We tell you exactly how to catch a huge Florida swordfish during the day.
By Joe Suroviec
Word got out quick, as it often does in the digital age: a small group of Florida anglers catching swordfish during the day.
If you read the reports during the summer of ‘07, you may have noticed a few missing details. Like how exactly do you present a bait over a thousand feet beneath the surface—in a 4-knot current, at that? How do you keep that rig from spinning into a fatal tangle? How do you sense a bite?
How do you winch 300 pounds of angry fish into cold storage?
We decided to find out the real story.
Two fishermen currently enjoying high degrees of daylight success are Capt. Bob Taute and mate Mike Rodamer of the Cutting Edge in Marathon. Taute and Rodamer (also a licensed captain) fully understand what it takes to land a sword in the daytime. They’ve fished together almost 30 years. When I received an invitation to join them on their 72-foot Rybovich, I was out the door without shoes. These guys have a bank full of catches, but until recently most were made in the dark.
“There was talk the only way to catch them was to do it at night when thefish were closer to the surface feeding,” said Taute, smiling. “That’s not true any longer.”
Taute and Rodamer have taken swords to 400 pounds in the daytime and have had larger ones on, plus multiple hookups on most trips. Here is what I observed as a guest aboard the Cutting Edge.
The tackle they prefer is the Penn International 80 SWT with approximately 300 yards of 80-pound-test monofilament and a top shot of 1,500 yards of 150-pound-test Power Pro in high-vis yellow. Bimini twists are tied in the 80-pound mono backing and in the Power Pro to form double lines for a cat’s paw connection, which is finished with tight wraps of rigging floss. The cat’s paw is formed by passing the spool of Power Pro through its Bimini twisted loop. It’s a cool trick.
The reel is attached to a bent-butt roller guide rod rated for 80-pound-class line.
The top shot of braid allows an angler to pack on an additional several hundred yards of line, as it has the diameter of much lighter monofilament. This helps in several ways: First, that extra line is handy because productive depths for daytime swording are usually much deeper than at night. Lacking stretch, the braid also allows an angler to feel the bite better.
Taute prefers to fish at or near the bottom when day swording. He says that many times when they are cleaning a fish, they inspect the stomach contents and find all types of deepwater bottom dwellers in the stomach. Eels and deepwater hake, as well as squid, have all been pulled from swords at the fillet table. Taute and Rodamer believe that swordfish in the Straits of Florida are predominantly bottom feeders and only rise toward the surface at night. They prefer to stay at or near the bottom using their large eyes and sweeping their bills back and forth while they forage. Taute says that many times their bills are chipped, apparently from contact with structure while feeding.
Taute prefers to use only one rod per drift for several very good reasons. When there are multiple lines, he explained, there are usually multiple tangles which lead to multiple cutoffs. “That Power Pro under a load can easily cut anything it comes in contact with,” he said. He also prefers to have the angler fight these fish from the chair where the fish is easily controlled, instead of standup style or leaving the rod in the gunnel. These are extremely powerful fish capable of pulling any angler overboard, especially in tossed seas.
Another good reason for the single line is the extreme depths to which baits are sent. Even if there were a hookup on one rod, Taute reasons, it still means there are several minutes of another line down there that could result in a tangle.
The fish we landed the day I rode on Cutting Edge solidified Taute’s explanations. His daughter Jenny learned first hand what sort of fight a swordfish was capable of, and if we’d had a few lines in I feel sure they would have been tangled once her fish started its antics some 150 stories below. Taute also told me that when his angler is in the chair, it makes it easier to see what is going on as he uses the boat to help the angler retrieve line by backing down and also helps the hookup by gunning it forward on the strike while the mate or the angler reels like mad.
The bait that the crew prefers is a large rigged squid attached to an 18/0 circle hook. This circle hook really helps when they catch a sword that is not of legal length, as invariably they are hooked in the corner of the mouth and can be easily returned unharmed. The hook also keeps the fish from being gut-hooked. Taute says circles should be used at every opportunity, as the swordfish’s ability to survive after a release largely hinges on not having a hook lodged in the throat, or trailing a long leader.
