As the tight-knit sportfishing community in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, mourns the bizarre death of Capt. Randy Llanes, who on Friday was impaled by a swordfish that he had speared, more is revealed about the man, the incident, and the type of fish that killed him.
Llanes, 47, leaves behind a wife, Rachael; a 21-year-old daughter, Kaya, and an 8-year-old son, Austin.
Despite his rough exterior, the skipper will be remembered for his Aloha spirit and generosity toward others, even though he could barely afford to take a day off.
"If he just saw you on the street he'd talk to you, and before you know it he'd be inviting you to a barbecue," said Bomboy Llanes, Randy's cousin and one of six Llanes family members who are Kona captains. "And he’d give you the shirt off his back. If you needed 50 bucks, he'd give it to you even if it was all the money he had."
The extraordinary incident occurred inside Honokohau Small Boat Harbor. A swordfish measuring between 4 and 6 feet, with a 3-foot bill, had been spotted deep inside the harbor–a rare occasion because swordfish typically roam deep, pelagic waters.
Llanes, aware of the value of swordfish meat, seized the opportunity. He dived in and speared the fish, but the spear line became tangled with a boat's mooring line. The swordfish spun around the mooring line like a tether ball, and suddenly reversed direction and speared Llanes in the chest with its sharp bill.
This type of incident, as far as we know, is unprecedented.
"My crewman was there watching," Bomboy Llanes said. "He called me, crying, and said, 'I think we lost your cousin. He's not breathing. The fish stabbed him in the heart.' "
It remains unclear whether the swordfish attack on Llanes was intentional, but broadbill swordfish (Xiphias gladius) are referred to as gladiators of the sea. They're notoriously powerful and prone to fits of rage, especially after becoming hooked by anglers.
They've attacked boats and in one strange case a free-swimming swordfish attacked a submersible research vessel at a depth of 2,000 feet. The sub, named Alvin, was brought to the surface because of concerns about damage, and the swordfish was still attached, and dead.
Anglers' battles with swordfish are legendary fishing circles. This goes back to the pioneering days of sportfishing.
Zane Grey, avid angler and prolific author, once hooked a giant swordfish that towed him around the blue waters off Santa Catalina Island in Southern California until those waters turned black under the dark of night.
At one point, 11 hours into the fight, the billfish emerged at the surface, barely visible under the light of the moon, and Grey watched in amazement as the broadbill began to feed on a school of flying fish, seemingly unaware that it had even been hooked.
Half an hour later, with a furious shake, the swordfish broke the line and raced off.
The world-record swordfish is an 1,182-pound broadbill caught off Chile in 1953.
In Hawaii, most swordfish are caught by commercial longline fishermen. The billfish remain at great depths during the day, but rise toward the surface to feed at night.
But anglers sometimes hook them, states longtime Kona fishing author Jim Rizzuto, who points out that the state record is a 503-pound swordfish caught off Kona in June, 2006.
Kona is far better known for its giant blue marlin, which lure anglers from around the world hoping to catch a "grander," or a marlin weighing 1,000 pounds or more.
When that rare occasion occurs, the captain joins an elite club and his stock increases in the view of potential clients.
As for Randy Llanes, he came close. His personal-best blue marlin, according to Bomboy Llanes, weighed 990 pounds.
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