How To Fish For Swordfish

Swordfish, known scientifically as Xiphias gladius, is a highly prized fish sought after by anglers. It is a large, migratory, and predatory species found in tropical and temperate parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Characterized by its long, flat bill which resembles a sword, this fish uses its bill to slash at its prey, making it a formidable hunter in the ocean. Swordfish can grow to a significant size, with some individuals reaching lengths of up to 14 feet and weighing over 1,200 pounds, though sizes around 200 to 600 pounds are more common.

It is indeed possible to catch swordfish, but success depends on several factors including location, time of year, and fishing methods employed. Experienced anglers often use specialized gear such as heavy-duty rods and reels, and techniques like deep-sea trolling or drift fishing with squid or other baitfish to attract these predators. Fishing for swordfish often takes place at night when they come closer to the surface to feed, making this the optimal time for angling.

Swordfish Fishing Setup

The best fishing setup for targeting swordfish involves a combination of heavy-duty gear and a specific rigging technique designed to handle the size and strength of these magnificent fish. The optimal gear setup includes a high-quality, heavy-action rod in the 50 to 80-pound class, paired with a strong, durable reel capable of holding at least 500 yards of 65 to 80-pound test braided line. This combination provides the necessary strength and endurance to battle a large swordfish, which can engage in long, strenuous fights.

For the best rig, the preferred choice among seasoned anglers is the buoyancy rig, also known as the breakaway weight rig. This setup involves using a heavy lead weight, typically between 8 to 10 pounds, attached to the line with a breakaway system. This allows the weight to detach when a swordfish strikes, preventing the fish from feeling resistance and becoming spooked. Above the weight, a long leader of 150 to 300 feet of 200 to 400-pound test fluorocarbon is used, terminating in a large circle hook, size 8/0 to 11/0, baited with squid or fish strips. This rig is designed to present the bait at the depth where swordfish are feeding, often between 1,500 to 1,800 feet during the day and closer to the surface at night.

Incorporating light sticks or electric lights near the bait can also enhance the rig’s attractiveness by mimicking bioluminescent organisms, a common prey for swordfish. This setup, combined with the right technique and timing, forms the best approach to successfully catch swordfish, providing anglers with the equipment and strategy needed to target these powerful fish effectively.

swordfish fishing

Best Bait For Swordfish

Swordfish have a varied diet, primarily feeding on squid and pelagic fish such as mackerel, barracuda, and smaller tuna, which provides valuable insight into selecting the best bait for catching them. The optimal bait strategy encompasses both natural and artificial offerings to appeal to the swordfish’s predatory instincts.

The best live bait for swordfish includes large, lively specimens of squid or mackerel. Squid is especially effective due to its prominence in the swordfish’s natural diet. When using live bait, it’s crucial to ensure it remains vigorous to attract the swordfish’s attention. This can be achieved by hooking the bait in a manner that allows it to swim naturally, typically through the nose or above the spine, and presenting it at depths where swordfish are known to feed, adjusting for time of day.

For artificial lures, illuminated or glow-in-the-dark squid imitations are among the most effective. These lures mimic the bioluminescent creatures swordfish prey upon, making them particularly appealing during night fishing or in deep water where light penetration is minimal. The lures should be trolled or drifted at varying depths to find the swordfish’s feeding zone, with adjustments made based on whether you’re fishing during the day or at night.

Swordfish Fishing Techniques

Deep Dropping

One of the most effective techniques for catching swordfish is deep dropping. This method involves sending baited hooks deep into the water column, targeting depths where swordfish are most likely to feed, typically between 1,200 to 1,800 feet during the day. The setup requires a heavy-duty electric reel loaded with braided line, a heavy weight to sink the bait to the desired depth, and a long leader attached to a circle hook baited with squid or fish. Deep dropping is particularly effective during daylight hours when swordfish are deeper in search of prey. Anglers use this technique to precisely target swordfish, making adjustments based on depth readings and water temperature to find the optimal fishing zone.

Nighttime Surface Drifting

At night, swordfish come closer to the surface to feed, making nighttime surface drifting an exceptionally productive technique. This method involves drifting with the current, using a setup that consists of a lighter weight, a shorter leader than used in deep dropping, and live or dead bait such as squid or mackerel. The bait is presented at or near the surface, where swordfish are actively hunting. Nighttime surface drifting takes advantage of the swordfish’s nocturnal feeding habits, and it’s often combined with glow sticks or specialized lights attached near the bait to increase visibility and attract fish. This technique is most effective on calm nights when the moon is bright, enhancing the bait’s visibility.


Trolling with artificial lures is another popular technique for targeting swordfish, especially during the transition periods of dawn and dusk. Anglers use large, deep-diving lures or surface lures that mimic the appearance and movement of swordfish prey, such as squid or flying fish. The setup involves trolling these lures behind a moving boat at varying speeds and depths, using outriggers to spread the lures and cover more water. Trolling is effective because it allows anglers to actively search for swordfish across a wide area, making it ideal when fish are scattered or their precise location is unknown. This technique works well when swordfish are feeding near the surface or mid-water, providing a dynamic approach to engaging these predators.

Best Time To Catch Swordfish

Swordfish spawn in warm waters, with their spawning season varying by geographic location. In the Atlantic Ocean, for example, swordfish typically spawn from spring through summer, peaking from April to August. This period is crucial because swordfish are more abundant in certain areas as they gather for spawning, making it a prime time for anglers to target them.

The best time of day to catch swordfish is generally at night. Swordfish feed more actively at night, coming closer to the surface to hunt squid and other prey, making them more accessible to anglers. Night fishing allows for the use of techniques such as surface drifting with live bait or illuminated lures, taking advantage of the swordfish’s predatory instincts and their attraction to light. Additionally, the cooler temperatures and reduced boat traffic at night can also contribute to a more successful fishing experience.