The baits are custom-rigged and frozen fresh and can easily be used again and again, providing the rigs are checked for chafing and nicks from previous fights. Although swordfish are taken on a variety of live baits and cut baits, Taute and Rodamer prefer the squid. The fish we took that day had several pounds of perfectly preserved squids that they saved at the dock to use in future rigging sessions.
The rig that they use for daytime swording consists of a 15-foot section of 250-pound-test monofilament with a crimped loop at one end and a crimped 18/0 circle hook at the other, with two small sections of 12-pound-test mono tied to the hook (we will get into that later). The main line has a short Bimini tied into it, followed by a heavy ball-bearing snap swivel. Crimped to the leader 5 feet above the hook is a single strobe light, and 6 feet below the top loop is a crimp where two 16-ounce slip sinkers are copper-wired into place. These weights keep the bait drifting deep once the original “concrete sled” is used to get the bait to the bottom and usually fall off in an extended fight.
Now, using only two pounds of lead to drop into 1,500 feet would be an exercise in futility. That is why they use custom-made “sleds.” The sleds are made by filling a 24-inch section of 4-inch PVC pipe with Quik Crete and then a heavy wire loop is placed in the middle and the concrete is allowed to dry. Remember the two sections of 12-pound test attached to the circle hook we mentioned earlier? That’s for attaching the sled. Once the sled hits bottom, the line is retrieved until the tip of the rod bends, and then quick, snappy reeling breaks the 12-pound below. Topside, a Clorox bottle-type white jug is rubber-banded into place on the main line and the rig is run through a light ‘rigger clip some 80 feet behind the boat. You are now daytime swordfishing.
Bob Taute sat at the helm and studied the GPS and the depthfinder/plotter and adjusted each 1-mile drift until the fourth drift when I noticed the jug bobble a few times and then disappear like a giant crappie hit. Mike Rodamer immediately started winding in a controlled/out-of-controlled manner and soon the line came tight. Real tight! I asked him if he was snagged on the bottom and he looked at me and said, “There is a swordfish on 150 stories down and this is no snag!”
Mike transferred the rod from the gunnel into the chair where Jenny waited with sleeves rolled up. Her first 15 minutes in the chair were spent pulling up and winding down on her unseen opponent and she soon broke a mean sweat. The rodtip eased up some then went slack. After several minutes of winding showed no load on the rod, Mike took the rod and eased it into the gunnel rodholder to begin the long wind topside. He explained that many times when hooked, swords will head for the surface to greyhound or jump or to just relieve the pressure of the line. This was one of those times. Or was it? I noticed the line rising at a shallow angle and questioned if there was a fish on it. Mike looked back and me and smiled through a small squint and said, “He is still on.”
Back to the chair and our waiting, sweat-soaked lady angler. Two hours and 29 minutes later, Jenny had her first swordfish lying alongside the boat. During that time she was working the fish in, the rest of our crew had tried to ease the effects of the 95-degree heat. Wet towels, ice rubs and plenty of liquids are vital for any fight that lasts that long in the heat. Daylight swordfishing has its advantages, but heat is not one of them. Hour-long fights are the norm for even the smallest of swords, and long, grueling battles are well-documented. Swords are uniquely capable of making blistering runs throughout the water column, from bottom to top, apparently with no ill effects on them. That alone almost guarantees the typical battle will be an extended one as the fish seem to be unaffected by sudden pressure changes.
As Jenny was fighting her fish midway through, she looked at me from under a wet towel and said, “There is nothing pretty about fighting these fish.”
Mike Rodamer’s demeanor and skills were a big part of Jenny landing that sword. He slowly but surely convinced Jenny that her fish was only minutes away. Eventually with his encouragement, Jenny accomplished her goal.
Our trip ended up with a 275-pounder safely secured on the deck. Taute insists on being sure every swordfish they decide to keep has expired before it is brought onboard. Several large, deep gashes in the cockpit teak were evidence of a previous specimen that had been boated prematurely. After a gill shot with a harpoon, we tail-roped our fish and spent about 15 minutes dragging it backwards to be sure the fish had gone on to that great feeding zone in the sky.
What a rush, all in broadbill daylight, right here in Florida.