By Ric Burnley
Somewhere in Southeast Asia, who knows how long ago, an angler in a canoe dangled a bait from a kite and kite fishing was invented. Centuries later, an angler in Japan installed a 30-foot-tall pole in his boat to suspend lures for tuna. The pole was painted green. Across the world, probably Latin or Central America, a captain ordered his crew to deploy 36 teasers on a metal frame to attract marlin.
Each of these discoveries proved to be so effective, word spread around the world. Today, kites, greensticks and dredges are used everywhere their target species swim. As the tactic spread, anglers have refined and improved the tackle and techniques.
More recently, an angler in South Florida dropped a bait 1500-feet and pulled up a swordfish. Word spread, and within a decade, anglers all over the world are copying their success and adapting it to their local conditions.
Captain Nick Stanczyk, Broad Minded
Modern deep drop, daytime swordfishing is attributed to the Stanczyk team fishing out of Bud and Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida. Captain Nick Stanczyk inherited the techniques from his father and uncle. “They caught the first swordfish in 2003, I didn’t see my first one till 2006.”
Since then, Stanczyk has focused on swordfishing developing methods that have traveled around the world. He explains his addiction, “Swordfish have a mystique, they’re elusive.” He also says daytime fishing provides reliable action.
Stanczyk finds the fish in 1400- to 1800-feet of water along the steep canyons and large flats of the continental shelf. “The most important factor is bait,” he says. He looks for marks on his depth finder indicating life below the boat.
The standard rig for daytime swords starts with a heavy-duty, 50- to 80-pound rod and reel combo packed with 65-pound braided line. Stanczyk uses a 150-foot-long, 200-pound-test wind-on leader with a six-foot section of 300-pound test monofilament connected to a 9/0 to 11/0 J-hook. The eight- to 12-pound weight is attached to the leader with a floss loop a few feet from the mainline.
“I hate squid,” Stanczyk says. Instead, he prefers strip baits such as dolphin belly or bonita strips. He usually fishes two lines. A shallow bait dangles 900 feet from a buoy stationed 200 feet from the boat. This basic set-up, and its success on swordfish, have spread around the world. As word spread, crews adapted the techniques to their home waters.
Captain Jeff Wilson, Titan Up
Five years ago, Captain Jeff Wilson learned to daytime swordfish in Ft. Lauderdale. When he moved to Galveston, Texas, he took the lessons with him. “We couldn’t fish like we did in Fort Lauderdale,” he remembers.
The Gulf Coast canyons, holes and crevices mimic the structure found off south Florida but the current doesn’t move as fast. Wilson admits, “We ended up with a tangled mess.” To match conditions in the Gulf, he developed a “C” pattern for running the boat while dropping the bait, driving in an eighth-mile half-circle while dropping the rig.
They designed a unique rig, too. “We developed a direct-drop method,” Wilson explains. He starts with 80-pound braided mainline, they’ve cut the 250-pound wind-on leader to 65 feet to a six-foot leader of 300-pound test.
Unlike Nick Stanczyk, Captain Wilson loves squid. For the best results, he stitches the squid to the Pakula 40 DHX hook. “The hook has a longer barb and a beak point,” he explains. Using 70-pound floss, he stitches the squid’s mantle to the head and uses a copper tube to keep the body from scrunching up on the hook. “It looks like Frankenstein,” he laughs, then insists he’s caught as many as three swords on one squid.
In another departure, Wilson clips a seven-pound sash weight directly to the hook with utility wire. “Drop it to the bottom and bring it up quickly to knock the weight off,” Wilson says. A smaller, cannonball weight, attached to the wind-on a few feet from the mainline connection, keeps the rig from spinning and tangling.
Wilson looks for bait and fish marks in 1300- to 1800-feet of water. “1500 feet is optimal,” he says. Then, Wilson admits, “We had two spots that produced half of our fish.” He prefers to fish a week leading up to the full moon. “The bite seems to drop off for five days following the full moon,” he adds.
