Swordfishing in South Florida
Southeast Florida Swordfishing - "Purple Fever"
Once you have your tackle ready to go, let us describe a typical drift out in South Florida's Gulf Stream. We are basing this drift using 4 lines. Some of your center console fisherman may be able to fish 5 or even 6 rods, but we believe 4 rods is sufficient and will cover the fathoms needed to catch that broadbill you have dreamed of. Swordfishing off the southeast coast of Florida has really taken a turn for the better. We are experiencing a fish size of 75-100lb on average. Although we are deemed to be the breeding grounds and anglers routinely catch "Pups", we have our share of three-hundred pound plus fish move through. November thru January is usually some of our best months, as the water temperature is cooler. But with all good comes some bad. The seas are usually much rougher this time of year. In the summer time, we don't see as much action, but we still get our share. This is a year-round fishery and will be around for a long time as long as we don't abuse it. We ask that you please report you fish! Please report your catches and releases. We know you are not required to report a release, but by reporting that we are routinely catching the numbers, lessens the chances of commercial fisherman entering our waters. We cannot stress enough how important it is to report our catch.
We also want to practice safety especially while night fishing. We suggest that each angler on your boat carries a glowstick and whistle in his/her pocket. This way if they were to accidentally fall over, you would have a means of finding them. Another strong point is no sleeping! Cargo ships constantly are running through the swordfish grounds and if you are sleeping and they are on autopilot, trouble could be approaching. We have had some close calls to where we actually had to pick up and move to avoid a collision course with some freighters. Bottom line, if you want to sleep stay home.
Now lets fish!
Locating The Swordfish Grounds:
As you may know swordfishing takes place at night, as they are primarily nocturnal feeders. Leaving the dock in the late evening hours and coming back to the dock after midnight is the standard, depending on the time of the sunset. Calm seas have much to do with the decision of when to go out. Swordfish can be caught when it is rough or calm, but we must think safety first. The combination of a gps and good fishfinder is essential when finding good solid structure to start your drift. Off the South Florida coast, our sword grounds are generally between longitude 79-51W and 79-49W. This is roughly 15-18 miles off our coastline. A fishfinder that goes to at least 1500 feet is very beneficial; as you will see the canyons and structures that hold the bait, hence attract swordfish. *Tip - If you want to find the fish, set your fish finder range to just 100ft and you will find bait such as Tinker Mackeral or Sardines. Where there is bait, there is Sword! Swordfish are known to roam these deep depths around ridges and valleys. With the two combined units you are already ahead of the game. Radar is also an important piece of equipment, but not absolutely necessary. Once you are satisfied with your location, you want to spend the next 5-20 minutes figuring out your drift. The drift is a very important aspect. If you have heard that the bite is strong along the 79-50W line, you want to make sure you are drifting on this line. A top-notch sea anchor can work to keep you in this zone. Deploy your sea anchor off the boats center cleat for the best drift. But maybe, the bite is fluctuating from the west 48 lines to the 51 lines. In this case you would want to drift over and over these grounds. Turn on your vhf or check out our reports to see where the most action is for the night you are going out. With the proper drift you can stay in the zone all night and have baits soaking for the majority of the night. Don't be in a rush to put the baits out. Take your time and factor the wind and current and decide, "Am I going to push in shallow or out deep". Which side of the boats are the lines going to be on? How much wait should I be using to get my baits to the desired depth? How fast will my drift be? All these factors are worth considering before you turn off the engines and decide where you are going to ride out a drift.
Tackling Broadbills:Although a live bait seems ideal when setting out to catch any gamefish, don't rule out your dead baits! Bobby Boyle of RJ Boyle Studios came out with a shirt that says, "Live Bait Sux". Bobby definitely has a point when it comes to swordfish. As a beginner in swordfishing, we suggest sticking to just one live bait and the rest dead baits such as squid. You ensure a much better hookset when using a dead-bait, and your strikes will definitely not suffer from not using live-bait! Your sole livebait can be fished just under the boat around 85 feet down. It will blend in with the other baits that have congregated around your boat.
Lets discuss rigging your rods. We use mostly 50 wides, but have a few 80's that are ready for that big wintertime swordfish. A 50w is plenty sufficient for swordfish. With the invention of hollow-core braid, guys can load their 30's with the over 700 yards and be able to fish their light tackle rods for broadbills. When spooling the reels we suggest marking the last 400 feet of your line. Mark the line using waxline half stitches. This will enable you to easily drop your baits to the desired depth without having to count every time you setup. A counter can be used to count off the desired feet. If you can leave a loop in the waxline marker on your line, this would be ideal. Later on we will teach you how to tie the balloon or jug to that loop in the waxline. It is very important to make sure the waxline does not slip! Your first knot that will be used on your mainline is the popular bimini twist (about 5 ft). The knot acts as a shock absorber and is very beneficial to the rig. Take your bimini twist right to the ball bearing snap swivel and tie an offshore knot. Have this combination on all four of your rods.
Lets discuss your rigs. We first start out by measuring 15 feet of 200lb - 400lb mono leader. On the top end we crimp a loop using a nylon thimble so that we can attach it to our ball bearing snap swivel with ease. On the other end, crimp a 8/0 - 11/0 hook. Make sure the hook is very sharp, if not sharpen it. You should be able to press it against your finger nail and make a nice dent. On the hook you want to place a bridle that is used to bridle your live bait. It is a loop that is about 6 inches in diameter made out of rigging floss. Attach that bridle to the hook and you are set. Attach your live bait rig to your rods ball bearing swivel. At the swivel top circle you want to also attach 1 electralume and a flasher at your discretion. This helps to make your bait visible to the swords.
