They Eat Most Anything

I do most of my swordfishing during the daytime, although nighttime is very good at times. There’s a big ledge about 16 miles offshore of Miami where the bottom drops from 1,500 feet of water down to 2,000 feet rather quickly, and that’s where we do all our swordfishing.

At night, you can put your lines out anywhere in that range because you’re not fishing the bottom, and most of the guys fishing at night are using either rigged squids, live blue runners, tinker mackerel or speedos.

Swordfish are pretty much garbage cans that will eat just about anything they can catch. Most of the guys fishing at night will use Cyalume glow sticks and stagger three or four baits at 50 foot intervals, with the deep bait somewhere between 200 and 300 feet. But in the daytime, we fish one bait, and that bait is either on the bottom or very close to it.

I typically get on the outside edge of the ledge so we’re in 1,800 to 1,900 feet of water. We use squid the most, but have caught fish on everything from dolphin belly or bonito belly to a whole bluefish. (I caught a 180-pounder on one recently.)

We’re fishing an 80- to 100-foot leader and using only “J-style” hooks. We also run two lights on the leader, one about 15 feet up from the hook and the other another 30 feet up from that. Our weight is attached right at the end of our leader, and we do that either with a swivel, or in most cases with a long-line snap, so when it comes up we can unhook the weight and remove it from the line and let the angler continue winding. Once the weight is off, it’s basically a wind-on leader.

Current speed determines how much weight we use, but most days we start out with 18 pounds. We use a Daiwa Dendo 3000 electric assistance reel, which has a handle on it so you can wind it up manually as well as use the motor. We load the reel with 130-pound braided line.

When you drop the bait, you don’t want to just free spool the reel or it’ll go down so fast that the leader will tangle up in the line. Instead, we let the line out with some tension on the reel, so that it takes about eight minutes for the weight to hit the bottom. Just because the water is deep doesn’t mean its sand. There are a lot of snags down there and with 100 feet of leader, it’s easy to get caught on the bottom and lose your gear and a bunch of braided line. To avoid that, once the weight hits bottom, reel the weight up 100 feet or so to keep the bait above any structure.

Electric to Manual Mode

When you get a bite, the swordfish won’t spend a lot of time down deep. It’ll usually come up quickly, and I mean so fast that you couldn’t wind the line fast enough manually to keep up with the fish, so that’s where the electric motor is a real help. Once the fish gets to about 400 feet of water it stops there and then starts to dog it out. That’s when we switch the reel over to manual mode and let the angler fight it.

Swordfish kill their meals with their bills by slashing the bait to wound it, and then eating it. When the swords slash at our baits, they seem to get tangled a lot in the leader, which is why we get a lot of foul-hooked swords. I’d say 75 percent of the swordfish we land are foul-hooked, which is why we use J-style hooks instead of circle hooks. You won’t get those fish with the circle hook, and because we plan to harvest these fish, we’re not worried about whether we get them in the corner of the mouth or not. What’s interesting is that the fish that are hooked in the mouth usually jump, while those that are foul-hooked don’t.

We use a 250-pound monofilament leader and a 12/0 J-style hook, much like you’d use for marlin fishing. The average swordfish we catch during the daytime is around 150 pounds, and we’ve caught them up to 400 pounds, so we’re not releasing many fish.

You have to watch your bottom machine closely because sometimes you have the tide and wind pushing you to the west and into shallow water and other days it’ll push you east and out into deeper water. You just have to monitor the depth and your location at all times and adjust to the conditions.

Most of the time we drift for 50 minutes before we pull everything up and move. We also drop the bait back down to the bottom every 10 minutes or so. When you do that you might have to let out 300 feet of line if there’s a lot of current and you’re getting some bow in the line. By the time you’ve fished 50 minutes, there’s usually so much bow in the line you can’t fish effectively, so we bring everything in and start all over again.