The best time of year to catch swordfish varies by location, but generally, the warmer months are more productive. In many regions, late summer and early fall are considered optimal because water temperatures are ideal for swordfish activity, and their prey is abundant. During these months, swordfish are more likely to be found in shallower waters, especially at night, making them more accessible to recreational anglers. Furthermore, the post-spawn period can be particularly fruitful, as swordfish may feed more aggressively to replenish energy after spawning, increasing the chances of a successful catch.

Where To Find Swordfish

In the United States, the best locations for targeting swordfish include the waters off Florida, Southern California, and the Gulf of Mexico. These areas offer prime conditions for swordfish due to their deep offshore waters, warm currents, and abundant food sources.


Florida is renowned for its exceptional swordfish fishery, particularly off the coast of the Florida Keys and the eastern coast along the Gulf Stream. Here, nighttime drifting is the most effective technique for catching swordfish. Anglers use heavy tackle with light sticks or specialized electronic lights attached near the bait, which is typically squid or bonito strips, to attract swordfish from the depths. Fishing at night takes advantage of the swordfish’s upward migration to feed, increasing the likelihood of a catch.

Southern California

The waters off Southern California, especially around the Channel Islands and along the continental shelf, are another hotspot for swordfish. In this region, deep dropping during the day and surface drifting at night are both productive methods. The use of squid, either live or dead, as bait, along with the strategic deployment of chum to attract swordfish, proves effective. Anglers in Southern California often rely on technology such as fish finders and temperature charts to locate prime swordfish habitat, including areas with temperature breaks and deep underwater structures.

Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico offers a rich swordfish ground, particularly around the deepwater oil rigs and along the continental shelf’s edge. Here, swordfish can be targeted using the deep dropping technique during the day, employing electric reels to handle the heavy weights and long lines necessary to reach the depths where swordfish reside. At night, drifting with live or dead bait near these structures can be particularly effective, as swordfish come closer to the surface to feed. Utilizing lighted buoys or submersible lights can enhance the attractiveness of the bait to swordfish in the Gulf’s dark waters.

Tips To Catch Swordfish For Beginners

  • Start with a heavy-duty rod and reel combo suitable for deep-sea fishing, using a 50-80 pound class rod and a reel capable of holding 500+ yards of 65-80 pound braided line for strength and durability.
  • For the simplest setup, use a weighted line to drop your bait to the desired depth where swordfish are likely to be found, typically around 1,500 feet during the day and closer to the surface at night.
  • Choose squid as your bait for its effectiveness and ease of use. Squid is readily accepted by swordfish, and it’s durable enough to withstand the pressure of deep dropping.
  • Attach a circle hook to your line using a crimped leader of 200-400 pound test fluorocarbon, which is nearly invisible in water and strong enough to handle a large swordfish. The length of the leader should be around 15-20 feet.
  • To set up the hook, thread the squid onto the circle hook, ensuring it’s securely attached. For added attraction, consider attaching a light stick or a battery-powered deep-sea light a few feet above the bait to mimic bioluminescence and attract swordfish.
  • Use a breakaway weight system for your setup, allowing the heavy sinker used to drop your bait to detach upon a strike, reducing the weight the fish feels and increasing your chances of a successful hook set.
  • Practice patience and keep your line tension consistent. Swordfish often hit the bait softly, so a sensitive touch and attention to the rod and line are crucial for detecting bites.
  • Finally, ensure you’re familiar with local regulations regarding swordfish fishing, including size limits and season restrictions, to promote sustainable fishing practices.

Best Swordfish Fishing Gear And Tools

The pursuit of swordfish demands specialized fishing gear designed to handle the size, strength, and depth at which these magnificent fish are found. Each piece of equipment plays a critical role in the angler’s ability to successfully hook, fight, and land a swordfish.

Fishing Rod

The ideal fishing rod for swordfish is a heavy-duty, high-quality rod capable of withstanding the immense pressure exerted by a fighting swordfish. A rod in the 50-80 pound class, around 5.5 to 6.5 feet in length, offers the necessary strength and leverage. It should possess a strong backbone for deep dropping techniques and enough sensitivity to detect bites at great depths. Additionally, the rod must be compatible with the heavy lines and weights used in swordfish fishing, ensuring it can handle the dynamic stresses of deep-sea angling.

Fishing Line

Braided line is the best choice for swordfish due to its superior strength-to-diameter ratio, allowing for heavier test strength without the bulkiness of monofilament lines. A 65-80 pound test braided line is ideal, as it provides the necessary strength to battle large swordfish while maintaining enough sensitivity to feel the bite. The line should be abrasion-resistant and have minimal stretch to ensure direct and immediate hook setting capability at great depths.

Fishing Reel

A high-quality, heavy-duty reel is essential for swordfish fishing. The reel should be capable of holding at least 500 yards of the chosen braided line to accommodate the deep-water habitats of swordfish. Electric reels are popular for their ease of use in deep dropping techniques, allowing for precise depth control and efficient retrieval of heavy rigs. The reel must have a strong, smooth drag system to handle the long, powerful runs of a hooked swordfish, giving the angler the control needed during extended fights.

Fish Finder

A sophisticated fish finder is invaluable for locating swordfish, capable of identifying underwater structures, temperature breaks, and bait schools at great depths. The ideal deep sea fish finder for swordfish fishing should have powerful sonar capabilities to penetrate deep waters, along with a high-resolution display to distinguish between different underwater features and fish signatures. GPS functionality enhances the fish finder’s utility by allowing anglers to mark productive fishing spots and navigate to specific locations with precision.