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The instantly recognizable chrome Atlantic denizen proves to be an elusive target

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - The Atlantic cutlassfish could easily be mistaken for a sword at the right angle; it's chrome-bright tapered appearance is one you'll never forget.KURE BEACH, N.C.—

My last name, Ovgard, is pretty unique. There are only six Ovgards in the United States due to the strange creation story of our last name, which I'll save for another day.

COURTESY PHOTO - Luke Ovgard, Woodburn Independent - Sports  Caught Ovgard: OasisDespite its simplicity, few spell or pronounce it correctly, but I've learned to accept that for what it does offer, including a lot of potential puns. It started with the name of this column, CaughtOvgard. Apart from the word "gar" smack-dab in the middle of my name, most of its pun potential relates not to fishing, but to swords and fencing.

"En garde" is the position two fencers take at the beginning of a bout. I know this because I took a fencing class once with my friend, Ben Blanchard. Nothing has ever made me feel less athletic than my failed first attempt at the French sport, but I did make sure to float the en garde vs Ovgard pun a few times, despite it being tired after the second or third attempt. I couldn't help myself. But I'm not a fencer; I'm a fisherman.

Though I missed the opportunity to make sufficient swordplay puns when I caught the green swordtail, I won't make the same mistake with what was probably my strangest catch of 2020: the largehead hairtail, known in the United States as the Atlantic cutlassfish.

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - The author's friend, Tim Aldridge, puts on a face that perfectly represents the reactions some readers will have to the terrible puns in this article.The Kure

In the months leading up to my now annual summer trip, I spend hours researching my route and my planned destinations with a slow advance so that on the day I arrive, I can "fleche" the spot with an explosive, rush-in attack and waste no time hooking my target fish or fishes.

It doesn't always work, but I'm nothing if not thorough.

As I planned a route through the Carolinas last summer, I made sure to scour the piers where the two states meet, knowing that this region will get northern fish at the southern end of their range and southern fish at the northern end of theirs. In short, it's a fairly diverse area.

One fish I'd seen for years online but never in any concentrated pattern was the Atlantic cutlassfish. It's a long, thin fish with wicked teeth and an almost-too-bright silvery sheen that looks like an attempt at realism from a late-90s video game. The fish's name is apropos; it really looks like a cutlass.

I visited Kure Beach Pier in North Carolina with my friend, Tim Aldridge, in hopes of picking up one of those and whatever else would bite. Tim got his early on, and I was at once excited for him and a bit jealous. I wanted to clash swords with a cutlassfish very, very badly.

Despite their demonic appearance, they're fragile fish, and our best efforts to quickly revive it in the saltwater bucket I always keep with me on the pier didn't work out. Tim unsheathed a knife and brought it down on the cutlass, cutting off chrome strips for bait.

The oily fish worked like a charm.

As darkness draped itself across the evening sky, I figured my shot at a cutlassfish had fled with the light, but Tim and I began catching tons of tiny, Atlantic sharpnose sharks on our light spinning gear, so I couldn't complain. Most were about two-feet long and weighed a pound or two, but Tim hooked and landed a much larger one that evening. It attracted quite a crowd, and he almost lost it when it made a last-minute dive under the pier, but he parried the run and then riposted with a drop net.

Minutes after releasing the larger shark, I hooked what I assumed was another mini sharpnose. In the wan light of the pier, though, it reflected brightly, and I tried not to faint even as I feinted the fish between pilings and landed it.

I surged inwardly as I held the cutlassfish in my hands for a photo, pleased that the fish had been put en garde by an Ovgard, sure, but almost as pleased to get to write that in a sentence.

Should I choose to steel myself against another fish named for a blade, I'll have to hop a boat for a swordfish, at which point I'll be indulging full-on pirate puns. Should that day ever come, brace yourselves.

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COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - Small Atlantic sharpnose sharks kept everyone busy all night as Ovgard waited to cross swords with an Atlantic cutlassfish of his own.

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