Wilson also fishes two lines, with one bait 1000- to 1200-feet below a buoy and the other a few hundred feet from the bottom. “If I mark a DSL on the fishfinder, I’ll drop the buoy to that depth,” he adds, describing the deep scattering layer, a layer of small creatures that congregates between 1000- and 1500-feet deep.
He’s learned valuable lessons about hooking and fighting a swordfish. When Wilson gets a bite, he comes tight on the line then drives the boat ahead to drive the hook home. “If the fish is going to come off, I want it to come off right away,” he explains.
Adapting the South Florida technique to Gulf Coast, Wilson has scored more than 500 swordfish in five years. “We used to get a lot of bites,” he says. Recently, he’s noticed more anglers targeting day time swords and adds. “Now we have to work for it,” he says.
Captain Michael Maddox, SoCal Deep Drop
From South Florida to the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, swordfishing is spreading like wildfire. Most recently, the fishery has flared up off of the coast of Southern California. Los Angeles angler, Mike Maddox has been commercial fishing for swordfish for the past couple years. But recently, “there has been a big pick up in recreational fishing,” he says.
According to Maddox, recreational swordfishing has picked up in the past few months around Anacapa, Catalina and Channel Islands. “For two weeks people have been catching them a few miles off Newport Beach,” he says.
We’re fishing in 1200- to 1400-feet of water. He fishes one rod a couple hundred feet off the bottom and a buoy rod at 900-feet. “I look for bait and thermocline on the meter,” he says, adding there isn’t much current so anglers just drop and fish.
The uptick in swordfish mania has inspired Maddox to sell rigged squid. “I took what I’ve learned commercial fishing and turned it to prepping baits for recreational anglers.” He starts with an 18- to 24-inch squid and runs an 18/0 Mustad circle hook in through the tip of the mantle and out below the fins. To keep the bait in place, he simply zip ties it to the hook. “I can use the same bait for two or three days,” he says.
He attaches the bait to a six-foot section of 400-pound leader connected with a swivel to the 300-pound wind on leader running to 100-pound braided line. His ideal rod and reel combo
would be a bent-butt 80. “The fishery is so new people are catching swords with whatever rods they have,” he marvels.
Maddox has developed his own technique for hooking swordfish in deep water. “When I see the rod tip bounce, I tell people to open a beer,” he laughs. Maddox will wait for several minutes watching the rod tip bounce while the swordfish eats the bait.
When the line starts to plane out behind the boat, he knows the fish is hooked. He keeps the drag light and runs the boat forward to bring the fish to the surface. When the weight comes to the boat, he leaves it on the line while leadering the fish. “If the fish takes another run, I let it take the weight to wear it down.” Maddox continues to let the fish fight itself out. “Don’t put a lot of pressure on it,” he stresses.
Maddox is amazed how fast daytime swordfishing has picked up in Southern California. “People are just discovering the possibilities,” he says. As anglers explore the canyons and cliffs, they are finding new places and new ways to catch swordfish.
Captain Randy Butler, Rebel
Virginia Beach, Virginia
While daytime swordfishing is sweeping the world, it all started at night. To prove the point, last summer Virginia Beach charter captain Randy Butler and crew on Rebel set a new Virginia State Record with a 466-pound swordfish caught after dark.
Butler says the night-time challenge is greater. “During the day the swordfish seem to be concentrated on the bottom, at night they spread out in the water column.” To cover his bets, Butler fishes baits under floats at 20 and 60 fathoms and off the rod tip at 10 fathoms placing the deepest bait farthest from the boat.
He fishes the baits on a 10/0 to 11/0 hook crimped directly to the 200-foot, 200-pound wind-on. For bait, he likes what he finds locally. Butler often catches bullet tuna, tinker mackerel and squid in the lights under his boat. “I like tinker mackerel, best,” he admits.
In fact, Butler’s state record was caught on a tinker mackerel fished at 20 fathoms. Butler’s secret: he rigs the bait so the tail is up. “Swordfish swallow the bait head first, so I get a better hook-up ratio” he says.
He attaches a strobe five fathoms above the bait and fishes lights under the boat.
