Imagine it’s a warm summer night, seas running a soft 1 to 2, wind light and variable, stars fill the night sky, you have a cold beer in hand and burgers on the grill. Everyone is sitting around telling war stories of the one that got away. Lines are set, extra baits are rigged, the Hydroglow’s light spills under the boat turning the crystal blue water an erie green. You can see the 4 buoys marking the lines in the distance. In the quiet still of the night the drag starts screaming. Sword on the Line!!
If you’re anything like me and have made several journeys in a attempt to catch a swordfish, hopefully you have figured it out and have not faced the disappointment I’ve had. Have you ever gone and not gotten bites and watched other boats get them? Have you ever gotten 3 or 4 bites in a night only to pull the hook on all of them? Have you ever gotten all 3 or 4 of your rods tangled into a complete cluster? I’ve beaten them off at the gaff, broken the line getting the buoy off the main line, forgotten the glow sticks. Well if there is a way to lose a fish, not get a bite, or break him off, I’ve been there and done that!! I’m hopefully going to keep you from doing that again.
When and Where to Find Swordfish
We get most near the Spur at the tip of the DeSoto Canyon. The DeSoto Canyon is a erosional valley that cuts through the continental shelf along the northern gulf coast. An up-welling of deep water occurs here bringing up nutrients and phytoplankton to the surface, attracting small bait fish and squid, that in turn attract larger baitfish, that in turn attracts large predators like the swordfish. We not only fish the Spur, but fish the Steps and all along the Canyon wall where these upwellings occur.
Swordfish are primarily considered nocturnal feeders. In recent years we have found they do feed in the day time, but instead of feeding near the surface less than 300ft deep where they migrate to at night, they are feeding at depths in excess of 200ft deep. Swords can be caught year-round, but we find the best and most consistent action between April and November.
Don’t get hung up on these GPS numbers being the only place to fish; they are just a staring point. You will need to arrive at the swordfish grounds and spend some time figuring out the drift as there is no way to anchor. Having a good sea anchor to slow your drift is a must-have item. The idea is to figure out just how the current and wind are effecting you drift and making sure to start at the correct place to maximize drift time over a given area you have chosen to fish. [back to top]
If you don’t have the right gear, you don’t have a chance. Swordfish can be extremely powerful when they want to be. I have caught a 250lb swordfish that almost did not fight and basically took the bait, swam to the surface and let us easily reel him to the boat, gaff him and get into the fish box and never broke a sweat. I have also got the 125lb swordfish that screamed the line off the reel ran towards the bottom, circled the boat, ran to the top, back to the bottom and put us in a 2-hour battle. Swordfish are one of the few species that can swim at depths of 2000 ft then turn right around and swim to the surface and back to the bottom with no ill effects.
In the old days most people would target sword fish with 80lb class tackle. Anglers soon found that this was overkill and switched to 50lb class tackle as most swordfish range 50lb to 200lb. Now with upgrades in the drag capability of modern reels, and the invention of braided line, we can fish even smaller reels like the Shimano Tiagra TI30WLRSA (which stands for 30 wide, two speed and Long Range Drag). You’ll still find people that say you need the 80lb class rods and reels but they are are old school and still fishing monofilament line. A 80lb class reel holds 700yds of 100lb monofilament, a 50lb reel holds 650yds of 60lb monofilament line, 30lb Reels hold 500yds of 80lb braid with a 150yd top shot of 60 monofilament and still leave room for a wind-on leader making them perfect combination reel that has power and capacity of line.
Many rods will do the job but none better then Shimano’s new Terez Carbon-fiber butt rods. These rods come with a bent butt instead of the tradional straight butt rods most people fish. The bent butt give the angler much more power over the fish with much less effort. The only bad thing about bent but rods is the added weight as the butt is all solid aluminum. The new Terez Carbon-fiber rods reduce the weight by about 40%, making them the ideal weapon.
These advancements in technology make the whole process much easier and enjoyable to tackle such aggressive predators like the swordfish. Combining these with the proper fighting harness and belt like those made by Braid Fishing Products will give you all the tools you need to capture these creatures of the deep. [back to top]
Rigs and Leaders
We rig out rods with a wind-on leader 20ft long. What is a wind-on leader?? By IGFA rules you are allowed a total leader and double line length of 40ft on tackle over 20lb. We tie a double line using an Australian Braid to form a double line at the end of our main line that is 6ft, and this give us a loop at the end of the line to attach the wind-on leader. The wind-on leader comes with a loop of braided line attached to the leader to make the attachment to the main line. IGFA allows a total leader length of 30ft. So, using a 6ft double line, a 20ft wind-on leader 150lb to 300lb and just a short 10ft leader on the actual rigs keeps us under the IFGA maximum and gives a slight margin of error in our rig making.
