July is a great month to target swordfish, for two reasons: the ocean is flat so you have a lot of favorable fishing conditions and there’s a lot of dolphin around for the fish to feed on.
I don’t do a lot of nighttime swordfishing these days. It seems like the bite ratio has really dropped off at night for some reason, so I target them mainly during the daytime.
The Continental Shelf runs in about 1,800 feet of water along the east coast of the state, so depending on where you are and where the fish have been caught recently, you’ll want to deploy your baits in anywhere from 1,400 to 1,700 feet of water. It’s always good to get on the phone and call around to see where the people who were out the few days prior to your trip were finding fish, as that gives you a general depth to start in.
In the daytime, we’re using 65 to 80-pound test braided line. Braid is a lot thinner diameter than monofilament, so it creates less drag in the water. When you have bait 1,400 to 1,700 feet down, the thinner the line, the less drag and the easier it is to keep it on the bottom and right below the boat.
To the terminal end of the braid, I’ll attach a 100-foot wind-on leader made of 250-pound fluorocarbon. On the end of the leader you’ll want to have the bait and a LP light or some type of light to attract the fish. About 80 feet above the wind-on leader, you’ll have a loop, and that’s where you will attach the lead. Most days you can get away with 8 to 10 pounds, but some days it can take up to 20 pounds of lead to get to the bottom because of the current.
I generally like to go with a 10/0 “J” style hook. I don’t use circle hooks for swordfish because we catch a lot of them just outside the mouth, so I want a hook that grabs really well. Whatever bait you use, you’ll want to have a trolling skirt in front of it to keep the bait from spinning. And big and bulky aren’t necessarily good, as that increases drag and the potential to spin, so more streamlined and sparse baits are often better.
There’s a lot of options when it comes to baits for swordfish, with squid and dolphin or bonito bellies the most common. A lot of guys don’t like to use squid, because when you get the bite, the fish usually chews up or ruins the bait, but a fish can chew on a sewn-up belly strip for 30 minutes before destroying it. The one thing I do know, is that every swordfish we catch has squid in its belly.
You’re dropping the bait down and drifting with the strong current, which means you usually have to motor directly into the current to keep your line as vertical with the bottom as possible.
One of the biggest mistakes I see with first-time swordfish anglers is that they miss the bite because they expect to see the rod double over. With so much line out, there’s bound to be slack, so more often than not, the bite is just enough to barely jiggle the rod tip. So if you see that tip bounce or move, reel to come tight.
If you see that happen and you’re not getting the bite, wind the bait up about 20 feet to get that swordfish to chase it. A lot of times if you pull the bait away from him, he’ll come pile on it.
If you have high definition chirp transducers you can mark the squid and even the swordfish on the bottom, but you still have to deploy the bait and keep it as vertical as possible to detect the bite. Plenty of 300 to 500-pound swordfish are caught in the Keys in July, but the average swordfish is going to be 40 to 60 pounds.