Stitching for Success

Local Pros Reveal Their Favorite Daytime Swordfish Baits

Capt. Steve Dougherty May 15, 2017

Over the years not many pelagic species have undergone such intense angling pressure as swordfish, yet through sustainable and restricted commercial and recreational harvesting the once depleted fishery is now thriving. On any given day anglers along the southern coast of Florida can head offshore and stand a good chance at battling the worst tempered and most combative game fish in the sea.

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Photo: Doughertyphotos.com

For anglers looking to connect with swordfish, there isn’t a better location in the world than the deep canyons, trenches and holes in the Florida Straits. The concept of daytiming was refined and perfected right off our coast, with specialized baits a key to success when battling the extreme depths, currents and bludgeoning slash of one of the ocean’s top predators.

Some days it doesn’t matter if your bait has been previously frozen, but the days when the bites are hard earned I prefer to fish with fresh bait. Still, I think having a bait that looks good and being in the right spot are the most important factors.

Big game anglers, swordfishermen in particular, think of everything in terms of bait. Never have you met a niche of anglers more excited about the summer bonito run than die-hard swordfishermen looking to fill their freezers with fresh slabs. Through the advancements of daytiming tactics anglers have presented some wild and crazy baits with alarming success, but it’s easy to over think it and you must always have confidence in whatever you are presenting.

When putting all of your odds on a single bait that’s so far down you need to make sure it’s right. Some days you may be right in the zone, but the fish aren’t actively feeding and your bait will be Although experienced swordfishermen have exploited and revealed new fisheries across state lines and beyond, South Florida is where it all started. To get the inside scoop, we reached out to three top captains who ply the depths across three different areas of the Florida Straits.

Nick Stanczyk

Hailing out of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Nick targets daytime swordfish along some of the most fertile swordfishing grounds in the world. His father Richard Stanczyk, along with Vic Gaspeny, is credited with pioneering modern-day daytime swordfish techniques and Nick is continuing the legacy with an impressive track record. Situated on the broadbill swordfish’s natural migration route along the Florida Straits, Floyd’s Wall is a deep trench with ledges ranging from 1,500- to 2,000-feet deep. While the trench is impressive, there isn’t the jagged structure that anglers target off Ft. Lauderdale, but the fish don’t seem to care. Here, the prevalent currents result in shorter drifts and to compensate for the lack of defined structure Nick relies on his transducer to locate squid and other forage holding at a particular depth.

Dolphin Belly
Anglers have crafted strip baits out of nearly everything that swims, but fresh dolphin bellies are some of the best since they are highly durable and almost always available. Nick starts by trimming the pectoral fins and making sure the strip is symmetrical. From here Nick stitches the hook in place before crimping on the leader. The remaining process involves closing the bait with consecutive stitches and sliding your favorite skirt down the leader.

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Materials Needed
Hook:
10/0 Mustad 7691 S
Leader:
300 lb. LP Prime Line (pink)
Skirt:
9″ Squid Skirt (trimmed)

Squid
Swordfish feed on a host of prey items, but squid make up the largest percentage of their diet. Squid aren’t as durable as stitched belly baits, but lengthwise stitches help keep the bait intact after a few slashes. Nick starts by removing the beak and sliding the leader through the bottom of the head so the hook rides lower in the bait. A twisted leader the length of the squid and glow beads stitched to the mantle secure the bait so it doesn’t bind on the shank of the hook.

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Materials Needed
Hook:
10/0 Mustad 7691 S
Leader:
300 lb. LP Prime Line (pink)
Skirt: N/A

R.J. Boyle

A serious triple threat, R.J. Boyle is an incredibly talented artist, owner of a specialized tackle shop, and also a pioneer of daytime swordfishing tactics in high-current conditions.

He has likely caught more trophy swords than anyone else on the planet—in fact, he’s credited with catching over 2,500 swordfish up to 600-plus pounds. South of Boyle’s homeport of Hillsboro Inlet the current can at times move upwards of 5 knots to the north, so in addition to very technical boat handling and presentation, bait selection is gravely important. With this much current baits really swim like they are alive. While bait selection and rigging is essential, R.J. is detail oriented in all aspects including line to leader and crimped connections, hook sharpness, leader chafe and light selection.

Bonito Belly
R.J. tells us that if he had to pick his favorite bait it would be a bonito belly. While many anglers have fished with bonito bellies, Boyle trims the belly much more than others and his finished product is very thin, promoting greater hookup ratios. It’s a great bait because it can withstand multiple sword slashes and you don’t have to worry about the bait’s integrity. In fact, Boyle tells us he has caught a sword on a bonito belly, and immediately dropped the same bait down again with repeated success.

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Materials Needed
Hook:
10/0 Mustad 7691 S
Leader:
300 lb. LP Prime Line (clear)
Skirt:
Custom R.J. Boyle Skirt (blue/white)

Snakehead Taco
The bullseye snakehead is an exotic species indigenous to Asia that was introduced to Florida’s freshwater canals through aquarium release. Proving the lengths swordfish anglers will go to catch their target species, many have experimented with presenting these serpentine fish hundreds of feet below the surface. Boyle tells us the snakehead is an excellent bait for novice daytime anglers because it is very forgiving. The scales and skin are very thick and the fish smells horrible, which appeals to swordfish hunting in the dark

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Materials Needed
Hook:
10/0 Mustad 7691 S
Leader:
300 lb. LP Prime Line (clear)
Skirt: Custom R.J. Boyle Skirt (glow)

Seth Funt

Aboard Three Buoys, a Mercury-powered Venture, Seth and his crew hunt swordfish along the deep canyons from Jupiter to Palm Beach. Here, there’s not prolific structure like that off Ft. Lauderdale, Miami or the Keys so bait presentation is everything. While Seth and crew almost always find the remains of squid in sword stomachs, they also see tons of strange eel-like fish called snake mackerel, snail fish and other deep-water, slow moving critters. Additionally, one thing that almost all deep-water prey have in common is a profound eye to help them navigate the dark canyons off our coast, so Seth takes his rigging a step further by gluing Clear Cure 3D Eyes to his skirts to give the bait that extra alive look for days when the little things can make a big difference.

Eel
There are dozens of species of eels that are available for purchase at specialty tackle shops and wholesale food markets, with the most common the American eel. Local moray eels also make great baits, but Seth prefers the American freshwater yellow eel. Seth starts by trimming the head of the eel so the baits are around 12- to 14-inches in length. The eels are extremely durable so after a few swats you have the confidence that your bait is still intact to continue fishing through the remainder of the drift.

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Materials Needed
Hook:
10/0 Mustad 7691 S
Leader:
300 lb. Jinkai (clear)
Skirt:
Yamashita Golden Bait

Octopus
Another bait that’s more commonly purchased for food purposes, octopus tentacles are easy to rig and always come out symmetrical so there’s no risk of the bait spinning. Seth cuts a tentacle to length and attaches the crimped hook with three stitches along the shank. This bait looks very similar to an eel, but Seth rigs this bait on a smaller hook and will switch over to the octopus when the current is super fast or the wind is augmenting his drift line. With a smaller profile it has significantly less drag and is preferred when there is a greater population of smaller fish around—unfortunately you can’t always fish baits designed for hooking 500-pounders.

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Materials Needed
Hook:
9/0 Mustad 7691 S
Leader:
300 lb. Jinkai (clear)
Skirt: Yamashita Golden Bait

 

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