Episode--21 Targeting Swordfish in the East Region With Capt. Mike Holliday
Late summer is a great time to target swordfish because of the consistency to the weather and seas, although the best fishing seems to be during the fall months. That doesn’t mean you can’t consistently catch swordfish out of the East Central Region. We have some great swordfish action from Vero Beach to Palm Beach, with the best stuff taking place on the southern end of the region where the deeper water is closer to shore and more condensed.
While the traditional swordfish fishery has taken place at night using Cyalume sticks and squid, the fishery has evolved during the past decade and anglers have learned that they can be just as successful, if not more successful targeting swordfish during the daytime. The main difference being that daytime swordfishing takes place in deeper water—but only about 500 feet deeper.
Most swordfish anglers in my region make the run to the southern end of Palm Beach County, and when fishing at nighttime concentrate their efforts in 1,500 to 1,700 feet of water, concentrating their drifts around atolls, humps and sea mounds that stick up off the bottom and tend to attract feeding fish. The daytime sworders like to start in 2,000 feet and work their way out. One of the big keys is to listen to the radio for reports of hooked and caught fish, which will give you an indication of the depth where the swordfish are concentrating. If you hear boats are successful in a specific depth, immediately pick up your gear and move out to that depth and redeploy.
For tackle, you can get away with 50 pound gear, but if you hook a big fish, you’ll be sorry you didn’t have 80 pound tackle. While the average swordfish in my region is under 100 pounds, the daytime swordfishing seems to produce a lot of big fish pushing the 400 pound mark, so it’s best to overgear your tackle and be ready for big fish than to bring a knife to a gun fight. Because fo the depths for daytime swordfishing, the majority of anglers utilize an electric reel or a battery operated assist reel that allows the fish to be fought manually once it gets closer to the surface.
The standard swordfish rig consists of 20 feet of 300 pound monofilament leader attached to a snap swivel to prevent the fish from cutting the main line with its bill. The bill of a swordfish is surprisingly sharp, so take caution any time you’re handling the fish or are around a boated fish, as the bill can easily cut you. The snap swivel allows you to change-out leaders quickly if a shark frays one, or you need to rebait or boat a fish. The standard leader should be about eight feet long, with a 9/0 to 12/0 hook, with most anglers preferring the “J” style hook over circle hooks.
For nighttime swordfishing, you can attach a Cyalume stick or battery operated light right at or above the snap swivel and then another one close to the bait to attract the fish. The lead that takes the bait down will also attach to the snap swivel via a much lighter line—say 20 to 30 pound test—so it will break off once a fish is hooked. Since the nighttime swordfish is done close to the surface with baits deployed at 50, 100, and 150 foot depths, only 4-8 ounces of lead are needed, while daytime swordfishing takes place close to the bottom and requires 15- to 20-pounds of lead depending on the current.
For baits, it’s pretty hard to beat a rigged squid, although live or dead blue runners, tinker mackerel, ladyfish and even bunker make good swordfish offerings. Put them down on a disco light or cyalum stick, break out a bucket of fried chicken and some adult beverages and hang out until the rod goes off. For daytime swordfishing, you want to watch the bottom machine for rises and peaks that may snag your rig. As you see these approach, raise the bait off the bottom to avoid snagging and losing the entire rig.
Quite often, the bite from a swordfish is soft and hard to detect because of all the line out and the slack created by the current. You want to watch the rod tip for any bouncing or dipping, and then react to those actions by reeling and coming tight. Once you eliminate the slack in the line and come tight on the fish, you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s a swordfish or not, as they jump or producing a screaming run close to the boat.
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