The Key To Catching Swordfish

Catching a broadbill swordfish is considered one of the most significant achievements of a big-game angler. A sword is a dogged battler, a spectacular jumper, and it's no secret that the flesh is excellent. But catching a swordfish in a sporting manner is extremely difficult. Swords--which average 100 pounds these days but have reached more than half a ton--are often seen basking on the surface during the day but many times won't bite bait trolled past them. They feed more often after dark, but nighttime fishing is difficult. Also, swords are comfortable down to depths of 2000 feet or more, which means they can be out of reach even in the best swordfish waters. And plenty of anglers have put a hook into a sword only to lose it during a jump or at boatside. So, of course, I had to try to catch one. Here's how I did it by fishing with Richard Stanczyk, owner of Bud N' Mary's Fishing Marina in Islamorada, Florida, earlier this year.Ron Modra
When Stanczyk bought Bud N' Mary's in 1978, he brought with him a healthy obsession with swordfish. The ocean waters off the Florida Keys teem with scores of hard-fighting gamefish-marlin, sailfish, tuna, dolphin, king mackerel-but Stanczyk loved the challenge of swords. Early this decade, Stanczyk and his fishing partner, Vic Gaspeny, set out to find a way to catch swordfish consistently. Six years and a couple hundred thousand dollars later, they succeeded.Field & Stream Online Editors
Stanczyk and Gaspeny perfected a deep-water baitfishing system in which they could hook and catch swordfish consistently during daylight hours-something that had been done with varying degrees of success off Venezuela and elsewhere. The two caught their first swordfish via this setup in January of 2003-and they kept on catching swords, nearly every time they went out. This fence behind Bud N' Mary's-constructed from bills of swordfish they caught--is testament to their success.Field & Stream Online Editors
To hook a big fish, you need a big bait. They prefer using a 3- to 5-pound cero, Spanish mackerel or little tunny, butterflied to give it movement and flutter. The 10/0 or 12/0 hook is rigged externally to increase the chance of a solid hookup. A lightstick tied directly above the bait helps attract the sword.Field & Stream Online Editors
No, it's not a homemade anchor for a johnboat. This is a swordfish sinker. To drop a bait through a quarter mile of water, the sinkers are made from concrete, and weigh 8 to 10 pounds. The system calls for breaking off the environmentally inert concrete sinker once a hook has been set on a sword.Field & Stream Online Editors
You need a lot of line to get down to 1500 feet or more. You have to account for scope, or the angle of the line from boat to bottom, and you need line on the reel for the fish to run off after the hookset. That's why this Penn International 80 has more than a mile of line on it.Field & Stream Online Editors
If you're not a sumo wrestler, you'll have to fight your swordfish from a fighting chair. This is the one mounted on the deck of Stanczyk's 52-foot Catch-22. When getting ready to fight a fish, the butt of the rod goes into the gimbal, and your feet go on the platform. Then you push off the platform while bringing the rod back with you. You gain line on the fish by then leaning forward and quickly reeling in what little slack you've gained. Then you do it again. And again. And again. And if the fish decides to take it all back, you start all over. When fighting a huge fish from a fighting chair you feel the incredible primitive strength of the creature not just in your hands, or your arms, but in your entire body. Your back aches. Your legs get shaky. You sweat and pant and wonder when it's going to be over-but at the same time, you're savoring every moment.Field & Stream Online Editors
This was my swordfish when it first came to the surface. What a thrill to see the beautiful electric-gray flanks of a creature that you've fought from the bottom of the ocean.Field & Stream Online Editors
That's me in the fighting chair watching K.J. Zeher (in blue shirt) and Nick Stanczyk, Richard's son, expertly gaff and haul aboard the 125-pound fish. All billfish are dangerous when on a boat, and Zeher and Stanczyk were careful to keep everyone away from it while it thrashed and thumped on the deck.Field & Stream Online Editors
Here's Richard and me back at the marina, posing with the 325th swordfish caught via Stanczyk and Gaspeny's deepwater baitfishing system. Richard's got his "war paint" on-zinc oxide to protect his face from the sun. I've got a clean shirt on. That's one other thing I learned about this fishing system: bring extra shirts. You are inevitably going to hold up a big fish for photographs, and all that slime really does a number on your clothes.Field & Stream Online Editors
You'd smile too after catching a trophy like this. From left: Zeher, Toth, Nick Stanczyk, and Scott Stanczyk, Nick's uncle and boat captain.Field & Stream Online Editors
Field & Stream Online Editors