Cash Treworgy will for the rest of his life be able to recount an experience so incredible that it doesn’t need any embellishment.
The 34-year-old Hampden angler returned from Florida recently with a whopper of a tale, one that includes catching two rare smalltooth sawfish back to back.
Smalltooth sawfish, a type of ray, are the most endangered of all sharks and rays, according to National Geographic. There may be as many as 5,000 or as few as 200 remaining in the world, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Treworgy and his father, Robert Treworgy, were fishing for tarpon on Friday, May 13, near Marco Island, Florida. It had not been a productive outing.
Rough water and some pesky, and hungry, Atlantic sharpnose sharks foiled their attempts to catch tarpon.
“It was very discouraging,” Cash Treworgy said. “The fish we were targeting were there and we just couldn’t keep our bait in the water long enough for them to even see it.”
Running low on bait, the men were on the verge of calling it quits when one of the reels started screaming. With the line nearly spooled off, and just as they prepared to pull their anchor to pursue their catch, the fish suddenly stopped.
“I felt the weight of the fish for the first time and I knew I had something special,” Treworgy said. “I didn’t know what it was exactly.”
It took approximately 45 minutes for him to slowly reel the fish back to the boat. When the saw broke the surface of the water, they couldn’t believe their eyes.
“Down in that neck of the woods, sawfish are like the unicorn,” Treworgy said of the rare encounter. “I knew when I saw the saw, I had the fish of a lifetime on there.”
As an experienced fisherman, he realized that with an endangered fish on the line, they would need to take care to make sure it was released as quickly and safely as possible.
The fish was estimated to weigh several hundred pounds, so it took another half-hour or so to hoist it into position to try removing the hook.
Treworgy also stressed the importance of removing as much of the line, tackle and lure as possible to aid the fish’s chance of survival once released.
“Even when it wasn’t trying to actively swim away, when it was just the resting weight of the fish alone, just lifting it up high enough that we could get at the hook, that was incredibly difficult,” he said.
Not to mention the fact they were using 60-pound test monofilament leader material.
The Treworgys had bolt cutters in hand when the sawfish gave a final head shake, which snapped the rod and also popped the hook out of its mouth.
Exhausted from battling the fish, Treworgy had only been resting five minutes when a baited rod at the front of the boat hooked up with another big fish.
It wasn’t long before Treworgy knew he was in for another tussle with a sawfish. The reeling was left to him, since his dad is dealing with a bum shoulder.
“They have a very specific head shake that they do. You can kind of feel that the saw is there almost,” he said.
This sawfish was even bigger than the first. They can grow up to 16 feet and can live several decades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Another grueling, 75-minute battle ensued as Treworgy worked the fish up to the boat.
Again, the goal was to get the hook and gear out of the fish’s mouth. Ultimately, they cut the hook at the shank and it swam away. Treworgy said the saltwater will help quickly dissolve the hook.
Upon sharing their story and the video, the double sawfish catch was the talk of the town both in Florida and upon his return to Maine.
“It’s definitely, far and away, the coolest,” he said of the fishing experience. “I’ve had a lot of fun fishing, but I’ve never caught anything that rare — and it’s also the largest fish I’ve ever caught.”
Rather than continue fishing, the Treworgys opted to head back to port and avoid potentially hooking another sawfish.
Cash Treworgy’s satisfaction was complete, both in knowing he had caught the fish and that they released them safely. The U.S. population of smalltooth sawfish in 2003 became the first marine fish to receive federal protection when it was listed by NOAA as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
“I’m really hoping that’s a sign that maybe the population is starting to recover a little bit and that the regulations have helped increase their numbers,” he said.