Tigers' Alex Avila celebrating catch of a lifetime

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Five days after Alex Avila snagged a $2-million deal to rejoin the Tigers, he reeled in the catch of a lifetime.

The Avilas and crew stand proudly with their 585-pound swordfish.

Fishing 20 miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 28, Avila and a band of relatives caught a 585-pound swordfish.

"You won't find those," Avila said this week, "in Lake St. Clair."

On an unusually calm-water day in December, and with family in town for the holidays, Avila, brother Alan, cousin Nick, uncle Ralph and father Al — the Tigers general manager — decided to take the boat out.

They were joined by Avila's friend, Mark Schonger, who's the fishing guru. And his expertise sure came in handy when the Avilas got the big bite.

Using an electric reel, it took about three hours just to get the swordfish to the boat. If they had been using a conventional rod and reel, they would've lost the battle, probably right away. Instead, they settled in for a tug-of-war to remember — the swordfish's struggle took the Avilas and their vessel on a 10-mile trek.

Nick Avila, in charge of the harpoon, finally got a clean look, and put an end to that.

Dead by then, it still took another hour to get the fish into the boat.

"That's 585 pounds of dead weight, in the water," Avila said. "We tried about five times and failed miserably to get it into the boat.

"The last time, we ended up getting it into the boat.

"For a second, we thought we were gonna have to drag it in."

They took it to the Lighthouse Point Marina in Fort Lauderdale, because it was the only place they could find a scale big enough for the celebratory weigh-in.

It was then time to take the boat — which Avila bought last offseason, and named, fitting, "Offseason" (insert "We're gonna need a bigger boat" crack here) — to his dock, when they encountered another conundrum.

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They couldn't even get it from the boat to the dock to fillet it, so they filleted half the swordfish right there in the boat. When all was said and done, Avila had spent 12 hours, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., on the boat that day.

The end result was 400 pounds of meat.

"I'm well-stocked," Avila said, laughing.

And so are Avila's family, friends and neighbors, who all gathered at the house later that night to help themselves to bags and coolers of some wildly good eating.

The past couple weeks since, friends are still leaving Avila's place with bags of steaks.

Even so, Avila has one freezer chock full of his catch, and a deep freezer that remains half full.

"If I had a license and a permit to sell it," said Avila, "that's probably a few thousand dollars right there."

Avila has been finishing since he was a kid, when Al would rent a boat and take Alex and his brother out on occasional excursions.

As he got older, Alex "took it another level."

These days, he usually goes looking for Sailfish or Wahoo fish, but that Dec. 28, the weather aligned — leading for a haul to remember.

"The ocean can get pretty rough," said Avila, 29, who was driving the boat during the catch. "That day, it was calm enough to make a 20-mile run off shore and fish in really deep waters (1,700 to 1,800 feet)."

Avila had caught fish in the 100- to 200-pound range, and he said regular, expert sword fishermen can nab trophies between 300 and 400 pounds.

"Guys that do that for a living, commercial sword fishing, you can go a lifetime without seeing one that big," Avila said.

"We ended up catching a once-in-a-lifetime type of fish.

"It's an amazing species."

Avila shared photos of his catch with The Detroit News, and took video of the reeling-in, too — but declined to forward that for publication, saying, "The audio would not be appropriate."

Certainly, Avila will have the video available for teammates' viewing when the veteran catcher arrives in Detroit next week for TigerFest.