If you just make you leaders the allowed maximum of 30ft, the swivel of the leader would get to the tip of the rod and the fish would be still 30ft from the boat, then you would have to hand line him that last 30ft. Using a wind-on leader, we can reel most of the leader onto the reel and have much more control of the fish and never have to hand line the fish when he is near the boat.
We make our actual leaders 10ft using either a 3-way swivel or American 3-way swivel at the top of the leader and a Eagleclaw L2004ELF 10/0 circle hook.There are still some anglers that choose to use a J-hook (illegal for tournaments) but I much prefer the circle hook as you just get more hookups and you typacally hook the fish in the corner of the mouth which is the hardest part of the fishes body. It is also better for releasing undersized fish unharmed. When releasing fish, try and not take them out of the water also for a better survival rate. When rigging smaller bait I use just one hook but when rigging larger baits I normally use double hook rigs.
Rigs will consist of a 10ft leader 125lb to 300lb, 3-way swivel at the top, a light stick or LP LED light attached between the swivel and bait and a 16oz to 28oz lead attached to the swivel with a #32 rubber band. The LP LED is more expensive but last much longer than the light stick. We use the rubber band to attach the lead so it breaks off during the fight and does not give the fish leverage to use the lead to throw the hook. [back to top]
Squid are the primary food for swordfish and they are by far the first choice or bait but not the only choice. Other good baits are northern mackerel and bonita strips. When rigging squid make sure to sew the head to the body as it comes off very easy and looks unnatural. Also rigging squid, mackerel and strip baits it is important to sow or pin the bait to the leader so it does not bunch up around the hook. When using mackerel if you cut off the tail and rig the mackerel backwards it will not spin as bad when deploying the bait creating less tangles. [back to top]
Buoys, Balloons, Lights
You will be fishing at night so you will want to keep track of your baits. Buoys serve two purposes, one is to float your bait keeping it at the desired depth and the other is a marker. You will want to use either a long line clip or rubber band to attach the buoy to your line. Both the rubber band and the longline clip are easy to attach and un-attach during a battle with the fish. I always use custom buoys which are easy and inexpensive to make. Attaching a light stick to the buoy makes it easy to see at night so you know where your lines are and if you are using a breakaway rubber band rig easy to kind you buoy after the catch. If using a balloon, first insert the light stick into the balloon.
If you do not have built in underwater lights the next best thing is to deploy a Hydroglow light under the boat to attract both baitfish and swordfish. It will greatly improve your chances of getting bites and catching more fish. [back to top]
There are a few things you need to do at the dock before you leave. Getting your lines spaced right in the dark is difficult but with a little prep work it becomes much easier and you will have less fouled lines and rigs. First mark which rod will be your longest line, medium line, and short line. Your longest line will be the bait closest to the surface and the short line will be the closest to the boat.
Now you need to mark the line itself. You will need a black marker for this step. On the long rod pull off 50ft and put a 1ft long mark, then pull off another 300 ft and put a second 1ft mark. When setting the line you will place the buoy at the first mark and then let out line to the second mark. On the middle rod put the first mark at 150ft and the second mark at 450ft. On the short rod put the first mark at 300ft and the second mark at 400ft.
Set the long rod first, then the middle rod and then the short rod. Your fishing set up should look something like this. Now we are fishing, and hopefully catching. [back to top]
Leader material, rigging needles, crimpers, wind-on leaders, 3-way swivels, ball bearing snaps and swivels, sleeves, rigging springs, beads, thimbles, light sticks, cutters, LP lights, rubber bands and sitting floss, leads, hooks. [back to top]
Gaffs, Harpoons and Fighting Harness
Having the right gaff will sure help when you get the fish to the boat. I see most people with a gaff that is too short. In a 60ft sport fishing boat you need enough gaff to reach the water and 3ft out away from the boat. In a 20ft center console you need enough gaff so you can reach 2ft past the motors in case you need to help the angler clear the line from the motors if he makes a last minute dash. As for hook size, at least 5 inches.
Having a harpoon is a very nice addition to your arsenal. There are times when I did not have a harpoon that we lost fish right at the boat that we would have otherwise caught.
Having the right gloves like the Aftco wiring gloves to handle the leaders when wiring a fish next to the boat and handling the fish once he is in the boat will save you. I cant tell you how many times I’ve cut my hands when not wearing the proper gloves.
Fighting harnesses are really nice and sure save your back if you have a smaller boat and do not have a fighting chair. With a good shoulder or kidney harness, the right rod belt, and a pair of drop straps, even if you get tired you can just sit back and relax and let go of the rod and all is well. Braid Fishing and Aftco both make very nice models.
You have put in your time, done you homework, you’re sitting on the back deck, beer in hand, and then the line comes tight and the drag starts screaming!! All of a sudden the buoy breaks loose and the swordfish is running deep. Line is still spilling off the reel as the moon illuminates the night sky. Sword on the line!! [back to top]
This tip was provided by our own fishing expert Tim Broom, Half Hitch Destin. Get the PDF here: GCSSS-swordfishing.pdf