by Lenny Rudow
If you want to be a real offshore gladiator? Then take on the challenge of catching a swordfish. These beasts are the ultimate challenge for many anglers, and you’ll need to do some serious prep work if you plan to take one.
Light attracts both bait and swordfish. Any light helps, but the best lights are green. Through years of testing a green light on one side of the boat and a blue and/or a white light on the other, about three times as much bait was regularly sighted on the green side. Stick with top-quality brands, like the Hydroglow or the Green Magnet. Yes, these lights are expensive (between $150 and $200) but the cheaper knock-offs you’ll find at big-box fishing stores don’t create nearly as much light, often leak after a few trips, and quickly corrode away after being exposed to ocean waters.
For swords, it needs to be seriously beefy. Tackle can consist of any offshore outfits in the 50-pound class and up, but prime rigs are 50’s spooled with 120 pound braid Topped off with 200 pound mono. You may be able to land a small sword on a 30 but you’ll risk being spooled by medium-sized fish, much less large ones – don’t go light, for this fishery. Hooks should be 10/0 to 13/0 non-offset circle hooks, crimped to 200-pound to 300-pound test leaders. Some people prefer 10’ long leaders; others say long 15’ to 20’ leaders will get you more bites, but note that this means a lot of wiring—a risky stage of the game—when the fish comes close to the boat.
Squid are prime baits, and they need to be rigged with the circle hook coming out at the bottom of the mantle (use a rubber band tied around the line to keep it from coming out the top of the squid,) and the mantle and tentacle sections need to be tied together with floss. Otherwise, a swordfish is likely to slap the bait with its bill and cut it in half, halving the chances of it finding your hook. If you can catch live squid so much the better, and quite often they’ll be easy to catch right next to the boat (they love that green light!) on squid jigs. A single hook through the top of the mantle is the best way to rig ‘em live, but check those baits often because many will get slashed in half. Live fish also make good sword baits, and sometimes tinker mackerel will appear in your night lights to provide you with a fresh supply. Simply bait up a small (#4) hook or use a Sabiki rig, and you’ll usually be able to catch all you want.
Drifting at night for swords requires a few special tweaks to your spread. Your boat will be beam to the seas, so your lines need to be placed along one side of the boat, instead of off the stern. Use release clips tied off to the bowrail or fore and spring cleats, to get lines running forward. Stagger lines by depth, with the deepest running the farthest forward on the boat. The aftermost line should be set without weight, right at the edge of the light-line. As you catch live squid, replace this bait with a livie first and work your way from shallowest lines to deepest lines. (This allows you to replace the dead baits with live as quickly as possible; it takes a lot of time to bring in the deep lines, but surface lines can be swapped out in a few seconds.)
You can find more specific Atlantic coast, bay and ocean hotspots and how-to/where-to fishing information in Rudow’s Guide to Fishing the Mid Atlantic. It features 38 custom-marked charts which detail over 300 hotspots from New York to North Carolina and includes chapters on specific game fish, tackle, tactics, and techniques for coastal bay, inlet, and blue water fishing. Geared Up Publication’s newest book, Offshore Pursuit (by professional mate John Unkart,) a hard-core how-to offshore book, is also now available. Check them by clicking here