Chase the Rainbow

Daytime swordfishing has certainly taken center stage off the coast of South Florida during the last decade, but the nighttime fishery is still very productive and a great option for those yearning to battle swords with stand-up tackle.


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Nighttime tactics for broadbill have changed slightly since the increase in fishing pressure from commercial buoy fishermen, but elite sword lords have adapted to these changes and are seeing impressive results. One of the most important factors in connecting with hungry swordfish is using a variety of baits to make your spread more appealing to fish that see the same commercial squid rigs in front of their faces night after night. One of the most effective and underutilized nighttime bait is a live rainbow runner—an incredibly hardy baitfish often cherished for its sashimi-quality flesh. Rainbow runners create irresistible vibrations that attract swordfish to your spread from great distances. Among other forage, rainbow runner are natural prey for the gladiator of the deep and the baitfish’s large size and soft texture make them perfect for tempting big broadbills. Learning how to catch, rig and deploy them in your spread will undoubtedly set you apart from the rest of the nighttime fleet.

The advantage of adding live rainbow runners to your swordfish spread lies in the vibration they emit…

The first step in fishing live rainbow runners is catching them. This is undoubtebly the most challenging step, but persistent anglers who appreciate the value of these big baits consistently put a few in the livewell before heading toward the horizon. First, you will need to locate artificial reefs and wrecks that rest in 80 to 120 foot depths. Fortunately, there are literally dozens of these structures off the coast of South Florida and many of the locations are posted on public websites and charts.

When you approach a promising structure you’ll want to test the waters with an R&R Tackle GI10 goggle eye quill rig with no less than 8 oz. of lead. Equipped with 40 lb. leader and #15 stainless steel hooks, this is the perfect sabiki for the hard fighting runners. Deploy the rig to the depth you mark life on the sounder and work it to the surface, sweeping the rod as you reel to create an irresistible jigging action. Another method is to troll back and forth over the structure with a #3 planer. With this rig you’ll want to attach a 30 foot length of 30 lb. monofilament to the end of the planer and then the same GI10 quill rig to the end of the monofilament shock leader. The planer should track about 50 feet behind the boat to achieve the optimal depth for fooling the desired quarry.

Now that you have captured a few rainbows, keep them happy and healthy on the way to the swordfish grounds in a round baitwell that pumps at least 500 gallons per hour. Even a few fish require 50 gallons of breathing room, but as long as there’s ample water flow they should withstand the relatively short run to the grounds.

My preferred spread while drifting for nighttime swordfish consists of four 80 lb. class outfits rigged with a mix of live and dead baits. Each rod is rigged with a 25-foot wind-on leader, 6 feet of 300 lb. monofilament leader, and a 10/0 J-hook. Glow sticks, balloons and 16 to 32 oz. bank sinkers complete my arsenal.

The advantage of adding live rainbow runners to your swordfish spread lies in the vibration they emit into the surrounding depths. Swords sense distress signals from wounded baitfish and can’t help but investigate, giving anglers the upper hand over crews who choose not to chase the rainbow. Even if you get bit on a rigged squid, you can bet your rainbow runners had something to do with it.