Florida's Nighttime Swordfishing

Tips for experiencing South Florida's other nightlife.
Steve Dougherty
Although daytime tactics have taken over as the preferred approach for targeting broadbill swordfish along the coast of South Florida, it all started with long, sleepless nights drifting in the Gulf Stream
Swordfishing under the cover of darkness offers a unique challenge, but can be more enjoyable than watching a single rod or dealing with the equipment required for deep-dropping in the daytime. As the sun dips below the horizon, swordfish and forage species rise closer to the surface. If luck is on your side you'll be greeted with calm seas and a spectacular sunset as you reach the swordfish grounds.
Swordfish are impressive predators that can rip line off the spool and give the best anglers a run for their money. While 50- and 80-wide reels are essential, terminal tackle must also be top notch. Don't leave the dock without a variety of crimps, heavy-duty ball bearing swivels, chafe gear, glow beads, rubber bands, copper wire, rigging floss and bridling needles.
Bait is also a critical consideration, with live goggle-eyes, blue runner and tinker mackerel being excellent offerings. However, squid are the main protein source for foraging swordfish, and you should rig an ample supply before heading out. A pitching and rolling deck, in the dark, is no place to be rigging baits. Timing is everything and you need to be able to switch out baits and reset the spread at a moment's notice.
Lights are critical when fishing in the pitch black, and most South Florida crews utilize LP Electralumes and Duralite Diamonds when fishing at night. Swordfsh have giant eyes that are extremely sensitive so don't place your lights too close the bait. While there are many theories as to the exact distance from the bait in relation to the amount of moonlight, 50 feet up is a good start.

Swordfishing is all about targeting the massive seamounts and canyons approximately 20 miles off the coast. Thermoclines and the presence of baitfish point anglers in the right direction. The newest high definition CHIRP sonars make finding the action easier than ever.

Most crews set a spread of four or five lines for total coverage. The first bait is set 100 feet below the surface. A balloon is then attached to the line and set 300 feet from the boat. The second bait is 200 feet below the surface and 200 feet away from the boat. Third bait is 300 feet down and 100 feet away. The last line is called a tip rod because the line comes straight from the tip with a live bait and is fished without a jug or balloon. The bait is repeatedly worked up and down throughout the water column down to 500 or so feet deep. Use this only as a guideline, since the brightness of the moon dictates the ideal depths.
Swordfish are tough apex predators and to come out on top of an epic battle you'll need the appropriate tackle. Stand-up rods and fighting harnesses make drawn-out battles more comfortable

Broadbill swordfish are equipped with unique heat exchanging eyes that enable them to rise through the water column without effect from pressure or temperature changes. They also possess soft mouths requiring relatively light drag settings.

Nighttime swordfishing isn't for the faint of heart, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Drifting and dreaming on a flat-calm night doesn't get much better.

Save time and fuel with the FishTrack app.