The sole member of the Xiphiidae family, Swordfish has a long flat bill that resembles a sword – hence their name - and they are commonly referred to as broadbills. This bill makes them similar to other billfish species, such as marlin and sailfish, but they are very different physiologically and they are not members of the same families. Swordfish is an incredibly popular game fish for sports anglers, but they are rather elusive. These migratory, predatory fish are widely distributed throughout tropical parts of the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. During the daytime they prefer to hunt near the ocean floor among structure, at incredible depths of around 1 800ft (but they have been recorded as deep as 9 442ft). At night time, they come nearer the surface.
Swordfish are enormous fish known for their phenomenal strength, commonly reaching lengths of nearly ten feet and weighing anywhere from 200lbs to 500lbs. The largest specimen ever reported measured 14.90ft and weighed 1 400lbs. Females are bigger than males and the Pacific Swordfish are known to be larger than the Atlantic and Mediterranean counterparts. These extraordinary fish have very well-rounded, elongated bodies and will lose all their scales and teeth by the time they reach adulthood.
Popular belief dictates that Swordfish use their bill to spear their prey. This is not true. Instead, their “sword” is used to slash their prey in order to inflict injury and make them easier to catch. Swordfish rely on their amazing agility and speed in the water as an advantage to catch prey. Easily among the fastest fish in all the oceans, they are known to reach astonishing speeds of nearly 60mph. Solitary fish, they can be found in very loose formations on occasion. Swordfish are often seen basking on the surface, airing their dorsal fin. They are also known to jump powerfully (called breaching) in an effort to dislodge pests.
During the summer Swordfish will migrate into colder waters and the Gulf Stream current is a favorite route for them. Their common diet consists of pelagic fish such as barracuda, mackerel, silver hake, herring, rockfish, butterfish, bluefish and lanternfish but they are known for their preference for squid. Small prey is swallowed whole while larger victims are slashed viciously with their sword. A fully grown Swordfish is sometimes preyed on by killer whales and occasionally brave shortfin mako sharks. Juveniles are more vulnerable and are eaten by many predatory fish. Many dead or dying shortfin mako sharks have been found with broken swords embedded in their heads, which proves just how dangerous it is for anyone to prey on the Swordfish. This means that these awesome fish have very few enemies, besides man. Even we need to be very careful in order to survive an encounter with them.
Swordfishing in Florida is extremely popular among recreational fishermen and fishing charters. There are a number of ways to catch them but the most consistent method is deep-drop fishing. In order to offer Swordfish more natural bait, the boat is often left to drift. These fish are gigantic, really, and they require strong tackle and equipment. Getting your bait to their incredible depths requires the use of weights. Here is some information about how to catch an awesome Swordfish in Florida:
Where to find Swordfish
Off the coast of South Florida, the waters are warm and Swordfish bite throughout the year. During fall and winter the really big monsters return from the Caribbean into the Gulf Stream and this is undoubtedly the best time to catch them. This giant of the deep loves seamounts, irregular bottom contours and structure and the current is phenomenally strong at the bottom of the Gulf Stream. It is so strong that it will pull your deep baits ahead of your boat, where Swordfish lie in wait to ambush prey that is pulled past by the force of the current.
Baits for Swordfish
During the day bait needs to be presented at a variety of depths, some as deep as 2 000ft, but at night they can be dropped around 300ft. Anglers attach glow lights or deep waterproof battery operated lights to their bait, or imitation lures with built in lights are used when fishing with lures. Our Swordfish fishing charters in Florida use mainly standard baits such as whole mackerel, herring, mullet or bonito. Squid is the best bait to use but needs to be kept or defrosted in salty brine in order to retain its firmness and prevent it from being easily mutilated or pulled off completely. Live bait can also be used highly effectively.
Techniques for Swordfish
Catching Swordfish is an incredible challenge. This fish possibly requires the most tackle, equipment and expense for any success. These are some tips when dropping baits for them:
- Know where your baits are at all times. This will help prevent them hanging up and getting tangled. The trick to this is to do it slowly. Drop your bait over the side and slowly move away, allowing the line to play out behind you. It is always a great idea to flow with the current in order to achieve this correctly. A three-step drop is advised where you can let out a third of your line at a time, taking up the slack in between. By remaining stretched out behind the boat, the leader will not tangle with the main line. If the rig moves easily through the water, the less chance it will have of tangling itself and is why baits are rigged to swim on tandem in-line hooks. Once you have taken up the slack after the second drop, then you can drop all the way to the bottom. When your lead reaches the bottom you can begin retrieving line as the captain turns the boat 180 degrees and heads into the current (the opposite direction). Continue retrieving line while watching the line’s angle as it leaves the rod tip. Once your line is perpendicular to the water’s surface, drop it again so that it hits the bottom before reeling up a few feet. While the boat is bumping along, you can continue to drop every now and then and find bottom. This method will keep your bait in the strike zone and prevent it from getting stuck in rocks.
- We need to emphasise the absolute importance of your bait being as durable and sturdy as possible. Swordfish will repeatedly attack your bait before eating it and it needs to survive this battering. It also takes a very long time to retrieve your line from the ocean depths to check or replace your bait. You don’t want to do this unless you really have to. This is why we always sew our baits tight. Sewn dolphin bellies, rainbow runners and squid can catch multiple swordfish if sewn properly. A skirt sometimes helps to keep the bait protected.
- Getting your bait down into such extreme depths with a strong current involves weight. Lots of weight. Some anglers make their own custom-made concrete weights and they work well. Ideally, concrete weights need to be rigged in such as way that they will break off when the fish bites. You can use leads and get them back by rigging a 30ft dropper line that clips onto the wind-on near the splice. This can be held in place between two knots of waxed thread and attached to the leader. When you get a strike then you can unclip the dropper line and wind it up separately. Leads are streamlined and drop true, as opposed to concrete weights that may flutter and become tangled with the main line. However, if you drop your baits correctly then this should pose no problem.
- It is important to distinguish real strikes from errant motions. The tip of your rod tells you exactly what is going on so far below you, so watch it very carefully. A slight bob of the tip could be a small Swordfish slashing at your bait, or it could be a massive beast swallowing it whole. Be quick with your reactions because they make all the difference. You also need to pull tight fast in order to prevent your hook snagging the gut or throat, and hook the mouth instead. After you wind down on a suspected bite, you will quickly know if there is a fish on your line or not. This does take practice, which creates perfection.
Swordfish are giants of the deep and their bill is sharp enough to slice right through you. These fish are powerful and do not like being caught. They will hurt you at the first available opportunity and damage your boat extensively. Safety is of paramount importance and we caution you to take no shortcuts and remember it. Never allow a live swordfish onto your boat, ever. Heed this advice and you may live to tell the tale of that magnificent Swordfish that you caught off the coast of Florida.
Call us now to book your Swordfish Fishing Charter in Florida and fight true power.