Butler focuses his fishing from 200 to 60 fathoms. “I’ve caught swords as shallow as 40 fathoms.” He likes a north to south drift to carry him along the edge of the continental shelf. When he discovers a productive depth, he’ll focus his drift on that area.
Where ever anglers target swordfish, they adapt these techniques and baits to the water and fish in their area. Whether anglers have spent decades targeting swordfish or months, they admit they have much to learn and more fish to catch.
Want to Catch A Sword – Call the Pros
To learn more about swordfishing, book a trip with these crews:
Rebel; Captain Randy Butler
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Qualifier; Captain Fin Gaddy
Oregon Inlet, North Carolina
Bud and Mary’s Marina; Captain Nick Stanzyk
Rigged Baits; Mike Maddox
Fishing, Fun and Family in the Florida Keys
Capt. Ben Sharpe and Gypsea capture the 6th Annual Viking Key West Challenge.
(Key West, Florida, February 13, 2019)—Forty Vikings from 42 to 82 feet and a record 475 participants descended upon the southernmost city in the United States last week for the 6th Annual Viking Key West Challenge. Ben Sharpe was the winning captain for the fourth time, leading the Viking 56 Gypsea to victory in a closely contested – but fun-focused – competition.
“The Key West Challenge has been a success every year, but this time around the energy level, excitement and fishing was at an all-time high,” said Viking President and CEO Pat Healey. “This is an event exclusively for Viking owners, family and friends. It gives us the opportunity to thank them for being part of the Viking family.”
After a captain’s meeting at Dante’s Tiki Bar that featured delicious food, fun prizes and lots of camaraderie, the teams headed off the following morning for a glorious day on the water. A total of 45 sailfish were released and one swordfish was caught on day one. Gypsea topped the Day One leaderboard with five sails released (500 points), followed by the Viking 80 Mr. Grinch with four sails (400 points). The Viking 62 Tami Ann also released four sails and took third on time. The teams steamed back to the scales at Conch Harbor Marina to weigh their catches and pose for pictures. The Viking 44 Miss Peggy Sue II and captain/owner David Heeter stole the show with a 108-pound swordfish, which was donated for lunch the next day!
More Than Just Fishing
A pool party and lunch, a kids dock tournament and a poker run (i.e. bar crawl) highlighted a relaxed but festive lay day. In the kids tournament, which was sponsored by The Billfish Foundation, Colin Dicembrino took first place, with sisters Ella and Mia Wilson placing second and third, respectively. “This is what it’s all about – passing on the passion for fishing to the next generation,” TBF President Ellen Peel said. “Great job kids!”
The fishing turned white hot on the final day, with 87 sails released. The Viking 48 Fish Wish released eight sails and caught an 8.3-pound dolphin for 808.3 points. Last year’s champ, the Viking 55 Ragin Cajun, was right on their heels with seven sails and a 21.4-pound tuna (721.4 points).
Gypsea had a solid day two as well, with five sails. But it was their dolphin that turned out to be the difference-maker. With an overall point total of 1,004.6, Gypsea edged second-place finisher Mr. Grinch (1,000 overall points) to take the 2019 Viking Key West Challenge crown. Ragin Cajun landed third place overall with 933.8 points. Natalie Rarick on the Viking 82 Bandit took both Top Angler and Top Female Angler awards with eight sailfish and a total of 892.2 points. All results are listed below.
The four-day event wrapped up with an outdoor evening dinner and awards ceremony at the Margaritaville Resort that began with a beautiful Key West sunset. “You can’t beat this,” said Pat. “We truly do appreciate your participation in making this a very special Viking event.”
Next year, the 7th Annual Key West Challenge will be held April 15-18, 2020. Book your slip today!
(George Town, Cayman Islands ) The Cayman Islands’ latest entrant into international fishing tournaments, Cayman Billfish Rundown, will take place May 14 – 17 2019, hosted by Hurley’s Media, Dart and The Residences at Seafire.
