If you are an offshore angler in Australia and not heard about the broadbill captures in Tasmania you may well reside on the moon. It has lit up those game fishers that know the mystique of the broadbill swordfish.
These fish are an iconic species to game anglers as they combine two things, intrigue and difficulty of capture. Swordfish bring both these and more to the party and Tasmania has become a place of interest as we seem to have some massive specimens.
Broadbill gets its name from the bill that can be one-third the length of a mature adult fish. They will use this weapon to great effect and are quite dangerous. A sword has the physique of an American gridiron linesman and all his prerequisites.
They have massive shoulders that maintain bulk all the way to a tail that has a thick powerful wrist. These things are mad and will attack all comers while looking for a feed; they will even take on a submersible or two if in the wrong mood. That is why over the long years of history the Xiphias gladius has been aptly named the gladiator of the sea.
Accounts dating back to the 1800s have depicted angler and broadbill battling it out for hours. Be prepared for a long battle should you hook one up and keep an eye on the forecast and weather conditions.
It looks like Tasmania is becoming the place to be when targeting massive broadbill swordfish. Anglers are encountering fish in excess of 200kg and the frequency of incidence is surprising.
Recreational anglers have combined with TarFish, the GFAA and local government to instigate a satellite tagging program to get a real understanding of the local population. It is very important that the fishery is understood and some fishing parameters be formulated. The potential of the fishery should be looked after and maintained as it has the ability to drive a charter business model similar to others around the world where the big swords frequent.
The general methods that have been tried and tested internationally are accepted ways to hook swords. These involve drifting at night and setting a range of baits at various depths from 20-150m below the surface. Squid, mackerel or small tuna are the preferred baits.
This traditional method still certainly works, but there are techniques that allow you to cover more ground and also target one particular spot of interest.
Those looking to cover more ground can develop a slow troll. Slow trolling is carried out at boat idle speed using a whole squid, tuna, or a fresh belly flap. You can rig this behind a softhead skirted trolling lure and then set to swim deep using breakaway sinkers or a downrigger.
You can also use the smaller glow sticks and sew these into you bait to create a visual aspect to your offering. This style of attack is again better used at night over peaks and bottom structure where the swords may frequent.
There have been a number of incidental sightings, captures by commercial guys and people hooking swordfish while using electrics. However, there has been one group of people fishing on the vessel Choonachaser that have set the state and national fishing scene on fire by replicating captures using daytime methods.
This crew skippered by Leo Miller has lead a wave of interest and success from other anglers following their methods. I had a chance to talk to Tasmania’s ‘Lord of the Swords’ to get a feel of what they were up to.
Kelly Hooch Hunt: So what got you started in thinking the big girls might be a prospect here in Tasmania?
Leo Miller: We were seeing some people over the years get smashed on their electrics while fishing for blue eye, and after hearing some of the battle stories, they just sounded like sword fights. Long liners had managed to see a few each year and the latitudes are very similar to New Zealand so we decided to have a go at them.
Hooch: You have done well during the day, but that’s not where you started?
Leo: Yes that’s right we initially targeted them at night. From what we had read this seemed the easiest way to find them. It is quite common knowledge that they come closer to the surface at night. However we had no luck.
We then started working out how to deep drop baits and use break sinkers to leave a bait presented in 400-700m of water. There was some considerable trial and error, but we feel we have perfected it.
Hooch: Awesome! Now I understand you don’t want to give too much away, but can you let us in on some of the rigging you are using?
Leo: The easiest method is a thin braid, like Platypus Pre-test, you can then roll a bimini twist and cat’s paw that connects to a double on about 100m of mono top shot. We use 300lb JEM wind ons and 400lb leader. Large hook either J or circle (12 to 18/0). We also add a light source in somewhere – glow stick or Duralite Diamond or Electralume.
We then just pick our spot and drop the bait and wait an hour or so. Check bait and re set. Often given the depth and mono top shot, you won’t see a bite, but you will find you have a fish hooked when retrieving baits.
Hooch: If you are lucky enough to come up tight on one, what is your advice?
Leo: They swim straight to the top usually; either jump or swirl on the surface and then dive back down. This is when the battle starts in ernest. They like to fight straight up and down and under the boat so you’ll need to drive off them a lot.
You will need a flying gaff and a good secondary gaff and a winch or block and tackle to get larger ones on board.
Hooch: What are your thoughts around baits?
Leo: Baits can be big and need to be tied up well, as the broadbills first action will be to slash them up. My crew and I use squid, fish fillets, and whole fish like blue eye or small tuna. The exciting thing we have found is the by-catch. We have caught good-sized tuna and sharks.
Hooch: Where is a good place to start setting a bait?
Leo: They tend to like some sort of structure or drop-off on the edge of the continental shelf and feed on the bottom and mid water fish. I am sure this is the same as the other species that haunt these areas. They like the up wellings and current movement.
There is no thrill that can match hooking a massive swordfish 500m down and battling it both on the surface watching jumps and then down deep battling their non-retractable fins and double caudal tail. They fight hard and tough and can be very stubborn and hard to budge; sometimes you’ll go an hour or more without gaining line. Be prepared, practice and persevere – the rewards are worth it!
Hooch: Thank you Leo much appreciated.Reads: 1349