Targeting Swordfish in the Southeast Region with Capt. Jimbo Thomas

We have a strong swordfish population in the Southeast Region. You can target them throughout the region in anywhere for 1,400 to 2,000 feet of water.

The historic swordfish fishery in my region targeted the fish at night, but in the last 10 years a lot of anglers have learned to be productive for swordfish in the daytime as well. So let’s talk about both fisheries.

For the nighttime fishery, I like to use live speedo’s, live blue runners or large rigged squid rigged on 50 pound conventional tackle. We bridle the live baits and sew the squid onto a 1/0 “J-style” hook or circle hook using 300 pound test monofilament leader.

At night, the swordfish come to the surface to feed, so you don’t have to fish as deep as you do during the daytime. I’ll set out a three or four rod spread, staggering the baits at 50, 100, 200 and 300 feet deep, and I’ll fish as deep as 400 feet during the nighttime.

The swords are attracted to lights and to the glowing properties of squid, their favorite food, so we attached light sticks or small battery operated lights to the line just above the leader. We don’t tie the lights to the leader, instead clipping them on with a commercial line clip. For the bait that’s closest to the surface, I’ll get a 12 ounce plastic soda bottle and put a light stick in it, and attach that to the line as a float. The light from the float draws surface feeding swordfish close to the bait, holds the bait at the desired depth and also lets us know where the bait is at all times in the darkness. The bottle is also an indicator for when you get a strike.

In the Miami Area there are some humps over the bottom that the fish tend to hang around, but when you’re fishing at night you’re basically drifting, so you drift past those pretty quickly. For the most part, you’re just drifting along and waiting for a fish to find the baits.

There’s a lot more boat traffic offshore at night that you realize, so you want to stay alert for large ships cruising through the area and try to stay out of their way. One thing you can do is put a Styrofoam float on a stick or gaff, and wrap it in aluminum foil and then put it up in one of your topside rod holders so that it can easily be picked up by the radar screens of the cargo ships traveling the area.

Listen to the radio chatter for other anglers swordfishing and if you hear about someone catching fish, you’ll want to try to find out what depth they were in. Some nights all the action is in one area, and if you can figure out the depth, then you can run out to that depth and set baits to increase your chances of catching a fish.

I also do a lot of daytime swordfishing, which is the stuff I really like. We fish the same depths as the nighttime anglers, but most of us are using electric reels because we’re dropping our baits all the way down to the bottom. Off Miami there’s a big ledge that goes from 1,500 to 2,000 feet pretty quickly, and I like to fish on the deeper side of that ledge in around 1,900 feet of water.

You don’t have to be right on the bottom to catch swordfish during the day. We’ll drop our baits until the lead hits bottom, then I’ll reel it up about 100 feet, because the bottom can come up from 1,900 feet of 1,600 feet pretty quickly, and you don’t want to snag the bottom and lose your rig. You just want to be near the bottom. We’ve had fish bite as the bait was going down, and also 500 feet off the bottom as the rig was coming up.

On the reels we have 80 to 100 pound test braided line, which has a lot thinner diameter than monofilament so you don’t get as much bow in the line from the current. I’ll splice 100 feet of 200 pound test monofilament into my braided line and then put a snap swivel on the other end. To the snap swivel, we’ll attach the normal 300 pound test monofilament leader, but we’re only using a 10 foot leader because we have the 200 pound test monofilament above it. We don’t use live bait during the daytime because we’re dropping down so deep, which would likely kill the bait, but also increases the chance that the bait will spin up or tangle in the leader. I like rigged squid, bonito strips or Spanish mackerel for bait in a single or tandem hook rig.   

We’ll put one light on our snap swivel, which places it roughly 10 feet above the bait. We’ll put another light about 10 feet above that, so we have two lights 10 feet apart. We’ll floss a loop on the monofilament about 100 feet up near where the braided line and 200 pound monofilament splices, and that’s what we’re hanging our weight on.

We’ll use anywhere from 12 to 20 pounds of lead. A lot of guys rig their weight to break off, so that once a fish is on it doesn’t have the weight to throw, but my thinking is that the second you hook the fish it comes to the surface and when the lead is still attached it prevents the line from getting slack and the hook falling out. We have the weight attached with either a snap swivel or a longline snap, so as we fight the fish when we reel the weight to the boat, we can easily unhook it and get it out of the way. 

The average swordfish in my region is around 120 pounds, but we’ve caught them up to 400 pounds. Most of the daytime fish come up pretty tired and easy to land, but the nighttime fish can be a lot tougher. Those bills are sharp, so you can to be very careful when you get the fish to the boat. 

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