Florida Woman Catches Enormous Sawfish Off the Beach, Estimated Between 800-1,000 Pounds

by Sean Griffin

A Florida woman caught an enormous sawfish off the beach last Friday night.

Jillian Sanders wants to become “Angler of the Year” by October. The title is given annually to the winner of the Fort Myers Beach Tarpon Club tarpon competition.

This season, Sanders has landed three tarpons thus far. She reeled in a 7-footer estimated to weigh 180 pounds, so she’s currently in the lead. This past Friday, she thought she was going to add to her lead and potentially make the lead insurmountable with one huge fish that grabbed her line.

However, the massive fish she snagged wasn’t a tarpon. It was an enormous smalltooth sawfish.

While walking the beach Friday, Sanders saw a few tarpons swimming out near some wake buoys. She knew if she could get her bait out there, she could potentially add to her tarpon total. She asked a friend to swim out with her line to where the buoys were. Sanders used ladyfish as the bait.

“My bait wasn’t in the water for more than 20 minutes when all of a sudden it just took off,” she told Field & Stream. “I knew it wasn’t a tarpon because it didn’t jump. I thought maybe it was a ray.”

After an hour-long struggle, as the beach darkened, she and a crowd of what she claims to be at least100 people found out exactly what it was.

Woman Reels in Sawfish After Hour-Long Struggle

“I knew it was big,” she said, “but I didn’t realize it was going to be so massive. I mean its nose was longer than my arm span and that would be 4-1/2 feet.”

Sanders’ boyfriend owns the title of three-time Fort Myers Beach Tarpon Club Angler of the Year. She says he taught her everything she knows about tarpon fishing and has caught several sawfish of his own. However, even he said this sawfish was the biggest he’d ever laid eyes on.

“All of 16 feet,” said Sanders. “Which would put it between 800 and 1,000 pounds.”

Smalltooth sawfish, like the four other types of sawfish in the world, are critically endangered according to the National Marine Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Related to rays and sharks, their skeletons consist wholly of cartilage. Smalltooth sawfish used to be abundant from the coasts of New York down to Brazil. However, these days their range has considerably shrunk. They are year-round residents of Florida and its adjacent waters. Some believe that their rostrums (saws) frequently get caught in commercial fishing nets, and this has hampered their population.

Sanders talked about her tiring fight with the sawfish.

“Oh my gosh, my arms were tired,” she said. “I was about to give up and say ‘screw it’ and cut the line, but the crowd gave me the motivation to keep going. My arms were shaking so much. But when I saw it I was in awe.”

Like many rays and sharks, smalltooth sawfish don’t reach maturity for years. They can live up to 30 years and can reach 17 feet and 1,000 pounds.

Sanders also said a few small sharks were visible swimming around the sawfish. These sharks follow the sawfish and eat creatures that its saw stirs up from the bottom, Sanders said.

While Sanders didn’t catch her tarpon, she did catch a rare and prehistoric sawfish. Maybe that’ll land her an honorable mention at the end of the competition.