Lets rig your other 3 rods for a dead bait. A swordfish favorite is the squid. There are a number of ways to rig a dead squid, but the best method is to have the hook exposed half way down the mantle. We find this much more effective that placing the hook down by the eyes of the squid. . Once you have all four rods ready to be deployed, get out your jugs and weights, along with copper/telephone wire. Have the gaff ready to be deployed as some days you may drop the baits right into swordfish territory. We don't know how many times we seem to drop a bait right on a swordfish. Tip* If you like to take your time in setting up, that's fine. Go ahead and put out a flatline while getting your other rods ready. This way if you have a curious sword come to the boat, you atleast have a bait in the water. We have seen them come into the light on numerous occasions. If you don't have a bait in the water, most likely they will just leave.
Setting up your first Drift
Drifting for swordfish is very very effective. Providing that you have your baits staggered, your chances of catching a South Florida Sword are very good! Now that you have 4 rods that are ready to be deployed, lets get some lines in the water. Once you find your desired area to fish, shut off all engines. Here you will analyze your drift. You can deploy a sea anchor if you think you are going to need it. Once you are satisfied with the direction and speed of your drift, get the first line out. As a general rule of thumb, get your longest lines out first, meaning jug/balloon baits. Check out our forums and communicate with fellow swordfish anglers regarding everything mentioned here. You may even find out what depth the fish were biting out the night before. But a general rule of thumb is on a New Moon, you fish the baits shallower. And on a full bright moon, you fish them deeper. Tip* Be sure to have a bait at 100 feet and 300 feet. These 2 depths are critical. Once you get a bite on one, you can adjust your other rods accordingly.
With the first rod, attach the live bait rig, along with your electralume and flasher. Then take about 12 inches of telephone wire or a #64 rubber band and attach a 32-ounce weight to the swivels top circle. Wrap the telephone wire about 6 times and pull to ensure it breaks away. Put it back on and let your bait down to desired depth. For this exercise, we will go 300 feet on the first line. Once the 300-foot marker on the line comes up, attach your jug or balloon to the loop you left in the waxline using telephone wire. You can attach the balloon or jug using telephone wire or a small rubber band. Again, test to make sure it breaks away when pressure is applied by fish. Let the float out about 50-80 yards from the boat. Don't forget to put a glowstick into your jug for visibility.
Do the same to the second rod, but this time go to 200ft and let it out on the jug/balloon about 30 yards. It is very important to test different depths by the 100's. Don't forget to attach a lightstick to the jug/balloon for visibility. Once you have the 2 lines out on the jugs, lets move to your tip rods. The tip rods are called tip rods because that is exactly what they are. You will see the tip of the rod bounce heavily when a fish is slashing the bait. These rods are being fished right at the boat at varying depths. Apply the same rigs as mentioned above and set these rods at 150 feet and 100 feet. These will be your most active rods, as they are in the direct light of the boat.
Now that you have 4 lines in the water, lets get your 4ft light out and put it on the opposite side of the boat, to avoid direct light into your eyes. Turn off all boat lights and sit back and listen to your rods. Check all lines as needed. If you don't have any action within 30 minutes to an hour, start by checking your tip rods. If the baits have been slashed than bring in your balloon/jug rods and re-bait. The 4ft green light can be a very important piece of the puzzle when swordfishing. We have had bait by the dozens including bar jacks, flying fish, and dolphin come to the light. With the bait we have seen swordfish follow right behind them. When swordfishing you want to have your best game turned on. Without the light at the boat you might as well stay home. We deem this light very effective. Think about when you see a boats navigation lights about 10 miles away. Imagine a swordfish. Their eyes are enormous and we bet can see much better than we think. This could be the difference between a fun-filled night and a very frustrating night. Check out the forums for more information on the secrets and tips. Fish On? Now What?
Once you hear the drag being taken out or you see a fish surfacing, you want to jump on that rod fast. Each rod should have a different color light that distinguishes it from your other rods. The enables you to determine which rod the fish is on. You should of had your drag set at practically nothing, just enough to keep the bait from taking off line. Get on the rod and start cranking until you get tight on the fish. Once tight, start increasing the drag until you hit about 8-16 pounds of drag. Too much drag may cause the hook to rip from the soft mouths of these fish. The hook will automatically set and you are in for a fight of a lifetime. Have a buddy put the belt on you, so you can stand up and fight the fish properly. Do not arch forward or your back will begin to hurt very quickly. Do not rush the fish. These fish get in excess of 400lbs and have been known to keep anglers on the wind for over 8 hours! Once the fish is at the boat, it is ideal to have one guy handline the leader and another guy with the gaff. We also suggest using wind-on leaders. This will help avoid the dangers of hand-lining a big fish. A swordfish has to be at least 47 inches to keep. So before hitting it with the gaff, you want to decide if you are keeping the fish or not. We recommend not keeping a fish under 60 inches. This will help the bounce back of the swordfish industry. If you do decide to keep the fish, you want to gaff the fish right in the gill plate to avoid ruining the meat. Always wear tough leather gloves, as the bill is very sharp. *Tip - Keep your hands together when leadering the fish. This will help avoid the dangers of hand lining the fish. Tight Lines, Swordfishing Central