won the second and third prizes as well.
Being in the right place at the right time paid off for this astute fisherman.
‘I usually fish off the East End or off North West Point or South West Point. It was a bit rough off East End and North West Point there was a bunch of boats there so I went to South Sound. It was choppy but I was the only one out there in the rough water.
‘It was quite fun because this was the first swordfish tournament they’ve had here and to win it with one of the smallest boats in the competition was quite an experience.’
The money wasn’t too bad either!
Another fisherman caught a massive thresher shark, around eight feet long, but it didn’t count.
Ebanks knew exactly how to set the bait for swordfish.
‘They like to play with the bait and if they feel any metal at all he might hit it once or twice and leave it alone. But with a ‘mon’ hook he can play with the bait a lot, it’s a lot more flexible and a lot of it is transparent so it’s hard for him to see as well. I used squid. I usually use bonito, chaps, small mackerel, live mullet, live jack, even baby barracudas. The other five I’ve caught was using bonito.’
His biggest ever catch was a 525-pound blue marlin in Grand Cayman, winning that competition with the popular Captain Mitchum on the boat Sundaze in 1998. Ebanks was a mate on the boat and caught it west of Twelve Mile Bank. It took less than two hours to reel in the marlin, relatively quickly for a fish of that size.
Born in the Bay Islands, Honduras, Ebanks moved here 25 years ago age nine. He started his working life as a commercial fisherman with his father, Charles Ferris Ebanks, and even as a boy, little Charles was entering fishing tournaments. He enters all four major fishing tournaments in Cayman and is especially looking forward to the WHOO competition in February.
‘Work is more stressful than fishing. Give me a preference and I’d rather go fishing. Eight to five doesn’t do it for me.’
He has a three-year-old son, Charles Junior, who has already shown prowess on the waters. ‘He loves to fish. Three nights ago I took him out fishing and he caught a bunch of snapper. He does rugby on a Saturday and Sundays usually he goes fishing. He enjoys it.’
Fishing is one of those sports that Ebanks feels anyone can get into. ‘It’s a great activity and something to do for everyone in the family, mum, dad, kids. Very enjoyable. There are a lot of charter boats here and privately owned boats. At the weekends you see people go out fishing for half a day then you see them at Rum Point in the afternoon to have lunch, go on the beach or tell fishing stories – what they caught, what they should have caught, what they hooked.’