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Daytime swordfishing

1/27/2010

George Poveromo, who resides in Parkland, Fla., is a nationally-recognized sportfishing authority who serves as Editor-At Large for Salt Water Sportsman magazine, and the producer and host of his own television series on ESPN2: George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing.

Catching a broadbill swordfish on rod and reel is the ultimate big game accomplishment. Nocturnal by nature, swordfish remain near the lightless ocean floor during the day, but rise in the water column at night to forage on squid and small fishes.

At dark is when most recreational anglers target them, by drifting brightly illuminated terminal rigs and baits between 50- and 300-feet of the surface. Since the outlawing of destructive, commercial long lines off the Florida coast in 2001, the numbers of swordfish here have reestablished a major, world-class sport fishery.

Just when one thought the local evening swordfishing couldn't get any better, several anglers figured out how to catch them during the day, by dropping a bait as deep as 1,900 feet down! And catch them they did. So much so, that another "wave" of swordfishing fever broke out.

This time, however, it is mainly an electric-reel inspired fishery, due to the intense depths and weights required to reach these fish. Rather than seek out the "sport" in daytime swordfishing, many people instead set forth with a "quick buck" philosophy in mind; most of these swordfish are sold commercially, legally and illegally (such as without permits and back-dooring to restaurants).

The sport lives on

Captain Steve "Pumpkin Eater" Huddleston is arguably the very best at catching swordfish off South Florida. He has even assisted scientists in placing satellite tags in these fish, to help learn more about their movements and migrations. Steve likes to promote the "sporting" aspect of daytime swordfishing, so he and I set forth off the Fort Lauderdale Coast to catch them on traditional hand-crank, recreational tackle.

We ran approximately 20 miles offshore, to a series of deep trenches in the ocean floor. On this particular day, we never fished shallower than 1,600 feet, and, a few times, dropped as deep as 1,900 feet. During the day, swordfish congregate in these trenches, much like catfish in muddy depressions within lakes and rivers. The trick is locating the one holding fish.

Help from electronics

By using the Navionics Platinum chart card on my Lowrance HDS10, we were able to pinpoint these locations, activate our plotter trail, and precisely monitor our drifts in relationship to these structures. Furthermore, my second HDS10 unit showed the bottom, as well as any squid concentrations within the water column.

Once the unit showed us coming off the edge and dropping some 100 feet into a trench, we'd lower the bait to the bottom, then reel up 20 or so feet — for precise positioning. And, conversely, once the Lowrance unit showed us coming up on the shelf, we'd readjust the depth of the bait to prevent snagging bottom.

Tackle talk

This is a highly specialized fishery, but it's definitely "doable" without spending a few thousand dollars on an electric reel set-up.

Because of the extreme depths, just one rod is deployed. And because fishing mainly will be between 1,700 and 1,900 feet, the small diameter of braided line is cherished; it will slice through the water with less resistance than a heavy monofilament fishing line, enabling the bait to sink quickly — sometimes with less weight.

I spooled my Penn 80 VSW reel with 65-pound test Sufix Performance Braid. Typically, this reel holds 950 yards of 80-pound test monofilament. With the braided line, I was able to spool up nearly 3,000 yards.

Line capacity is not so much of an issue as is maintaining a large diameter on the reel spool. More line on the reel spool lets you retrieve more line per full revolution of the reel handle, versus a small diameter.

From there, a 100-foot long, 200-pound test monofilament wind-on leader was added, followed by a ball bearing snap swivel. A "loop marker" was tied onto the line, where the wind-on leader joined the braid. Here, we'd affix a long line clip.

At the opposite end of that clip, tied to three feet of 100-pound test monofilament, was a 12-pound sash weight. The objective of the clip is to facilitate the fast removal of the sash weight, when a fish is fought to within 100 feet of the boat (the weight is left on for the fight).

We marked the line at 300 feet, and added another mark at 1,700 feet. The latter revealed when enough line was paid out to fish in the "zones" we desired. We used a Rapala line counter during our initial set, pausing briefly to tie on the marks for future reference.

My 80 International reel was paired with a Penn International V rod, model 5010 AWA 60. I swapped out its straight butt for a short, curved butt; this would angle the rod away from the gunwales and keep the line from rubbing against the side of the boat. It would also enable me to stand-up and use a fighting belt and harness, to take on a swordfish.

