First Broadbill Swordfish Battle

  • Jordy Bardin

Nick Stack (Stacky) deserves his own article entirely, but here’s a quick summary of the man, the myth, the legend. Stacky is a born-and-bred fisherman from Cook’s Beach and has been running his charter business, Stack Attack Sports Fishing NZ, out of Whitianga for the past two years. I’m lucky enough to be mates with this guy, and I have seen how infectiously passionate he is about the ocean and what he does. When I’m out on the water with him, his energy and passion for fishing sparks that same enthusiasm in me, and makes me feel grateful for being able to do what I love. It’s always a bloody good time with Stacky, and he’s always willing to share his knowledge. Stacky currently offers snapper and kingie charters, but will be completing his Skipper Coastal/Offshore ticket by the end of the year, which means in the near future he will be offering offshore game fishing charters (including sword fishing trips!).

With the need for slight seas and light winds, it’s hard to plan ahead for a sword fishing voyage. Stacky and I had been trying to line something up for a while, so I was stoked when I received yet another invite from him on a day when I was finally able to join. Only having attempted sword drops a couple of times myself, I was eager to get out there, learn, and upskill. There are endless possibilities when it comes to fishing, whether it’s exploring new ground, or learning about different species, their unique behaviours, and the different methods you can use to target them. For me, sword fishing is an exciting new realm, and for years now catching a broadbill swordfish has been at the top of my bucket list.

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One advantage of fishing or diving with new people is that you get to learn and pick up on how they do things, which you can then adapt and add to your own arsenal. There are always things to learn and improve on and everyone has slightly different ways of doing things. It’s about figuring out what’s most effective for you.

We eagerly set off from Whitianga in Stack Attack, an 8.5 catamaran with twin 150HP Yamaha outboards that can power through any sea. The big, open deck and walk-around make it a supremely comfortable fishing vessel. Stack Attack made short work of the residual easterly winds and swells, and we arrived at the fishing grounds around 8:30 am, with seas set to ease throughout the day. My job was to search the area, looking for sufficient bait sign on the sounder, while Stacky rigged up our baits. Stacky advised me to look out for thick speckles on the Raymarine sounder, with flecks of red just above the sea floor, which would suggest a reasonable amount of bait fish present. Pretty quickly the finder started lighting up, and Stacky started getting goose bumps, excited about the amount of bait we were seeing. Within a few minutes, we were ready to do our first drop.

We used beautiful, fresh squid for our baits, which Stacky had caught at the Mercury Islands on a previous trip. It was a typical swordfish rig, with the squid stitched up using wax thread, and a large circle hook secured above the top of the squid’s mantle. Lights attached to the trace are a must, and we also attached a small sinker. You can get creative with what you use for a break-away sinker; Stacky opted for a length of rebar with a piece of wire attached, which simply loops over the circle hook (rather than using a length of thin mono to attach the breakaway). This gets the bait to the bottom, and as it hits the seafloor (around 500m that day) it easily bounces off the circle hook. We then set the drag to around 15kg on the good ol’ Shimano 80W, and placed the rod in the holder to do its job. But I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the rod tip – I was expecting a bite at any moment.

The breach captured at the right moment by Stacky.

Despite knowing that we were probably in for a long, slow day waiting for a fish, we had quite the opposite feeling: we were both buzzing with energy and our excitement levels were running high. Then we started getting some nibbles, and then some bites, and then a full-on take!

The strangest thing I learned about swordfishing is how they go about taking the bait. The rod tip pulsed aggressively and then the line went completely slack and I was absolutely convinced the fish was gone. But, as instructed by Stacky, I kept winding like crazy, completely confused as I wound in hundreds of metres of line with barely any tension. Stacky kept assuring me that there was a fish on because swordfish will usually eat the bait and then swim for the surface (hence the lack of tension on the line). Sure enough, just as I got the line up to about 100m the tension came on and…PING! There had been a fish on there after all and I had just felt the hook pull. Gutted! Nevertheless, another bait was rigged and set, with that small adrenaline rush keeping us warmed up and on our toes. By this stage, the sea had glassed off with just a whisper of wind and a lazy swell running, making our drifts easy. Bluebird skies graced us with a hot autumn sun and we shared that same sense of gratitude for being out in our favourite place doing what we love. What really topped it off was getting another take – and this time it stuck. Stacky was surprised with this one; instead of eating the bait and swimming for the surface, this fish took it hard and stayed low. I proceeded to fight the fish to the surface fairly easily at this stage, eager to see it come up. Only 50m or so from the boat, the fish jumped in the most graceful breach that seemed to be in slow motion – burning into my memory. As the long bill pierced the silky surface, the slab of a fish appeared and I erupted with excitement and adrenalin. What a sight! Then the real fight began. The beast pulled all the line back out as it retreated back to the depths, right back to the bottom. I consider myself a fairly experienced angler on the big gear, but the amount of physical and mental pain I had to push through was something else. After about an hour and a half, there came a point where I could not seem to gain anything on this fish. Stacky had the theory that the fish was sitting around the thermocline and wasn’t keen on the idea of coming back to the surface. By this stage, the constant weight pressing through the gimbal onto my not-so-muscular thighs was starting to hurt. Throughout the fight, Stacky was thrilled to see me struggling on such a big fish and proceeded to try to simultaneously encourage and annoy me as much as possible. At one point he blasted the song ‘Thunderstruck’ by ACDC, which seemed to make the fish fight even harder. I suggested no more ACDC after that.

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There’s never a guarantee of getting a fish to the boat, but we readied ourselves for the procedure after two long hours of tug of war. There was a fleeting moment of relief as Stacky grabbed the leader; the fish was worn out and as I unclipped from the harness, placed the rod in the rod holder, and grabbed the gaff, it circled around the boat nicely. I sank the gaff into its shoulder and proceeded to get a tail rope secured, as the beast quietly took its last breaths. We got lucky, as these fish are renowned for being powerfully dangerous at the boat with their sharp oversized bills waving around! Adrenalin, shock, and exhaustion set in, but the satisfaction of finally catching the fish that’s right at the top of my bucket list was indescribable. Swordfish are an incredible-looking fish, with shimmering colours, a bulging mid-section, and crazy, unique features that are built for strength and power. This one had lost the tip of its bill at some point in the past, possibly from fighting. We gave all our thanks and respect to Tangaroa, to the ocean, and to the fish for providing this incredible opportunity and fresh kai to feed our whanau and friends. How incredibly fortunate we are to live in a place like this and have access to these amazing resources!

This fish was caught right at lunchtime, with a high sun, during an in-between phase of the moon, and at slack low tide. This just goes to show that even though certain factors may come into play with fishing, sometimes you can still catch fish during any tide, moon cycle, or time of day!

Next, we hauled the fish on board (no easy feat), did a couple more cheeky drops, and then headed back to the wharf for a weigh before processing. My first broadbill swordfish weighed in at 130kg – thanks to the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club for the service. Fortunately for me, Stacky is good mates with Bruce Toomer, the owner and operator of Blink’s Smoke House in Whitianga. This meant that we had access to professional facilities for processing the fish, which made it a whole lot cleaner and easier. I’m always keen on processing and cooking my own catch because it’s my way of giving it the respect it deserves, but Bruce was kind enough to teach me some of his tricks, guiding me through processing and utilising the whole fish. Learning tips and skills like this from a professional is absolutely priceless. Between Bruce’s guidance and Stacky’s help, we broke down the entire fish until it was ready for sharing and eating. Swordfish are well known for having succulent, oil-rich meat and taste amazing raw, cooked, or smoked. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into it!

July 2022 - Jordy Bardin
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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