Catching a Swordfish on a PWC

Is a personal watercraft capable enough to be used for landing a swordfish? Emmanuel Williams says, “Just ’Doo it.”
Emmanuel Williams with swordfish on a PWC
Emmanuel Williams landed this beauty of a swordfish with assistance from his friend, Sebastian Noel. Tyler Fischer

Drifting in the Gulf of Mexico, Emmanuel Williams began to wonder if he would ever see the sign. The slightest of taps at the tip of his fishing rod, followed by a slackening of its 80-pound braided line—the telltale signature of a swordfish’s bill whacking his squid-baited hook some 1,400 feet below the surface. It’s a fish he had long dreamed of catching, a dream that brought him all the way from South Florida to Venice, Louisiana, for a tantalizingly brief one-day weather window that could potentially turn dream into reality. A fish that had eluded him for the past three hours and, as the day began to wane, was threatening to send him home empty-handed. 

Why would any of that matter? Because Williams had decided to go after a sword not on a sizable center-console or an offshore ­battlewagon but, rather, a Sea-Doo. A personal watercraft barely longer than the saber-tipped creature that he hoped to bring aboard. It would be monumental—if it would only happen.

Suddenly that long-awaited signal appeared. The rod dipped, rose, then doubled over. And then the epic, uniquely intimate fight ­began. 

Emmanuel Williams riding at sunset
Emmanuel Williams is ready to fish, day or night. Tyler Fischer

Bite-Size Battlewagon

The surreal nature of the moment, sitting 20 miles offshore on an open 11-foot PWC with a potential swordfish on the line, wasn’t lost on the one-time kid from Miramar, Florida, who grew up dangling his lines off piers and bridges with his father, David. The pair would reel in snapper off the Dania Pier or grouper in the Florida Keys. These moments between father and son had instilled a passion for fishing in Emmanuel, and also a desire to see what waited beyond the confines of land. “As I grew older, I just had a longing to catch bigger fish,” the now-24-year-old explains. “My dad isn’t like the biggest offshore guy, so I knew that I was going to have to figure out a way to do it for myself. I saw videos of these dudes in Hawaii and Australia, and they were on Sea-Doos, rigging them up and going offshore. At the time I was still in high school, and I’m like, man, this seems like the most inexpensive way I can get out on the ocean and catch fish.”

Following graduation and several months of training to become an EMT, he took a job while attending paramedic school. The reliable flow of income allowed him to purchase a personal ­watercraft of his own, an offshore-worthy PWC just like those guys in Hawaii and Australia. 

Just kidding. He actually bought the least big-water-friendly PWC known to man: Sea-Doo’s relatively pint-size Spark. “It’s literally not what you want to be out there on,” Williams says with a laugh of his early forays taking the 10-foot 440-pound craft into Atlantic waters, “but I worked with what I had at the time. Made it work, started fishing offshore, and started making videos.”

Those videos, a carryover from his days as a skateboarder, would prove a game-changer. Uploaded to his YouTube channel, iBelongOutdoors, they documented his runs into the Atlantic in search of pelagic fish, but also revealed a humble, enthusiastic angler with a ready smile and engaging personality. Ultimately, the adventures, the fish and that enthusiasm were contagious. Williams traded up to a Sea-Doo FishPro (a larger craft built specifically with offshore fishing in mind), his viewership began to grow, and before long, Sea-Doo came calling, ready to make him a brand ambassador. One morning, he woke up to discover that one of his videos—a 112-mile trip across the Atlantic to the Bahamas—had gone viral and racked up over a million views. Paramedic school was put on hold, and many people’s dream job became Williams’ new reality. 

Stick ’Em!

Fast-forward to the present, and things were getting hectic, not to mention a little bit crowded on the Sea-Doo. Long before that dream fish had hit the bait, Williams had welcomed aboard Sebastian Noel, a friend and fishing guide from Miami whose unique résumé also included stints on reality shows such as Survivor and The Challenge. Noel and videographer Tyler Fischer had hitched a ride with local expert Capt. Blake Rigby of Tripletail Fishing aboard the latter’s custom Empire Boatworks aluminum ­catamaran. Now in position, Noel had climbed aboard the Sea-Doo to give Williams a welcome second set of hands. Landing something as sizable as a swordfish isn’t exactly a one-man job on any boat. On the Sea-Doo, it promised to be an ever-greater challenge. In fact, Williams could find no record of it being done before. Ever. 

When the fish used its brute strength to fight back against being hooked, Williams and Noel took turns on the Check’n ­Bottom custom rod, furiously cranking the Shimano Talica 50 reel—a setup that Rigby had personally chosen—while trying to maintain their balance atop the craft. “Once I realized we were tight, my heart was racing,” Williams recalls. “We’re in a full-on battle with a swordfish coming up from the depths. I just couldn’t fathom that this was finally gonna happen.” 

Focused on the task at hand, time became a blur. Five minutes stretched into 10, then 15. Eventually the leader came to the ­surface. Unclipping the heavy sinker, one thought passed through ­Williams’ mind: This was the endgame—and he had come too far to lose what waited on the other end of the line. What’s more, swordfish are considered one of the most dangerous fish when they get close to the boat. That big slashing bill of a swordfish intent on escape can definitely inflict some serious injuries.

“My heart is pumping, and I’m breathing so hard, but I just keep cranking,” Williams says. “The footwells are completely filled with water, and it’s just insanity. At this point, we had fished into the afternoon, and the winds and waves had picked up, and we’re just cranking and cranking, praying to God that this fish stays on.” 

