Swordfish

Māori name:

N/A

Scientific name:

Xiphias Gladius

All-tackle NZ record:

404.4kg

Eating quality:

Good

 

Description

Broadbill swordfish, otherwise known as the ‘Gladiators of the Sea’, are a mysterious and sought-after species for anglers worldwide. They can be immediately identified by their long, flattened swords, heavily built bodies, incredibly thick tail bases and large eyes, which allude to their deep water and nocturnal feeding habits. The colouration of the upper surface of the body can vary from a dark purple-blue to a bronzed brown. The sides fade, and the lower surface is off-white or light brown. The average size of swords in NZ is considerable (around 150kg), and they can put some serious hurt on anglers!

Years ago, sword fishing in NZ was the preserve of large boats that fished far offshore banks, seamounts, and canyons through the night, targeting the fish as they came up higher in the water column. Then a few pioneering skippers like the late Geoff Stone started fishing for swords during the day, borrowing deep-dropping techniques used in Florida. Initial success bred further exploration and more catches. Now, any well-prepared trailerboat can head out for a day and have a decent crack at catching a swordfish – without the discomfort of drifting around in the dark!  

Where to catch

Swordfish hotspots are generally around knolls, drop-offs, trenches, and canyons anywhere from 400-750m of water. There is structure like this right up and down the coastline of NZ, but spots like the Three Kings, Garden Patch, Hokianga Bank, Bream Knolls, Barrier Bank, Mayor Knolls, White Island Knolls, and Ranfurly Banks down to Gisborne are all known areas.

Keen sword anglers use good electronics – in conjunction with at least a 1kw transducer – to pinpoint concentrations of bait down deep, which is where the swords are likely to be holding. It pays to assess which way the current is flowing to identify the areas of upwelling that kick off the food chain.

When to catch

Broadbill can tolerate the greatest temperature range of any billfish species, having been recorded in waters varying from 5-27°C. Accordingly, they are available in NZ waters for most of the year, but satellite tagging shows they move to warmer subtropical spawning grounds in spring. Most recreational fishing effort is focused from February through to July, with catches peaking in autumn – especially during bouts of settled weather which is advantageous, if not essential, for sword fishing. 

Although broadbill spend the bulk of the day down deep, they periodically come up nearer the surface to feed, particularly at night. The full or new moon phases are considered best for night fishing, while there are widely varying opinions around preferred lunar phases for broadbill deep-dropping. Like most fishing, you may as well just get out there when you can!

How to catch

The typical sword rig involves a 300-400lb leader, a large circle hook, a sacrificial breakaway weight (attached to the bottom of the hook), a smaller sinker rubber banded near the swivel, and several lights or water-activated strobes to pique interest in the dark depths. Squid, skipjack tuna belly strips, or small whole fish – secured to the hook with rigging floss – are all proven baits. The terminal gear is usually attached to a solid game reel, a bent-butt rod, braided line and a 50m monofilament top shot.

Once you’ve found the spot and worked out your drift, carefully lower your rig and sacrificial weight into the water. When it’s clear there are no tangles, it’s time to steadily drop your offering into the abyss. Hopefully, upon reaching the bottom, your sacrificial weight will break away, raising the rig to the strike zone (generally 30-100m above the bottom).

Baits are typically set for 30-odd minutes, during which time the crew is advised to watch the rod tip like hawks. Sword bites can be very subtle, and they tend to swim upwards when they take a bait. Therefore, the line going slack can be the signal to start winding – fast!

 

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