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By Tackle Tactics Pro Angler Luke Smith
First published: May 27 2021

From bream to barrel size bluefin, Luke loves fishing his home waters of southwest Victoria, while also being up for a trip anywhere around Australia to get stuck into some good fish.

Sword Fight - Chasing Swordfish

By Luke Smith

Swordfish are arguably one of the hardest fighting fish in the ocean, not to mention one of the harder fish to catch. With some gurus pioneering the daytime techniques, sword fishing has become increasingly popular amongst the game fishing fraternity. Whilst some specialist gear is required, there are many great articles, videos and even classes created by the guys who have put in the hard yards for all of us to benefit from.

Every year the east of Victoria experiences a great run of these amazing sportfish. Whilst they are year-round targets, April to June is the peak period to fish from Lakes Entrance, Cape Conran or Mallacoota.

Swordfish spend their lives in deep water, generally around 400 to 800m deep. They stay deep during the daylight hours but will move up through the water column at night to continue feeding on helpless squid and small fish.

The best way to target sword fish is to fish baits suspended just off the bottom in 400-600m of water or have baits slowly rising through the scatter layers. For this we use really technical sinkers commonly known as house bricks to tow our baits to the sea floor. On some rigs we will detach the bricks, so that the bait slowly rises as the boat drifts away. On other rigs we use around 20m of light line, around 10-12lb, to suspend our baits off the bottom. When a sword finds the baits, it uses its bill to slash at the bait and disable its prey. This will generally break the light sinker line and allow the fish to eat the bait unimpeded. A lot of attention is required as whilst these fish can grow massive and eat large baits, the bites are often extremely subtle.

Our plan was hatched to venture across the state to Lakes Entrance and target Swordfish. From my hometown of Warrnambool this is a seven plus hour drive, depending on the traffic situation when driving through Melbourne.

All of the last minute tackle preps were done, gear organised and packed in the boat and we were off. We left Thursday evening and got lucky, with a great run through Melbourne, arriving at lakes just after midnight. A quick stopover to collect some fresh squid that the local tackle shop had left out in an esky for us, then it was time to roll out the swags and get some sleep for the following day.

We were up five hours later and launched the boat just on first light. Whilst some will leave in the dark, we decided to get the extra sleep and wait so that we could monitor the sea conditions when crossing the bar and driving out. The bar was minimal and the conditions were reasonable, especially considering that the previous day was blowing twenty knots all day.

Off Lakes Entrance the closest sword grounds is Bass Canyon, some 80 kilometres away. We chose to fish Anemone Canyon which is just over 100 kilometres from Lakes Entrance. Caution must be taken as the weather can change this far offshore and paired with the East Australian Current, conditions can turn quickly. After two and a half hours, including some ordinary patches of water, we made it to the Anemone Canyon. I slowed to an idle and began to analyse the depth sounder, looking for a solid scatter layer. Like most fishing, find the bait and find the fish. Whilst sounding around, Lewie began to stich some baits to the hooks in anticipation of our first drop.

Once the drift was set and the baits were ready, we began to drop them down into the depths. For the breakaway rig we simply used some tie wire secured to the brick, with a loop at the other end that was passed over the shank of the hook. When the sinker hits the bottom the hook releases and allows the bait to rise through the water column as the boat drifts away. I chose to attach a 24 ounce sinker to the snap swivel with some waxed thread and taped it to the leader to stop it spinning in the current. This lead helps to keep the bait in the zone longer when drifting quickly. This rig is then dropped first so that it didn't float up into the other line. For the second rig we use the light line and leave it attached.

The next part of the equation is to sit and stare at the rod tip, looking for any movement that looks different to the boat rocking back and forth. Keeping this level of concentration certainly can be difficult at times, however it is necessary to try and capitalise on any chances. By 1pm there had been no enquiries, other than squid eating our whole squid baits. I chose to reset our drift, positioned the boat back out into 600 metres and we put fresh baits back down. This time we chose to include a flesh bait and rigged up a small salmon that I had caught from Killarney Beach with my two boys a few weeks earlier. The salmon was stitched onto the hook at the nose end, with all the fins cut off to help avoid spinning.

After waiting around an hour, we had just dropped the electric reel down and had pulled up a pink ling. Before sending the electric back down we chose to be proactive and check the sword baits and reset them.

Winding up 600m of line is not exactly thrilling, so we cheat and use a drill attachment that fits over the handle of my Okuma Makaira lever drag overhead reels. About halfway up we noticed that the line was starting to come tight. Another ten seconds later the rod was buckled and the drill could no longer wind against the weight. We were on!

However... we did not know what we were hooked up to. There is a by-catch of bottom fish, including pink ling, blue eye, gemfish and grenadier, however these fish will usually stay closer to the bottom and not swim toward the surface. Possible options at this stage were a swordfish, an oceanic thresher shark, porbeagle shark, bluefin tuna or the more common by-catch of mako sharks. As this bait was around 100-200m off the bottom, Lewie and myself were leaning towards a mako shark. Lewie kept the line tight as the fish was slowly making its way to the surface. I began to clear the deck and move some things out of the way, so we were somewhat organised.

As I got the drill ready to wind the other line up, I noticed that the brick was no longer connected to the line. I felt the line in my hand and there was some resistance that felt like the bait, however it could also be just the resistance of 600m of line in the water. We had not noticed a bite to detach the brick, however we were a bit preoccupied with Lewie hooked up. I started winding the line up at full speed with the drill on this reel, as Lewie's fish neared the surface. He joked and made a remark, "I wish this thing would just slap on the surface already". Within ten seconds of that comment, we had a fish thrashing on the surface 100m behind the boat. At this point we were both greeted with an unmistakable sword like bill waving at us.