This inaugural multi-day fishing tournament will have one of the largest guaranteed prizes of the region’s competitive fishing circuit with a guarantee of USD$270,000 in prizes. In addition to the large cash prizes, Cayman Billfish Rundown will take place during the islands’ Carnival Season featuring the colorful CayMAS Parade. Tournament headquarters and weigh station will be at Camana Bay, one of Grand Cayman’s most prestigious addresses. The festivities will start around 4pm each day with the return of the boats to the harbor at Camana Bay.
Potential prize winnings are over USD$520,000 which includes the USD$250,000 insured for breaking the local Cayman Islands blue marlin record of 584lbs. The tournament also offers 21 added entry categories, to include billfish, yellowfin tuna, wahoo and dolphin, making the jackpot one of the largest in the Caribbean.
Unique to this event is the USD$10,000 Award to the Captain of the boat with the most billfish release points.
Randy Merren, Managing Director of Hurley’s Media, said this tournament has been over a year in the making and pleased to see the event taking shape. “Cayman Billfish Rundown is a sportfishing tournament to attract both overseas and local participants and will re-introduce big game international tournament fishing to the Cayman waters,” Mr Merren said. “Cayman is known for its beautiful weather, cuisine, diving and amazing beaches and is convenienctly located a direct route from the Panama Canal, US, and around the Caribbean.”
“Cayman is a very attractive destination and we view this as an opportunity to attract visitors who spend their time off shore on fishing trips and may not have had Cayman on their radar. We have scheduled this tournament at a time of year when the fishing is plentiful, when there is a break with other tournaments and to coincide with CayMAS carnival which takes place the day after the awards ceremony, we want to showcase all Cayman has to offer.”
“The 2019 Cayman Billfish Rundown is the perfect reason for avid international sportsfishermen to plan a trip to the Cayman Islands. Dart and The Residences at Seafire are pleased to join Hurley’s Media as presenting sponsors of this premier Caribbean event and welcoming both visiting and local anglers to Camana Bay,” said Pilar Bush, Executive Vice President Marketing at Dart Enterprises.
Cayman Billfish Rundown has also teamed up with world renowned marine artist and angler, Carey Chen, to provide his expertise and ensure this event is executed to a high standard.
“Cayman has some of the best fishing in one of the most beautiful and successful islands in the Caribbean. I am honored to be part of this tournament and am looking forward to this being an unforgettable event,” Mr Chen said.
“I fish tournaments throughout the US, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America and always enjoy the fishing in Cayman as well as the hospitality given while visiting. I’m excited for the opportunity to work with Mr Merren on the event and encourage boats to sign up.”
“Whether traveling with family or a group of friends, Cayman offers our visitors a wide range of accommodations choices from award winning hotels to luxury rentals allowing our visitors to relax and beyond the great fishing, enjoy world famous culinary offerings, indulgent spas, a host of attractions, amenities, watersports and carefully curated shopping experiences from artisans markets to luxury boutiques”, Bush said.
Registration for the Cayman Billfish Rundown is now open. Early registration before March 1 2019 is USD $2,500 and after March 1 is USD $3,000. For more information about this event, visit www.caymanbillfishrundown.com.
Eligible species for the tournament includes Billfish (Blue, Sail, White and Swordfish), Tuna, Dolphin and Wahoo.
Cayman Billfish Rundown has designated the Alex Panton Foundation as the beneficiary charity of the tournament. Their mission is to improve the mental health of children and young adults in the Cayman Islands through advocacy, awareness and support while raising awareness of mental illnesses with a particular focus on anxiety and depression. Participants will have the option during registration to donate a percentage of their winnings to the foundation. www.alexpantonfoundation.ky
DECEMBER 13, 2018 FISHING WIRE –
Beginning January 1, 2019, all Atlantic highly migratory species tournaments will be required to submit catch summaries.
An Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) tournament is a tournament that awards points or prizes for catching Atlantic highly migratory species (i.e., swordfish, billfish, sharks and/or tunas). All Atlantic highly migratory species tournament operators will be required to submit an HMS tournament catch summary report within seven days after tournament fishing has ended. Most of the catch data in the summary report are routinely collected in the course of regular tournament operations. NOAA Fisheries uses the data to estimate the total annual catch of highly migratory species and the impact of tournament operations in relation to other types of fishing activities.
