Big Sword Story: Daytime Swordfishing Off Florida’s Coast
So far the fall of 2011 has proven to be a bit on the windy side, which has not allowed us to do as many swordfish trips as I would like. Luckily when the weather has cooperated we have gone out to the sword grounds and have caught fish. This particular trip, I had booked about two months ago and was set to fish with three anglers from England. They belong to an English fishing club and have fished throughout the world, mostly for marlin. They were eager to come to South Florida and try some of our daytime swordfishing.
The Winds and Sea Subside
The whole week prior the anglers were in the Florida Keys and were flats fishing. The wind was blowing hard all week, and our trip was in jeopardy. As luck would have it though, the wind laid down the night before our trip and we had an absolutely beautiful day ahead of us.
We reached the sword grounds and quickly went to work on deploying our bait to the bottom in 1800 feet of water. The main goal is to get your bait to the bottom and to keep it relatively close to the bottom as that is where the swordfish are during the day. It is imperative that everything is streamlined and that nothing can spin or get hung up on the mainline. The last thing you want is a tangled bait on the bottom.
I use a fairly simple system. The bait I was using today was a bonito strip rigged on a single hook. The bait is crimped to a 150 ft wind-on leader. The weight (12 pounds) is attached to a floss loop which is located on the top of the wind-on. Basically your weight is 150 feet away from the bait. That wind-on is connected to 80 pound Sufix braid. I fish a bent butt Biscayne Rod and the reel we used today was a Daiwa MP3000. This reel is both electric and manual. If you don’t get a bite or miss a bite and want to check the bait, you can use the electric portion, and when you do hook a fish you can use the manual handle and fight the fish just as you would on a conventional reel, or you can let the electric portion of the reel do the work. We also have a Dolphin electric reel that is also manual and electric.
I went to my first spot and made our first drop. After close to an hour without a bite, we retrieved our bait and redropped it a bit shallower in 1650 feet of water. After a short time on the bottom, we noticed a slight tap on the rod tip. Although swordfish are big and strong, they often just swing at the bait with their massive bills in an effort to wound the prey and then come back and eat it.
After several strikes by the broadbill, the rod finally loaded up indicating that the fish ate the bait. David West was the angler on the rod and he made short work of the broadbill and after about 20 minutes we had a nice 60 pound broadbill next to the boat. We quickly snapped some photos and measured the fish. The short length which is from the lower jaw to the fork of the tail was 50 inches. The legal size is 47 inches. Although a legal fish to keep, we decided to release this fish to grow and perhaps reward someone else with an epic battle.
After that release, the day went quiet with only 2 fish caught by the entire fleet. Luckily one of them was ours. We made several more drops as we drifted north in the Gulf stream and made moves both shallower and deeper but to no avail. My guys from England knew all about billfishing and any day you catch a billfish is a great day and in all reality any day spent on the water with friends or family is a great day.
With the day winding down, I decide to run back south and spend the rest of the afternoon in the area we made our first drop. We quickly dropped another bonito strip to the bottom and waited for the bite. As I was looking at the depth recorder, I marked a swordfish on the bottom. A lot of people will question if that is possible in 1800 feet of water, but the new “chirp” technology from Simrad has made this possible. As soon as I marked the fish, I asked my mate to drop the bait back to the bottom. Not more than 30 seconds later, the rod loaded up and we had a fish on.
This time there were no taps or missed bites, but simply a solid bite indicating the fish had indeed eaten the bait. The fish fought pretty hard on the bottom, but the angler, Clive Taylor, quickly went to work on the fish and was able to get her head coming up. Normally a big swordfish of over 200 pounds can swim the 12 pound lead straight up and all you get is slack line as the fish is rising rapidly from the bottom. The smaller fish tend to fight all the way up as they don’t seem to have the strength to swim the heavy lead up. This particular fish did a little of both. The rod would go slack for a while indicating it was swimming up, and then the fish would fight for a while. According to the way the fish was fighting, I estimated her to be around 150 pounds. Boy, was I wrong!
We got the fish close enough that I reached over and removed the lead from the wind on. Clive continued fighting the fish and she was now all the way on the surface. First her dorsal fin appeared followed by her tail fin. From the separation between her two fins I knew we had a real big swordfish on our hands. In all reality, the only time I have seen these fish lay on top of the water like that with both fins out has been with swordfish over 450 pounds. She laid on top and stop swimming for what seemed like a minute but was really only a few seconds as to show us that she was not even fazed but the fight from the bottom. She then darted straight to the boat and Clive had to reel like crazy to stay tight.
In an effort to break free, she tried to dive under the boat. Luckily I have caught a few of these fish before that have tried the same thing and quickly put both engines in reverse and spun away forcing her to pop out along my bow and way from the hull. Now a bit mad, she made short run on the surface and then performed a wonderful jump merely 50 feet or so off the bow. She then started diving back down and settled in about 300 feet down. We now played the game with her getting her back up towards the surface only for her to fight her way back down. After at least half a dozen of these short battles, she now rose again all the way to the top and started swimming towards the east at full speed. I had both engines in gear in reverse going hard and line was still pulling off the reel at a rapid pace. After that sustained run on the surface she was pretty much done and Clive went back to work, inching her back toward the Double D.
Fat Swordfish Comes Over the Gunnel
We now got her next to the boat and with two quick gaff shots had her secured alongside the boat. What I remember most was being in awe with how wide she was. Although she was at least 10 long (bill and all) she look incredibly fat, almost like a tuna looks. I estimated her at close to 500 pounds and now the true battle would begin as we still had to bring her in the boat. I have pulled on a few of these fish and only one other fish gave me as hard a time to get in the boat and that fish weighed in at 560 pounds.
After what seemed like an eternity and with everyone pulling, we first got her head over the gunnel and once we got her going she quickly slid into the boat. We now all looked at each other in disbelief as this was a true gladiator of the sea. I took quick measurements and her girth was an amazing 68 inches, I was in such disbelief of the girth, that I took the measurement three times. Her short length was 94 inches and according to the formula she weighed in at 531 pounds. BTW – the formula is length times girth times’ girth divided by 800. This formula is pretty accurate for almost all billfish.
With everyone in awe we had a great ride back to the dock. There we took more pictures and then proceeded to steak her out. To say that many families were made happy that day with fresh swordfish steaks would be an understatement. That and the fact of the memories made truly made this a great day!
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