If you’re fortunate to have tried your luck daytime swordfishing, then you know exactly what it is about this crazy fishery that drives us to deplete our bank accounts and spend long hours crossing vast expanses of open water. If you’ve yet to experience the thrill of battling a beastly broadbill under the blistering summer sun, then you don’t know what you are missing. There is something really special that intrigues the imagination when pursuing a genuine sea monster more than 1,500 feet below the surface!
The fact of the matter is that in the shadow of South Florida’s epic fishery, the Gulf of Mexico hosts a healthy population of broadbill swordfish. With every drop comes the possibility of hooking the fish of a lifetime. With bright purple and silver hues, impressive acrobatic abilities and nerve shattering runs, the muscular broadbill is a true gladiator and an extremely challenging opponent for even the most battle-tested crews.
Every single time you deploy a bait to the bottom there is no telling what is going to come back up, so you better be ready for everything.
It’s no secret that South Florida has some of the most productive and accessible swordfishing grounds in the world, not to mention a large number of swordfish experts who have perfected the approach. However, modern advances in marine electronics have also enabled inquisitive anglers along the Gulf of Mexico to explore new grounds holding the same caliber of fish. In our particular case, our Sword-A-Crazy fishing team based out of Panama City Beach has benefited greatly from CHIRP technology. This advanced sonar technology enables us to view bottom structure with astounding detail—a real game changer for crews fishing ultra deep water nearly a hundred miles from shore.
While there are many similarities to how we target swordfish in these rich waters and how anglers off Ft. Lauderdale and Miami play the game, there are some glaring differences. Heading out of Panama City, our grounds are a great distance from shore due to a gently sloping seafloor. A typical run is anywhere from 80 to 120 miles depending on prevailing sea conditions and reliable reports. Fishing this far offshore requires a big commitment, so in order to maximize our efforts on the grounds we fish with daytime techniques until the sun dips below the horizon, and then switch to a traditional nighttime spread and drift in the dark.
One of the major advantages we have over the crews fishing the Florida Straits is the lack of current in the northern Gulf of Mexico. While the Gulf Stream is always consistent in the Atlantic, in the Gulf we often see less than a knot of current. That being said, conditions are ideal when we’re drifting between 1 and 1.5 knots. This enables us to fish multiple rods at different depths and deploy a multi-hook deep drop rig in the hopes of catching golden tilefish, hake, grouper, pomfret or oilfish. This deep drop rig breaks up the monotony of waiting for a sword bite and has come through on more occasions than I can remember. However, don’t let the meat rod distract you from the real goal, because the bite from a swordfish is often subtle and if you aren’t focused you may miss it altogether.
Another advantage to the lack of current is that we can effectively fish lighter outfits with much less weight. During the day we prefer 50 lb. and 80 lb. class bent butt outfits with a fast tip. You want to see everything that is going on with your bait while it is in the strike zone, so the fast tip is an absolute must. Whether you choose an electric reel or hand crank you can’t go wrong, with the newest Hooker Electric drive unit enabling anglers to check bait with power assist, and disconnect the power assembly to fight fish under manual power. Whatever you decide, it’s highly recommended you spool with 80 lb. braid and a 100-foot, 200 lb. test wind-on leader. While some choose to fish a longer leader and lighter braid, it’s best to start off with the aforementioned rig and adjust as your experience level advances. You’ll soon come to realize that the best outfit is the one you have the most confidence in.
Along the East Coast of Florida, sword hunters often turn to longer wind-on leaders and affix a 10-pound sash weight approximately 150 feet from the bait. The lead stays with the rig the entire time to enable anglers to make repeated drops as they drift across prime habitat. Up here in the Gulf we do it differently. Approximately 80 feet from the bait we attach a 48 oz. bank sinker with a longline clip to a wax loop on the wind-on leader. Three-pounds of lead isn’t enough to reach bottom, so we also attach a secondary, breakaway lead to the shank of the hook. We prefer a 24-inch section of pipe filled with concrete. A heavy piece of wire is placed in the wet concrete so the lead can be temporarily fastened to the hook. Once we’re ready to drop we delicately place the bait and weight in the water and deploy it to the bottom. When the weighted pipe hits the seafloor it automatically breaks away from the shank of the hook and we’re fishing. The 48 oz. lead stays connected and keeps enough tension on the line so we can clearly detect strikes.
When it comes to deploying the bait, instead of the drop and u-turn method used along the southeast, we look for bait and fish readings and mark the exact spot we want to hit before dropping straight down as if we were grouper fishing. This technique saves time and ensures the bait is presented directly in the strike zone. You should also know that when we find an area of life around any sort of seamount or depression, we typically start on the deeper side of the structure and work our way over the shallower side.
While we don’t always rely on electric reels, these high-tech pieces of fishing equipment feature digital line counters that really allow us to dial in the perfect depth. It’s also nice to be able to push a button when you want to check your bait.
Along with the tactics and techniques we’ve discussed, nothing substitutes time spent on the water experimenting and perfecting your approach. Really, even if you are in the right place at the right time, the most important aspect of successful Gulf swordfishing is being properly prepared. Every single time you deploy a bait to the bottom there is no telling what is going to come back up, so you better be ready for everything.
Dinner for Two
Swordfish are opportunistic feeders and will readily attack a variety of baits. A large squid or stitched dolphin belly is hard to beat, but having a diverse bait box can make the difference in boating a big sword or going home smelling like a skunk. We have also recently started using fresh amberjack belly. They are easy to prepare and swim very well. The finished bait is white, which we believe closely resembles squid and also reflects light really well from the water-activated LP Duralite. Speaking of which, we prefer the multi-colored strobe, but have caught fish using blue, white, green and purple.