Existing regulations require operators of Atlantic highly migratory species tournaments to register four weeks in advance of the tournament. Operators must provide contact information and the tournament’s date(s), location(s), and target species. Tournament registration can be done through the Atlantic Tournament Registration and Reporting system.
Tournament operators can also request educational and regulatory outreach materials from NOAA Fisheries at the time of registration.
InTheBite Archives – Oct/Nov 2016 Issue Vol 15, Ed 7.
by Ric Burnley
“For the most part, the playing field is pretty even,” states pro skipper Captain Andy Kubiak, “the one difference is bait.” Dock talk and the internet spread new techniques and tackle like wildfire; secrets don’t stay secrets for long. Today’s professional crews are seasoned, synchronized and sober. So, victory or defeat are determined by the details. “Having the best bait can be difference between winning and losing,” Kubiak insists.
On the Tournament Trail
Captain Andy Kubiak is one of the original bait snobs; “We fished a lot of rigged mullet back in the seventies,” he recalls. At the time, mullet were prepared by removing the backbone and splitting the tail. “Those baits were good for hooked rigs because they were mostly skin without a lot of meat,” he explains.
When dredges hit the scene, Kubiak didn’t like the split tail mullet he was using. “I wanted something that would move better, so I started cutting my own bait.” To insure he was using the best bait available, he manages every step from the time the bait is pulled from the water until it goes into his spread. “Either I catch the bait myself or I rely on a trusted source,” he says. The bait is handled gently and immediately placed into a brine to preserve color and texture. Kubiak looks for bright colors and strong contrasts. “Mullet should have a dark black tail,” he insists, “and ballyhoo should keep the bright yellow tail.” He looks for all the scales in place and clear eyes. “There shouldn’t be a lot of blood or poop in the bag,” he adds.
When it comes time to thaw the bait, he keeps it in the package that he places in a bucket of saltwater. “Never let the bait touch freshwater,” he stresses. Fresh water will suck any salt out of the bait and leave it mushy and dull. Once the bait is thawed, Kubiak places special attention on how it is rigged. “Be sure that the mullet heads are tied up tight with the mouth shut and the bait secured to the rig.” Properly rigged, a mullet should last all day on a dredge. Crews are rigging 200 to 300 mullet and as many ballyhoo for a weekend tournament. “The true test is when I see a half-dozen billfish on my dredge,” he says.
Captain Kevin Paul has been a bait snob since birth; he grew up in a high-end seafood market and came to age on a South Florida charter boat. “I knew what it takes to produce the best-quality seafood,” he recalls, “and I expected the same out of my bait.”
Paul controls all stages of the bait process. “Everything matters,” he insists. That includes where the bait is caught. “I demand our mullet come from sandy bottom not muddy bottom,” he points out. He even tracks what time the fish are eating and how long they eat. “Sometimes they eat all day, sometimes they don’t start to feed until 10 am.” This year, he has personally caught all of the Spanish mackerel that he sells. “I’m real proud of my mackerel,” he says, “you’re not going to find better baits.”
Time of year and water conditions also affect the quality of the bait. He adds, “If it is the mating season and the fish are full of roe that can affect how they perform.” For ballyhoo, he looks at how the fish are caught and handled on the boat. “How are the fish dumped and brined on the boat?” he asks.
While he wouldn’t divulge all of his secrets, Paul did let go his brine recipe. He starts with a 150-quart cooler filled with water and adds 80 pounds of Kosher salt and 10 to 15 pounds of baking soda. “The baking soda preserves the color and locks in the scales,” he explains.
Water temperature also affects the bait quality. “Winter baits are great because the fish don’t eat as much in winter,” he admits, “but a really cold winter and the fish will suffer malnutrition.” This results in skinny baits that don’t swim as well. When it comes to ballyhoo and mackerel, he avoids fish that are eating and spawning. “Those fish are pretty much junk,” he laughs.