The excitement and intensity levels shot off the chart and we kicked into gear. With Lewie on the rod, I moved the last few things around on the deck and chucked most of the stuff into the cabin so that there was nothing to get in the way. I resumed my winding duties on the drill to try and clear the other sword rod out of the way. It was at this point that the drill suddenly slowed... and the line became tight.


We were both shocked and laughing at our luck, however with only two of us on board there was a lot of things that could go wrong. I kept winding my fish as much as I could, without lifting the rod up to start pumping and winding. The fish was still swimming up, so I was just keeping the belly out of the line. Lewie's fish, which we knew was a sword, started to come toward the boat and my line. At that point I made the decision that we would not be greedy and try to land both fish. Instead, once I gained all my braid back and reached the top shot, I grabbed the bait knife and cut mine off. This was a tough call and could end in tears if we suddenly pulled the hooks on the other sword, however it would be more frustrating losing two fish through crossed lines.

The sword greeted us with two more jumps in the first half hour, before deciding that the surface was not for it. A blistering run promptly took the sword back down to 120m deep, and it decide to call that home for the next two and a half hours. In this time Lewie had the Okuma Makaira Lever Drag at 14kg of drag and the Makaira 37kg bent butt rod was certainly loaded. I was grateful that the fish was on this rod as it had a 60kg Platypus Pre-Test topshot of around 180m. If we were only on 37kg, we potentially could have lost the fish with the drag pressures we were running.

Keep in mind that as your reel loses line, the diameter of spool centre and line left on the reel decreases and in turn the drag pressure slowly increases. This is especially important to consider when running lighter lines on overheads for game fish.

By this stage we had witnessed a cracking sunset and were now fighting the fish in the dark, with just a hint of moonlight. Keep in mind that we were still over 100 kilometres offshore and still had to drive back in. Lewie had been on the rod for three hours and was starting to get sore in the legs. He managed to hit his knee right at the start of the fight and had struggled to put weight on it since. With that in mind we opted to swap roles, let me jump on the rod to get fresh legs back into the fight and try to break this stubborn fish.

When looking at the sword's build it's no wonder that they have so much power. They are built with an extremely thick tail and a massive caudal fin that helps them to hold in the current. By using a circle hook, the fish often fight harder as they have not swallowed a J-style hook and done damage to their gills or internals.

Once in the harness I was surprised at just how much pressure Lewie had been fighting the fish with. I decided that something had to happen to break the fish, so I pushed the drag up two more clicks on the Makaira, applying even more pressure. This was about the limit of the rod that was fully buckled and had been since the beginning of the fight. Our only advantage over the sword was the low speed feature on the reel. With so much pressure constantly on the line and rod, we were physically unable to wind when the reel was in high speed. Instead, we had to use the low speed gearing to slowly winch the fish up... inch by inch.

I was applying extra pressure to the spool with my left hand, allowing the small wind chop to rock the boat and lift the fish for me. As soon as the boat moved down, I would crank on the handle and maybe gain two or three inches. This went on for quite a while, with the fish being super stubborn and refusing to swim up. I managed to work the fish to 80m, then after a while to 60m, where we had another half hour stalemate. Once we broke the fish from holding at 60m I was able to slowly work the fish up toward the boat. Lewie was watching the fish come up on the Simrad and we were counting down metre by metre.

After being on the rod for an hour and forty minutes I could finally see the lights flashing on the rig. This was a major milestone as we knew we were close. Lewie was able to unclip the light that was attached to a Dacron loop at the top of the wind on leader. He then began to trace the fish, with the instructions of not letting go and to keep applying pressure to the fish. I unclipped the rod and reel from the harness, backed off the drag and put the rod in a holder. I then grabbed the flying gaff and jumped in beside Lewie, eagerly awaiting a shot at the fish. The sword was doing clockwise circles as Lewie slowly gained line and before long I was able to gaff the sword with a head shot. We then quickly grabbed another fixed gaff and secured OUR sword. The relief was immense after such a hard fought battle and we were elated to have landed our first ever sword!

A celebratory beer was had, before we mustered up some strength to pull the fish into the boat. Some more high fives and plenty of happy snaps later, we were set for the drive back to the ramp in the dark. Thankfully, it was a fairly good trip back in, considering that we were both knackered and then we had to drive for two hours in the dark.

We made the call to pack up and head straight back to Warrnambool as we would not have enough esky room for all the tasty flesh from this fish. We left Lakes Entrance at 11:30pm and drove halfway home, before having a nap for three hours to recharge the batteries and then continued driving home. At the Warrnambool gantry we were pleased to see the fish pull the scales down to 162kg. A big benefit of being back home was that we were able to share this with our family and friends. Better yet, they were able to help clean and bag all of the steaks up.

This was certainly a trip that I will not be forgetting in a hurry... and a capture that I will be trying to replicate for years to come.

Big shout out to guys like Richie Abela and Leo Miller for spending hundreds of hours pioneering this fishery for all of us to enjoy.


Gearing Up:
Okuma Makaira Lever Drag Overhead Reel - MK-50WII
Okuma Makaira Game Rods - MK-5101B-37R 37kg Bent Butt
Platypus Platinum Braid - 80lb Yellow
Platypus Pre-Test Mono - 60kg Clear Topshot