Ultimately, the duo got to the end of their wind-on leader, and the ghostly glow of their target species became visible—a broadbill swordfish, roughly 100 pounds, about 10 feet below the surface. Adrenaline ­spiking, ­Williams yelled for Noel to be ready with the gaff. “I started screaming to Sebastian, ‘Stick ’em, dude, stick ’em!’” Williams says. “And you know, swordfish are known to jump and do super-aggressive runs back down to the bottom, but it’s almost as if this fish had no idea what was going on. Once it hit the surface, we had a super-long gaff, and Sebastian stuck him. I grabbed another gaff, and I stuck ’em just to ensure that we had that fish.”

About that time, the fish woke up to the reality of what was ­happening. Two guys standing atop a diminutive Sea-Doo were really about to make it their next meal. And it wasn’t going down without one more fight.

Emmanuel Williams with his swordfish
The broadbill swordfish, weighing approximately 100 pounds, put up a great fight. Tyler Fischer

Pure Chaos

At that point, it’s hard to say if the scene playing out 20 miles offshore could best be described as action-adventure or comedy. Just picture it: Two grown men, struggling for balance atop a Sea-Doo in rolling waves, both hooked into a wildly thrashing swordfish with a deadly spear for a bill, trying their best not to fall off their tiny boat or end up impaled by multiple sharp objects. All while the fish literally spun boat and crew in circles with the sheer force of its remaining strength. 

“Pure chaos,” says Fischer, who had been taking it all in from Rigby’s nearby cat. “Once that fish was on [the gaff], it was pure chaos. We were trying to get the boat into position to get the shot, but the Sea-Doo was constantly spinning and dragging from the force of the swordfish.”

“That’s when the fight really started,” Williams says. “It was just wildly thrashing its bill. We constantly had to make sure our legs were out of the way, because that fish was thrashing, literally propelling the Sea-Doo in circles nonstop.” Eventually, the fish tired and gave up the battle. Cheers went up, pictures and videos were taken, and the prize was transferred to Rigby’s boat for the ride in. For seemingly the first time ever, an angler on a PWC had brought in a swordfish.

Williams being Williams, the day didn’t end there. Of course, they stopped to take in one of the many oil rigs dotting the ­waters on the way in, and of course, he sent down a jig and got tight, eventually reeling in a little tunny (aka bonito). “It’s not the fish you’re after, but it was a beautiful day; we’re out here in the middle of nowhere off Venice, Louisiana, on the oil rigs—on a Sea-Doo,” Williams remembers.

After weighing in the sword back at the dock, the group loaded the fish back onto the PWC and went back to their houseboat, ready to clean and put some fresh swordfish steaks on ice. The moment was not lost on Noel. “This trip was unlike any other I’ve ever experienced in my 29 years fishing this planet,” says the guy whose own social media is flush with impressive catches from far-flung corners of the globe. “Catching a pelagic beast like that swordfish, on a vessel that’s half the size of some of my surfboards, in the middle of the vast and daunting Gulf of Mexico, amid overpoweringly large oil rigs dotting the horizon—it’s truly something that not many people in this world will ever get to experience. For that matter, anyone. We may have been the first people to ever do such a thing on a ­Sea-Doo. One of the coolest experiences I’ve ever been a part of on the water.” 

Emmanuel Williams trolling near a drilling platform
Oil rigs are a great place to target a variety of fish. Tyler Fischer

Dream Big

As to Williams, the future certainly holds more adventures, but for now, he’ll continue to do his job: heading offshore, catching amazing fish, and creating YouTube videos. In addition to a growing relationship with Sea-Doo, he counts Salt Life and Xtratuf fishing boots among what is certain to be a growing list of sponsors. Maybe ­someday he’ll add a boat to the mix, or host his own fishing show. But whatever comes, he says that a Sea-Doo will likely always play a dominant role. 

“I feel like it’s such a great ­alternative to have,” he says. “Like there are days when you don’t want to take out a 35-foot boat and spend hundreds of dollars on fuel, right?”

He may be a professional ­angler now, and a rising YouTube star, but down deep, you can still see that pumped-up kid on the tiny Spark, bobbing in the Atlantic. “When I was fishing on the Spark, people thought I was crazy,” he says. “Surprisingly, a lot of the captains out there, they gave me props. They would record me, put me on Instagram, put me on social media, and be like, ‘This kid is crazy.’ You know, ’cause I’m out there fishing among million-dollar boats, but on a Sea-Doo. 

“Side-by-side fishing, catching the same fish they’re catching, doing the same thing they’re doing.”

Read Next: Sea-Doo FishPro Trophy 170

Emmanuel Williams on his Sea-Doo FishPro
The Sea-Doo FishPro proved itself to be a more than capable angling platform. Tyler Fischer

Sea-Doo FishPro Trophy

While hardcore anglers have been adding ­fishing-specific features to PWCs for years, the trio of models in Sea-Doo’s FishPro series are the first craft to come well-equipped from the factory for sport fishing.

Williams’ flagship FishPro Trophy is ­highlighted by a 7-inch touchscreen Garmin GPS/fish finder, a 13.5-gallon cooler plumbed to double as a livewell, multiple rod holders, an aft saddle section that can be raised to form a pedestal fishing seat, and a trolling-specific speed-control mode. Other highlights include an advanced dual-battery system to power items such as the livewell, GPS, Bluetooth sound system, and the unit’s multifunction display; a quick-deploying grapnel anchor; a raw-water washdown; and a debris-free pump system to flush away weeds and debris.

As to the GTX hull that the FishPro Trophy is based on, it offers exceptional stability, particularly at rest. This allows anglers to stand and use the aft swim deck as a casting platform—and not get tossed overboard when fighting a fish nearly as long as the craft itself. MSRP: $20,499