Prize of War

I recently landed my first broadbill swordfish and want to preserve the bill so it can be painted. What’s the best method to cure the sword and rid the bill of the awful stench? – Chris Constilla


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Photo: Vincent Daniello

You are absolutely correct that the remains of swordfish reek! Curing the bill of a swordfish is far from glamorous and throughout the two month long process you will face the worst smells you’ve likely ever experienced. If you can brave the stench, the result will be well worth the effort and your swordfish bill will be odor free forever.

Unlike other billfish species, swordfish have long, flattened and sharp edged swords that often extend a third of the fish’s overall length. If you look into the mouth of a swordfish you will see that the upper jawbone extends to the base of the fish’s eyes. When removing the bill you’ll want to take great care to preserve it in its entirety. By cutting the flesh behind the fish’s eyes you will protect the natural “V” where the bone attaches to the upper jaw.

Now that the sword has been removed, place the bill and attached meat section into a bait pen and submerge in saltwater for a period of four to six weeks. While soaking you’ll want to periodically inspect the bill and rinse with direct pressure from a hose to assist in removing algae, slime, and any remaining skin and flesh. After about 10 days in the water, the insert of flesh where the bone connects to the jaw will fall out. This part smells delicious! Continue inspecting the bill weekly until there’s no visible meat or tissue remaining on the bone.

At this point, partially fill a 5-gallon bucket with freshwater, a healthy squirt of Dawn dish detergent and approximately two ounces of bleach. Thoroughly scrubbing the bone with the solution will help cover the stench and keep the neighbors at bay. It is very important you do not use a heavy concentration of bleach because it will make the bone brittle and frail.

Place the washed bill in a large plastic container and pack it with Borax, which is a powdery blend of sodium borate that draws the remaining oil and smell out of the bone. After about two weeks in the dry Borax brine you’ll want to wipe the bill clean and place in direct sunlight for seven more days. Periodically inspect and flip the bill over so the sun can dry and bleach both sides evenly. At this point, if treated properly, the bill will have no lingering smell and will be ready for display in its natural form, or painted with a scene to preserve the memory of your great catch.