• Published:March 13, 2020
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Florida anglers have been daytime fishing for swordfish for years, and the rest of the world is catching on.

But it's a different game in the northern canyons, where different currents, different weather patterns, and different bathymetry all come into play.
Historically, most Mid-Atlantic and Northeast crews have stuck with swordfishing at night, when the fish rise up from the deep to feed on migrating squid that swim up to the surface. Not anymore.

To be a successful sword fisherman, you need the gear. Hand-cranking through a day of swordfishing is virtually impossible, not only because it takes so long to get a line in from the bottom but also because you can’t physically turn a reel handle fast enough to get a good hook-set.

Some anglers use electric reels, and others use traditional reels with an adapter that lets you use a hand drill to spin the crank, at least initially, until a fish is on the line. You also need a bent-butt rod you can fish from a holder, again at least initially until you have a fish on the line. Don’t try to stand there and hold a rod with 10 pounds of lead and 1,500 feet of line out while you wait for a bite, you will regret it.


With the swords swimming around 1,500 or so feet down, the big problem with day-timing is the same as it is down south: getting the bait that far down without becoming tangled. Rigging up a rather massive leader and dropping it in stages while stretching it out is the best solution. Step one is rigging up a 10-pound sash weight to two feet of 100-pound line, crimped to a longline hook and winding a floss loop to your line 150 feet up from the bait (where the longline clip will grab the line; the loop will prevent it from sliding). Oh, and don’t forget to add a strobe or two 20 to 30 feet up the line. Step two is figuring out how and where you’ll drift, so you can set the line in such a way that the bait will go through the target zone.

Current direction in the canyons isn’t as predictable as other daytime swordfishing areas and often varies with depth. Unlike being in or around the Gulf Stream there are gyres and canyon edges that have constantly changing effects. As a result, rather than focus on current direction when letting down the lines, most anglers focus on drift. A standard tactic might be to motor out to a target depth, then shift into neutral while prepping baits and lines to establish a drift pattern. Then go back to the target depth and continue past it a half-mile or so, before setting the line.

Setting the line is a process. The bait gets tossed over the side as the boat idles into the current, as that first 150 feet of line gets paid out. Then clip the weight on and keep the boat idling forward as you let out another 200 feet of line. Engage the drag to stop line from going out and hold it steady for a minute. Then let out another 200 feet. Continue, until you have out 100 feet less line than the depth at the target zone. With all that line strung out behind the boat, pull a 180-degree turn and idle back up alongside the line towards the initial drop-point. When the line is nearly vertical, shift into neutral as you spin the wheel so the boat comes beam-to the sea. Then you can let out the remaining 100 feet until the weight hits bottom.

The currents aren’t just different than they are down south, they’re also substantially weaker. That means that once you get the rig to bottom, it’s much easier than it is when fishing in the Gulf Stream to keep the line vertical and losing bottom is rare.


With the bottom “found,” most anglers will then crank 100 to 150 feet of line back in. You’re now locked and loaded. It then becomes a game of watching the rod tip for a jiggle. Every 10 or 15 minutes, drop to bottom then bring the bait back up.

The moment you see a bite, most sharpies recommend free-spooling and letting the rig drop. If the weight falls a short distance and then stops falling, or if the line goes slack, you know the fish has the bait. At that point, your job is to bring line in as fast as possible to get some tension and set the hook. If there’s extra weight on the line 150 feet later, you have a fight on your hands. If not, drop back down and start the process over again.

Because there’s so much involved with getting a bait down 1,500 feet, the last thing in the world you want to do is have to crank it all the way back up and start over again with a fresh bait. So squid, the common night-time bait, is not the prime choice. Skirted eels, bonito, mackerel or strip-baits than can be battered, bashed, chewed, and chomped on multiple times without ripping or falling apart are a must.