Broadbill swordfish are extraordinary game fish aided by specially adapted heat exchange organs able to increase the temperature of their brain and eyes. Armed with enhanced hunting skills and sharp eyesight, broadbills are extremely effective predators by day or night, with the only difference being preferred level in the water column. We know that under the cover of darkness swordfish rise toward the surface to feed on squid and baitfish. As night transitions into dawn, swordfish descend into the chilly, dark depths. Here they continue to search for prey in the nutrient rich upwellings nearly 2,000 feet below the surface. Since few of us prefer sleepless nights, offshore anglers have learned how to effectively target these gladiators in extreme depths. And if there is one thing you can count on, it’s that enthusiasts will continue to alter and adapt their tactics as this exciting fishery evolves.
Like many aspects of sport fishing, every seasoned captain has his/her preferred method of approach when targeting broadbills under the light of the morning sun. Whether it is the ongoing debate over manual versus power-assist reels, leader length, hook size or precise depth your bait is presented off the bottom, one thing everyone agrees on is the value of quality bait. Rigged squid have been the staple and are likely credited with more swordfish catches than all other offerings combined. The problem with these succulent cephalopods is that they are a bit fragile and prone to coming off the hook. When fishing a baited hook 2,000 feet below the surface, it requires a great deal of valuable time to retrieve your rig and inspect your bait every time you’ve detected a strike.
While there are specialty retailers across South Florida that have a consistent supply of rigged swordfish strips, we all know nothing beats freshly prepared bait.
Ideally, your bait needs to be capable of withstanding the long descent through swift currents. Not to mention the brutal slashes from an attacking broadbill, as swordfish often strike their prey a few times before going in for the final kill. Alongside squid, anglers are experimenting with more durable strip baits and have been experiencing outstanding results.
Originally referred to as The Panama Strip, big game crews in every ocean have consistently scored fishing mega-size strip baits for monster game fish. It only makes sense this same offering would produce in this arena as well. The only challenging part is acquiring fresh bait to form the strips. While there are specialty retailers across South Florida that have a consistent supply of rigged swordfish strips, we all know nothing beats freshly prepared bait.
Here is how we rig ours…
To create a strip bait sweet enough to fool a mighty broadbill you’ll need the belly section from a fresh caught bonito or juvenile tuna. Dolphin bellies also do the trick.
To rig an effective swordfish strip you’ll need the appropriate tools including a razor-sharp fillet knife, crimps and crimping tool, rigging needle and wax floss. We use a 12/0 hook and 8-feet of 280 lb. Hi-Catch fluorocarbon leader.
Start by submerging your whole bait in a slushy mix of ice and seawater before preparing a strip bait—at least an hour. If you attempt to rig strips out of fish plucked fresh from the sea the meat will likely be too soft.
Next, cut a generous section of belly meat starting in front of the pelvic fins and stretching all the way back to the anal fin. It’s important to note that the tail end of your selected strip will ultimately end up as the top of your daytime swordfish bait.
You’ll have a chance to carefully shape the strip later, but for now lay the strip flat and remove any bone structures. Carefully trim off any excess meat, with the goal having a strip measuring 3 to 5 inches wide, 12 to 15 inches long and no more than 3/8″ thick.
With your strip bait flat on a rigging table—skin side down—pierce a small hole through what will ultimately be the top of your strip. Position your hook so the hook eye is directly over the hole. Pinpoint a position in the center of the strip bait where the hook point will exit through the other side. Pierce the hook through the skin making sure your hook shank remains inline without the bait binding. Don’t be afraid to enlarge the hole in the skin to keep the bait from bunching up on the bend of the hook.
Pass your leader through the hook eye and the hole in the top of your strip bait. Crimp the hook in place onto the strip. It’s now time to start stitching the bait together. Start at the top of the bait—at the hook eye—and make sure the stitches firmly close the bait around the hook shank. The stitches should be deep enough so they cannot be torn out, yet not too deep so there is excess skin. Stitch your way down the bait to a point a few inches behind where the hook exits the strip.
At this point, experienced crews add a skirt over the bait to create a more streamlined profile. After completing the rig by crimping a heavy-duty barrel swivel to the tag end of your leader, your swordfish strip bait is now ready to be deployed into the depths. See you in the ‘Stream.