• Published:October 2, 2017
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Fall overnighters spent at the Mid-Atlantic canyons are always memorable.

Squid darting through the lights, the sound of whales spouting in the darkness and black skies painted with countless stars set the scene until a swordfish eats one of your baits, and chaos breaks out in the cockpit.
If you want to get in on the fall swordfish night-bite, these 10 tips will help make your overnighter successful.

1. Use a submersible green light: This may sound elemental, but many people think their hull lights are sufficient. They are not. Virtually all hull lights are aimed aft only, many are not green, and they are not designed to maximize fish-attracting potential. A green submersible light attracts far more bait than any other color I have used. It throws a halo of light out 360 degrees out, down, and all around your boat.

2. Add light sticks to your balloons (or whatever type of float you use on your sword lines): This will make it easy to watch the position of each line, and avoid tangles if they drift close together. An un-lighted float is difficult to see, even on a moonlit night.

3. Fish a full moon: Time your trip to coincide with a full or growing moon. Swords bite best during these phases, and a shrinking moon is often the worst phase to fish through. You can find moon phase information on FishTrack's Fishing Charts

4. Use circle hooks: Many people think circle hooks are better than J hooks because circles corner-hook the jaw of the fish, and this is true. But just as important, on a slow night at 3 a.m. it’s easy for the deckhands to lose focus. Late night and early morning bites may go briefly undetected and with a circle hook on your line, there’s a good chance the fish will hook itself by the time the crew flies in to action.

5. Utilize the bow of your boat for spreading lines: Most nighttime swordfish anglers like to chunk for tuna as they wait for a swordfish to arrive, and we certainly encourage this behavior. But if three or four sword lines are set from the cockpit, running chunk lines risks tangles. To prevent this problem, tie release clips to the bow rail and/or cleats as far forward as possible and run your sword lines from them. That will keep the baits away from your chunk lines, no matter how the current and winds act.
"If you set your deepest bait at 300 feet, set the next at 200 and the one after that at 100."
-- Lenny Rudow
6. Jig a spinning rod rigged with squid jigs: Squid will hover 50 to 100 feet below the boat. Once you pull up a live one, slide a single hook through the tip of its mantle and drift it back to the edge of the light-line. No bait beats a live, wiggling squid. When you see lots of squid in the lights and they suddenly dart off or disappear, get the squid rod out of the way and monitor your lines closely. This is often an indication that a predator has shown up and mayhem is about to ensue.

7. Set live squid lines to freespool with the clicker on: Those delicate squid do get ripped off the hook easily and often the only sign is a quick dip of the rod tip. If you see the rod tip jiggle or hear two or three clicks from the reel, check the bait. Even if you don’t notice any action, check this bait every half-hour or so to be sure it hasn’t been cleaned off.

8. Treat every fish like it’s a sword: While swordfish sometimes go berserk, they’re extremely unpredictable and will occasionally allow themselves to be pulled right up to the boat. A fish that feels rather lethargic and like a blue shark may provide quite a surprise when you get it into the lights.

9. Stagger baits by depth: While different swordfish sharpies will argue about which specific depths are best, the most important thing is to cover a wide range. If you set your deepest bait at 300 feet, for example, set the next at 200 and the one after that at 100.

10. Study FishTrack’s SST charts: Start watching water temps several days in advance of your trip, and set up along as abrupt a temperature break as you can find. If you can locate a temp break that intersects with sharp bottom contours in the 250- to 500-fathom range, you’ve found prime fall swordfish territory.

Bonus Tip: Focus your efforts on the edges of your light-line. You’ll see fish swim right through the lights but most of the predators will prowl just out of sight on the dark side. One exception, of course, is when you do see a swordfish (or a tuna) in the lighted water. Always keep a pitch bait (squid, not the usual ballyhoo) rigged and ready for this occasion.