From the boat, the bait is packaged, vacuum sealed and flash frozen. Paul distributes the baits to specialty suppliers and discerning crews. “There are only a few bait shops that have a freezer with low enough temperature to keep the bait,” he adds.
Paul suggests keeping mullet frozen through the dredge rigging process. “Take them out of the package and put them in the bait box,” he starts. Handling the bait will soften it enough for rigging.
Once the bait is rigged, it goes back on the bait tray and out of the sun. “If I’m trolling fast for blue marlin, I salt the be-Jesus out of it,” he says. For a slower troll, he uses less salt. “I sprinkle as much salt as I would use on my mashed potatoes,” he says. If his dredge mullets are in good shape, he will reuse them. “Cover them with salt and store on ice,” he suggests. However, if there is any compromise in the bait, he will replace it. “No matter how much salt you can use, you can’t turn chicken shit into chicken salad,” he jokes.
The Northeast Perspective
While ballyhoo and mullet are just beginning to hit the docks along the Northeast, New England anglers have taken prepping chunk baits to an art form. The center of the action is J and B Bait and Tackle in Niantic, Connecticut where owner Kyle Douton is a bait snob since birth. “When I was in elementary school my dad and I would drive to the distributors and load the pick up with bait,” he reminisces.
Now, Douton gets his bait delivered to the shop, but he’s been known to go the extra mile. During a hot tuna bite last year, a butterfish shortage had him on the road. “We would drive to Manhattan and buy food-quality butterfish,” he says.
When Douton picks up a flat of bunker he looks for bright colors, intact fins, clear eyes and a light coating of frost. On spring tuna trips, he’ll take two or three flats, but by the early fall he’s up to 10 flats of bait. “The water temperature is higher and the night is longer,” he explains, “so we need more bait.” If the day-time chunking bite is hot, he’ll take more flats. He warns, “Some guys are getting bait directly from draggers, but if it isn’t flash frozen it will turn out mushy.” Recently, he’s been adding herring and even sardines to his chunk menu.
When it comes to squid, Douton says the best bet is to catch fresh squid on the fishing grounds. “Use a squid jig or a long-handled, fine-meshed squid net to catch squid that come to the light,” he suggests. Adding a little stream of menhaden chum will bring more squid to the lights. Douton says some crews have even figured out how to catch squid and keep it alive between trips. For swordfish baits, he looks for nine-inch squid that are flash frozen and vacuum-sealed. “Keep the squid frozen until you’re ready to fish,” he suggests, “squid thaws fast because it freezes at a lower temperature.”
The night before the trip, Douton will stack flats of bait on the boat to thaw. “I pull a few of the best looking baits off the top of each flat to rig for hook baits,” he explains. Those premium baits are placed in a freezer bag with a good coating of kosher salt. “I’ve even started keeping the rigged baits in a salty brine to toughen them up,” he adds. From there, the baits go on a bait tray over ice. He stresses, “You want to treat these baits right because you will be handling them.”
The rest of the bait is prepared for chunking. He says that some guys have invested in a meat-grade band saw to cut the frozen flats into manageable sizes. Otherwise, he recommends cutting the 1.5-inch chunks with a mandolin knife. “If I’m fishing for big bluefin, I’ll make bigger chunks and baits,” he adds. He says that it is important that the chunks match the size of the bait, especially when yo-yoing with unweighted chunks.
To distribute the chunks, he recommends a motorized Chum Chucker. “It keeps a steady stream going even when the crew is busy or asleep,” he explains. Other crews use a scoop to launch chunks upstream from the boat. Frozen chunks don’t sink. “I want the chunks to sink at the same rate as the baits,” he explains.
Douton admits handling and prepping bait for chunking is pretty simple. “But it is a big part of the game,” he adds, “so you have to consider how you will store and handle it.” He points out that the best local skippers make the best bait a priority.
Not much debate…
When it comes to bait, only the best will do. Bait snobs know that the best preparation and the most expensive gear won’t make up for bad bait at the end of the line. Captain Kevin Paul puts it this way: “If the bait is right, the crew did their work, and the boss opened his wallet, then there is no excuse for a bad day except bad luck.”