Life in Salt: Salt Water Sportsman Editor and Fishing Authority George Poveromo on the Swordfish That Almost Drowned Him
by Owen James Burke
George Poveromo releasing a sailfish off Palm Beach, Florida, December 1994
George Poveromo lives to fish. Fortunately, he’s found a damn good way to support his passion. Not only is he Editor-at-Large of Salt Water Sportsman, he’s also a national seminar host and television host of one of the longest running fishing shows on TV, George Poveromo’s World of Saltwater Fishing, which is filming its 15th season now.
I caught up with him while he was between filming episodes in Florida after a recent trip to the Marquesas Islands, west of Key West.
Scut: So, first things first, how’s the fishing been?
GP: It’s been good. We’ve been busy. We’re out shooting shows for 2015 and that keeps us pretty much busy. We get on the water shooting shows until around the beginning of December.
George Poveromo with a Biscayne Bay seatrout, December 1978
Scut: What first got you into the ocean? I know you grew up in South Florida, what were some of your first memories?
GP: It was my father who got me involved in fishing. Fishing was his pastime. He’d take me along the seawall at Bay Harbor Island. We’d catch these little 1- inch and 3- inch grunts and snappers. From there it progressed to getting out into the Biscayne Bay for sea trout and snook. West of Key West around the Marquesas was his favorite spot, and when I was old enough to start going down there with him, he would take me down there to go bottom fishing. I was introduced at a young age through my father, and for me, the whole experience really stuck and just got in my blood. Growing up, that was the only sport that I cared to participate in, and it became a passion that I was fortunately able to turn into a livelihood.
Scut: How about some fish stories, your most terrifying fishing experience?
GP: About two seasons ago we were daytime swordfishing in Islamorada in the Florda Keys. You’re dropping a bait down 1500 feet to fish the bottom. I don’t use an electric reel — I don’t think that’s sporting — but most people do. I’m for the sporting aspect, so how we do our daytime sport fishing is, we have Penn 80 International stand-up outfits filled up with 80-pound test braid. We’ll use weights that are about 10-12 pounds to get the bait down to 1500 feet, so when you hook up, you strap yourself in a stand-up harness and you stand up and fight these swordfish. So, no big deal, I’ve done it a bunch of times. This one particular trip, I was fighting this one sword for about two-and-a-half hours and it was getting about a hundred yards from the boat and we were shooting a show. The camera boat was coming around the back side to get another angle to shoot, and he came around me very slowly, but as I had been crouched over to take a pump down with the rod, the wake from his boat hit the side of mine, knocked my feet in the air, and I got pulled overboard strapped up to this big swordfish.
I’m sitting their going down, but was fortunate enough that in my mind I had an escape routine where I would slowly back off the drag of the reel and alleviate the pressure, which enabled me to pop back up to the surface. Then I went to find my rod so I could pull it to my chest and unclip from the harness, but I couldn’t find the rod. My hands were in front of me and there’s no rod, but I’m hooked up to something. So, I grab the back of the boat trying to figure out why I can’t find this rod and unclip from it. So, I’m about ready to take a deep breath and swim off the boat. Fortunately, one of the producers jumped off the camera boat, and he saw what happened. During the fall over, the rod turned completely around and went straight down between my legs…the reel was turned into my stomach…my show producer managed to get his hand in there and unclip me. So I swam out of the harness and we passed the rod back to the person in the boat.
The fish was still on, so I jumped up the transom of the boat, got back in the boat, put the harness back on, fought the fish for another half hour, and we finally landed this 256-pound swordfish.
Without any smart thinking, that thing could have easily, easily, drowned me. Had I not backed the drag off, or had I backed off too rapidly, the line would have backlashed and jammed, and the fish would have brought me down to the bottom. I was so familiar with all this, that fortunately for me, I got out of that one.
George and crew wrangling a marlin alongside his signature Mako skiff, the MARC VI
Scut: What a way to go that would have been. How about some highlights from fishing?
GP: The highlight catches, I would have to say, were about six years ago we were in San Salvador, the Bahamas, and I caught 143-pound, 3-ounce wahoo. That was definitely a most memorable catch. That was a monster of a fish. It was 6-feet, 6-inches in length. We’ve had a lot of really exceptional catches over the years.
A massive 143.3-pound wahoo taken off San Salvador in the Bahamas
Scut: How about lowlights?
GP: Any time that you go out to do a show and the weather moves in and you can’t go out and fish or shoot.
Scut: Come to think of it you don’t see too many fishing shows in foul weather. You keep very busy. You’re Editor-at-Large at Saltwater Sportsman, you’ve got the TV show, and then you tour with the seminars. Are you constantly on the road?
GP: We’re on the road quite a bit, but I probably spend more time at home than if I had to go out and work a 9-5 job somewhere else. Television is the most time-consuming animal I think there is. You have to start so far in advance to identify the areas that you want to go…you’ve got to get your boat there. Then, before you go, you have about three days of tackle prep time for what you’re going to do. I’ll spend three days rigging tackle [for a three-day fishing trip]. After I rig the tackle, I’ve got to ship the rods and reels up to where we’re going to be…between tackle prep, travel, and actual shooting on the water, it’s a time-consuming deal.
Scut: Do you have a book you’d like to recommend?
GP: It’s funny you mention that. Because I write so much, I rarely read. But there was a book, 97 Miles South, by Phil Thompson about a U.S. tournament [fishing] team that goes to Cuba. It was about a U.S. boat that goes down to fish the Hemingway [marlin tournament], what goes on down in Cuba, and how he met his girlfriend and had to smuggle her back — she turned out to be his wife. That was an incredible book.
Scut: So, onto gear. I’m trying to put together a middle-of-the-road, budget-minded spinning kit for people who want to cast off a pier or do some light- to medium-action fishing. I’m looking at the Penn Fierce.
GP: No doubt about that, that would definitely be a good one. Have you looked at the Battle? I would say the Fierce would be an excellent one for a budget-minded individual, but if they wanted to throw a couple of extra dollars at it, and not much more, I’d say the Battle. That would definitely do the job for them.
I’d match it up with a Penn Legion rod. I’ve been using the Legions a lot. They make a blue water Carnage Rod which we use for big groupers, tuna, dolphin and sailfish. But I use some of the Legion rods for school dolphin, for snook and snapper. They’re very, very good, they cast well, they have good action to them, and again it’s a better priced rod than the blue water Carnage they make. For casting they make 7-foot rods that are very good. I would go with a Legion rod as being a good combination for those reels.
With daughter Megan and her first snook
Scut: Who’s your favorite person to fish with?
GP: My favorite person to go fishing with, when she likes to go out, is my daughter Megan. She’s 17 years old and she’s not that much into fishing, but over my TV career she did about 5 episodes with me. She doesn’t really care about boating or fishing now (of course she’s a teenage girl), but the times that I can get her to go out on the boat with me, that’s where it’s at right there.
George Poveromo writes a column called “Tactics and Tackle” for Salt Water Sportsman, where he’s been a staff member since 1983. He lives in Parkland, Florida with his wife, his two daughters, and his beloved boat, the MARC VI.
Photos courtesy of George Poveromo