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October 01, 2013

South Florida Swordfishing Techniques

Specialized tactics for an incredible fishery off Florida’s glamour coast

The exceptional swordfishing off South Florida sometimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle of Miami’s and West Palm Beach’s dazzling lifestyles. But many offshore fishermen are catching on, and they’re quickly realizing the fishery outshines anything happening on the mainland. 

Just miles off the coast are clean blue waters and deep-water humps that attract juvenile and adult swordfish year-round. Even though the swordfish are there, specialized tackle is required to catch them in depths deeper than 1,000 feet. 

Before heading out by yourself, consider chartering one of the many exceptional captains that target this deep-water billfish on a regular basis. I asked top pros Capt. Dean Panos and Capt. Jay Cohen to talk about their techniques and experiences offshore. Ever since long liners were kicked out of the Florida Straits, fishermen continue to report increased catches and larger fish on a regular basis. 

Use the tips below to better prepare for your next trip:

What's your basic rig for nighttime fishing?

Panos: At night, we fish strictly conventional reels. You can go with either 50s or 80s. I use a 2-speed reel and a custom stand up rod with a short bent butt. The reels are loaded with 80-pound monofilament ending with a short double line via a Bimini twist. I then add a 50-foot wind-on leader of 300-pound test. (If fishing strictly IGFA regulations, then the wind-on is cut back to 25 feet.) 

At the end of the wind-on is a crimped ball bearing swivel. At the other end of the swivel, we crimp a bait with a short 5-foot section of 300-pound-test monofilament leader. On the wind-on, toward the top, I floss two loops. One is for the weight (usually 32 ounces). The other is 5 feet away from the lead to attach a light.

How many lines do you use at night?

Panos: I fish 5 or 6 rods at night. My first rod is usually a live bait — either a blue runner, goggle eye, tinker mackerel, or speedo. Those are my baits of choice. The live bait is flossed onto a 9/0 J hook. The floss is through the eye cavity, but not through the eye itself. Floss the bait on tightly so the hook doesn't have room to swing and hook back through the bait.  


I drop the first rod down 300 feet. All my rods have floss loops on the line at 100, 200 and 300 feet. At the 300-foot loop, I attach a buoy. On the stick of the buoy. I add Cyalume sticks so I can see the float. I float this rig out at least 150 yards or more.  

The second rod is a dead squid rigged with a 9/0 hook and that is dropped down 200 feet, float attached, and floated out about 100 yards.  The third bait is a live bait or a dead squid dropped down 100 feet. A float is attached and drifted out about 50 yards.  

Next, I fish a "tip" rod in the stern corner with a squid dropped down 300 or 400 feet. The rod tip aims straight off the back corner. (A tip rod is one that does not have a buoy or jug attached to it. The line goes straight from the tip of the rod into the water.) I fish a second tip rod with a live bait down about 100 feet; this is usually hooked with a live bait and is fished off of the bow.  

Depending on moon, current and other conditions, I may fish a flatline with only a light, live bait and no lead. I usually fish the flatline when there is no moon and the swords are higher in the water column.