• Published:October 28, 2020
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New Zealand has a well-recorded association with broadbill swordfish. Visiting American angler Zane Grey caught New Zealand's first swordfish on rod and reel in 1926 at the famous Bay of Islands grounds. There were occasional captures by anglers after that -- one or so every other year -- but it was not until the late 1980s when sportfishing for these great game fish really took off.

Asian surface longliners pounded New Zealand waters from the 1960s through to the mid-1980s, taking large numbers of billfish, swordfish and tuna until lobbying by the recreational sector pushed the longliners out of New Zealand waters in 1987. The game fishery rallied magnificently and in conjunction with the introduction of night fishing using light sticks, recreational swordfish captures began to take place on a regular basis.

Crews managed a few surface daytime captures as well, including a 643-pound beast taken on 50-pound tackle by Ian O'Brien in 1998, but most captures were taken while drifting baits at night. The introduction of night trolling with lighted lure/squid combinations on downriggers was popularized in 2001 by Capt. Bruce Smith, after reading an article on the method in an overseas magazine. His first attempt produced a new world record swordfish on 80-pound gear for angler Murray Hansen. The fish weighed 732 pounds. Not bad for a first attempt. It was also around this time that Capt. Geoff Stone first tried daytime deep dropping with baits for swordfish in New Zealand, having read reports of its success in Venezuela. Once he had sorted out a workable technique, results were quick to come. With a regular client, American Gerry Garrett, he beat the two-year-old men's 80-pound line class world record with an 813-pound swordfish in 2003. In 2009 and 2010, Kiwi light-tackle expert Guy Jacobsen brought home the 16-pound and 12-pound swordfish world records with swords of 296 and 207 pounds. There have been a number of junior world records for the species too, confirming New Zealand as a red-hot swordfish destination. Jim Gigger, crewman for Capt. John Gregory, New Zealand's most experienced and successful swordfish captain, hauled in the latest swordfish milestone in 2012 -- a magnificent 891-pound fish. While not all swords are world records, the average size of a Kiwi broadbill is pretty respectable with 300- to 400-pound specimens being fairly common. Some huge fish have been lost and local longline boats have brought in swords weighing 1000 pounds -- trunked with the head, gut and tail removed. If any fishery stands a shot to beat out Lou Marron's 60-year-old all-tackle swordfish world record of 1,182 pounds, caught in Chile, it's New Zealand.
"Anywhere you find a 900- to 1,000-foot canyon, and there are plenty within easy range of the New Zealand coast, is likely to provide action."
With more than a decade of experimentation, and with input from methods used in Florida, daytime deep-drop fishing has taken off in New Zealand. With the discomfort, uncertainty and danger of drifting around in the dark many miles offshore eliminated, more recreational boats, even 18- to 20-foot outboard-powered trailer boats, have been trying for swordfish with considerable success. Anywhere you find a 900- to 1,000-foot canyon, and there are plenty within easy range of the New Zealand coast, is likely to provide action. New Zealand anglers favor standard 80-pound tackle for this work and electric reels are very rarely if ever used. The Kiwis prefer to fish to IGFA regulation and earn their catch the hard way. Crews use 80-pound Dacron for the main line with about 150 yards of 80-pound monon topshot and a wind-on leader of 300- to 400-pound test. While most captains and anglers have their own terminal rig variations, they tend to be a bit simpler than those used in Florida. A standard configuration includes a 16-ounce lead weight rubber-banded to the mainline about 20 feet above the leader connection. A deepwater, battery-powered light is attached to the line near the top of the leader and a single pencil-thick commercial tuna longline hook is usually used as crews feel the thick diameter hook makes them less likely to rip out of the soft-mouthed swords. Whole squid are often used for baits, but whole fish such as skipjack tuna make an acceptable alternative. The hook is mounted a few inches above the bait with a stiff plastic section over the bridle to avoid tangling the bait around the leader on the drop. The main weight, a disposable piece of concrete or steel, is attached to the bend of the hook with a foot or two of 8- to 10-pound test mono. The bait is carefully slipped over the side and dropped to the bottom in 800 to 1,200 feet while the helmsman keeps the line vertical by using the engines to adjust the boat's drift. When the weight hits the bottom it is wound up 20 to 30 feet where a good rip with the rod will break off the main weight. If you can't break the weight free because there's too much slack, it doesn't really matter. The swords seem to do the job just fine when they strike and run. Structures where there are plenty of baitfish, such as bluenose (rudderfish) spawning aggregations or squid seem to offer the best action. The swordfish season in New Zealand runs from February (summer Down Under) through to July, or early winter. As crews continue to refine the daytime drop in New Zealand, catch rates will surely increase.