Photos by Steve Dougherty
Since 2016 has turned out to be one of my best years ever for broadbill swordfish, I want to tell you a little more about them.
First of all, we are fortunate to live in the Florida Keys. They are one of the most consistent and best places in the entire world to target swordfish; people from all over the world travel here to fish for them. Swordfish get their name from their bill, which resembles a sword, and they are the sole member of the family Xiphiidae. Xiphias came from the Greek word for sword and, in Latin, Gladius was the common sword ancient Roman foot soldiers used.
I remember as a kid hearing a story from an old-time fisherman about the soldiers marching into the water with their swords above their heads. These soldiers were gladiators on land, turned into gladiators of the sea. Who knows if the story is true but one thing I can assure you of, is that swordfish are one of the toughest fighting fish in the entire ocean! Anyone who has caught a big one would probably agree that the only thing that gives a broadbill swordfish a run for its money is a giant tuna. No other fish can eat a bait 1800 feet down, race to the surface, jump out of the water, and then go up and down in the water column with ease for hours before giving up.
Landing a big swordfish is difficult because the fights can be drawn out and the longer you fight the fish, the bigger the hole from the hook gets. They are also funny feeding fish, so foul hooking them is commonplace. We typically have 2,000–3,000 feet of line out trying to hook the fish, so seeing the bite, and trying to figure out what’s going on at the end of the line, is very difficult.
When we day drop, some of the spots we hit are very small, and, with a 3 knot drift and 3000’ of line out, it takes some practice just to get the bait down where you want it. The baits also have to be streamlined to pull straight, and stitched up to take a beating! Most of the fish hit the bait multiple times before trying to eat it--sometimes for ten minutes!
The subtleties are the difference in catching swordfish consistently, or not. One commercial fisherman told me that if you compared it to racing, everyone already knows the ten-second advantages, but it’s the tenth-second advantages that make the difference.
I recently caught a blue marlin here, and sure it was fun and exciting, but pulling around a couple plastic lures at 8 knots doesn’t come close to the amount of skill and effort needed to be successful when fishing for the “Gladiator of the Deep”!Yes, a swordfish will eat pretty much any type of bait you put down, and, for that reason, some people call them sharks with bills; but, when you ask them how successful they’ve been on their swordfish trips, you’ll laugh in most of their faces when you hear their answers.
Back in the day, fishing legends like Zane Grey traveled the world fishing for swordfish, and, some years, he’d be lucky to catch a handful all year long! I know staring at a rod tip all day long waiting for a bite isn’t for everyone, but what keeps me doing it, is that you don’t know if it’s going to be a 40 pounder or a 400 pounder when you get the bite!If you don’t have the patience for the “Gladiator of the Deep”, you could always fish the reef for yellowtails and porgies. As for me, I’ll keep deep dropping for swords, as I’ve been on the hunt for a 500 pounder the past ten years. I’ve had her on a few times, but that’s what keeps me going back out…
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