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June 14, 2010

Deep Secrets for Swordfish

A group of broadbill pros opens its playbook for daytime success on conventional gear

If football is a game of inches, daytime swordfishing is a game of fathoms ... hundreds of 'em.

That means electric reels and heavy rods. Or at least it used to.

A swordfish revival for anglers has been going gangbusters off Southeast/Gulf states since the 2001 ban of longlining in a wide swath of coastal waters. During much of the past decade, for most anglers, targeting swords has been a nighttime activity. Swordfish made themselves much more available under the veil of night. That's because they follow up what's known as the deep-scattering layer - a planktonic-based biozone that lives in roughly 1,200 to 1,800 feet during daylight hours but takes a literal night shift, rising to near the surface as darkness falls (and descending again at dawn's first light).

Since nocturnal swords can be caught using relatively light stand-up tackle, anglers didn't wax terribly enthusiastic for the hassle of dealing with 15-pound weights with 200-pound braid and electric reels fished a third of a mile below the boat.

But that began changing some years ago when a few skippers tried prospecting for swords during the day. In the vanguard of these deep thinkers, the well-known Stanczyks - captains Richard and Scott (brothers) and Nick (Richard's son) - of Islamorada in the Florida Keys jumped into the game running, along with pioneering swordfish enthusiast Vic Gaspeny. The group soon started making the transition to strictly manual (non-electric) sporting tackle, and they haven't looked back.

Keep It Sporting
Eschewing the use of electric reels hasn't hurt these skippers' success. In fact, their daytime deep-dropping catch rate has been phenomenal, with a record of 54 consecutive trips producing at least one legal swordfish to the boat, though lately it's been a bit more hit-and-miss. "We can make six to eight drops in a day," Richard says, "just as many as with an electric. And we've caught as many as seven swords in a day, using this method."

The Stanczyks have made hundreds and perhaps thousands of drops and lost probably thousands of dollars' worth of tackle while refining tactics to fish for broadbill at depths of 1,200 to 2,000 feet. Initially, the focus was on simply catching fish. Recently, their efforts have focused on making deepwater swording a truly sporting experience as well.

"The advent of superbraid lines really made our current methods possible," says Richard, noting braid's super-thin diameter versus that of monofilament. Before they employed braid, he recalls, "We dropped to bottom with mono and had to use so much weight, we didn't even know that we'd caught a 60-pound sword until we had the heavy rig back up - it was ridiculous."