Sweet tooth

Our actual leader was about 12 feet of 300-pound test Sufix fluorocarbon, with two light-sticks and a battery-powered light attached to the system. The illumination within the darkness attracts squid, baitfish and swordfish.

We used VMC 8705TI, 11/0 hooks. Because of the great depths, Gulf Stream current and swordfish assaults, bait durability is critical. Strips of bonito and dolphin bellies are excellent, as they remain on the hook(s) through such abuses.

We baited mostly with a bonito strip, and, occasionally, a large squid. A small skirt was slipped over the baits to deflect the current and preserve their integrity. Scent is also crucial in attracting swordfish, so the freshest baits are a must.

The Elec-Tra-Mate assist

As mentioned earlier, this is primarily an electric reel fishery. Yet, Steve Huddleston and I wanted to use traditional hand-crank reels.

However, given the amount of line in the water and 10- to 12-pound weights, it would be labor and time intensive, if not impossible, to manually reel up the rig from 1,800 feet. To save my strength for a swordfish fight, I used an Elec-Tra-Mate assist when it was time to retrieve the bait to make another drift.

This device, which plugs into my boat's power supply, was designed specifically for such deep-dropping endeavors. It utilizes an attachment called a "Reel Crankie" to affix onto the hub of the reel handle. When it's time to bring up the bait, attach the drive to the reel hub and simply hit the "on" switch. All you do is level wind the line onto the reel. It is an alternative to purchasing a complete electric fishing outfit.

Dropping down

When we reached our spot, I aimed my boat due south into the northbound flowing Gulf Stream and throttled up to about four miles per hour, just enough to overtake the current. Steve free-spooled the bait until the 100-foot mark came up, much like letting out a trolling bait.

I then shifted into neutral as Steve clipped on the 12-pound weight and carefully laid it into the water. I resumed my speed, and he continued to pay out line. When the 300-foot mark came up, I increased my speed another couple miles-per-hour.

By now, the sinker and rig was stretched out and sinking, without the threat of the leader fouling in the fishing line.

Once the 1,700 foot mark came up, I shifted into neutral, and then backed down toward the line, while Steve wound it onto the reel. Once the line was straight up and down off our transom, I shifted one motor into forward to hold our position.

Steve freespooled the reel until the weight hit bottom 1,800 feet below. He then immediately took 20 turns on the reel handle, raising the sinker high enough to keep from snagging bottom. At this stage, we stemmed the current, just enough to keep the line straight up and down, and occasionally freespooled to reacquire bottom, to make sure our bait was fishing within 100 feet of it.

The strike

A swordfish strike often appears as a subtle "tap, tap" on the rod tip.

When that happens, let the fish pull the rod tip to the water, and then just wind-on line — if you can! It should be hooked. A hooked sword should swim up through the water column, as did each of the four fish we caught on this outing.

During each encounter, I got into my belt and harness and reclaimed line. The real fighting began when each fish reached the surface.

Toward the end of each fight, I'd reel up the weight and Steve would reach out and quickly remove it (it was placed in a bucket). In short order, Steve would bill a beauty of a swordfish, and release it. We did, however, gaff one, which we brought home to provide a few dinners.

Fort Lauderdale too!

For the type of action Steve Huddleston and I found, one would think they'd have to travel to Venezuela or some other remote fishing destination.

Think again! All this is happening right off Fort Lauderdale. We could see the buildings as we fished for swords that day. And the restaurants, entertainment and beaches within the greater Fort Lauderdale area are known the world-over.

So, after catching a daytime swordfish, the sporting way, you can take the family out for a quality dinner and fun evening.

The Hilton Fort Lauderdale Hotel and Marina sits less than a quarter-mile inside the Port Everglades Inlet. Even better for out-of-town anglers trailering their boats here, it is right across the canal from the 15th Street Public Boat Ramp.

World-class swordfishing right off a vibrant city — it doesn't get any better than this!

Steve Huddleston is available for charters — on his boat, or yours. He can be reached at 954-562-0051, or at CaptPumpkinEater@hotmail.com.

For more on "George Poveromo's World of Saltwater Fishing," visit www.georgepoveromo.com.