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June 01, 2011

Lone Star Swordfish

Suddenly, it's all about broadbill for Texas offshore enthusiasts — a swordfish pioneer reveals long-veiled secrets

Upbeat on Upwellings
As far as where to fish, Booby Trap generally fishes 75 to 125 miles out: “Anywhere along the 300-fathom curve off the Texas coast is prime swordfish country,” he says. A good suggestion for starters — “the Hilltops,” an area of irregular bottom about 80 miles out of Freeport. Holden suggests finding that spot and others on Hilton Charts (­

More general advice: “Fish the upwellings” around ­structure. “Watch for thermoclines where, for example, it might make a weird jump on the screen from 200 to 170 feet or the like,” Holden says. “Stay where you see the thermocline go up or down.” If it’s at night, look over in the lights— you’ll see all kinds of weird stuff like jellyfish and strange critters — and that’s where we tend to get multiple bites.” And that’s the sort of place to leave out a line or two even (or especially) after a sword is hooked, rather than clear lines quickly as many crews do. “We get a lot of doubles that way,” says Holden.

When it comes to the when of Texas swordfishing, Holden says, “We’ve caught swords every month of the year,” but hastens to point out that the long run makes getting out much of the year iffy and often a spur-of-the-moment ­opportunity. Planning trips — especially multiday adventures (Booby Trap normally stays out two to FIVE days, fishing mostly nonstop) — makes more sense from about mid-May through September (barring tropical-weather systems).

Holden definitely plans his offshore sword trips by the moon. The front side of a waxing moon is always preferable, with the real peak the three days prior to full, according to years’ worth of Booby Trap logs. “Just after the full moon, the fish seem more finicky,” he adds.

Trolling by Moonlight

Booby Trap uses both electric and manual reels for swords. While prospecting deep for broadbill by day, the crew will rely on electrics. “Once we’ve found the fish, we like to go to conventional (manual) reels,” says Holden.

Holden’s definitely a believer in lights. He particularly likes to put over a 12- or 24-volt, 33-inch swordlight (­ in blue or green with a 30-foot cord. “It makes a really big ring of light and attracts all kinds of bait to the boat,” he says. Louisiana fishing writer Will Smith says he had never seen such hordes of squid offshore at night as off Texas, on Booby Trap.

Their team uses light sticks on lines at night liberally — including when slow trolling. “Yes, we have caught swords at night, trolling. It definitely works.” If the sargassum isn’t too bad, they’ll put out a bait on a downrigger, set at 150 to 300 feet, with 200 optimal. “Put the light stick 15 to 20 feet in front of the bait and troll at 2 or 3 knots. It’s a great way to find fish, especially if it’s a slow night, because you can cover a lot of ground.” Holden prefers double-hook rigs for nocturnal trolling.

A few years ago, this feature wouldn’t have been possible because no one really had so much insight into how to catch Texas swordfish. A couple of years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible because the best source of that information had no interest in sharing it. “We were very secretive about our information,” says Holden. “But now, I’m really into watching the sport grow: It’s a blast seeing people getting into it!”

Some evidence to prove that: Last spring, the Booby Trap team conducted a local seminar at Surfside (Texas) Marina on swordfishing (with all proceeds going to Everyday Heroes, a disabled-veterans organization). Event planners figured on 100 interested anglers showing up; in fact, 500 attended the seminar. The presenters’ reputation also had crowd appeal: Booby Trap has been named the top boat for the state four years in a row by the Houston Big Game Fishing Club. Holden, who organized the event, is already planning the second annual for March 2012, and promises it will be both bigger and better. For more information, visit