Angler offers tips on swordfishing in South Florida

They give seminars, make DVDs – or they can just show you how

scocking@miamiherald.comSeptember 19, 2012 

Some successful offshore anglers are so secretive about their spots and techniques for catching big game that they would sooner hand over the key to their personal safe than impart locations, baits and tackle specs to aspiring anglers.

But not R.J. “Bobby” Boyle, one of South Florida’s foremost authorities on daytime and nighttime swordfishing. Sort of a Renaissance man of offshore fishing, Boyle – a former minor-league baseball player and nightclub owner who now runs a tackle shop and art studio in Lighthouse Point – strives to help those who long to catch the “gladiator of the deep.”

Boyle travels around the United States and abroad conducting swordfish seminars and now is producing a comprehensive series of instructional DVDs entitled “In the Spread.”

He’ll answer any and all questions from customers at his shop, and for some really loyal customers – such as Jerry Turner and his son Jeromey from the Houston area – he provides on-water, hands-on instruction.

Recently, Boyle and crewman John Bassett, aboard Boyle’s 31-foot open-fisherman, guided the Turners to the catch of three swordfish in two day-dropping trips: an estimated 45-pounder that was released alive; one weighing 300 pounds and another weighing 100 pounds. The swords were caught between 10 and 18 miles off Hillsboro Inlet in depths of 1,500 to 1,800 feet.

“We’ve been fishing for these seven to eight years,” Boyle told the Turners. “In the beginning, we had little secrets. We work together now. It’s a big ocean – plenty of swords.”

Boyle and Bassett use what they call a “glorified mutton rig” to catch deep daytime swordfish. A Lindgren-Pitman electric reel holds 3,500 yards of 65-pound braided line connected to a short length of 250-pound-test wind-on leader connected to 150 feet of 300-pound-test line tied to a single 11/0 hook. A 10-pound sash weight drops the bait to the bottom. Two water-activated strobe lights are clipped to the leader 15 feet and 30 feet from the bait. Baits include squid, bonito belly, mackerel and even plugs made of exotic freshwater snakeheads sewn to the hook.

“Make sure the bait is swimming so it looks real and lifelike,” Boyle told the Turners.

The trenches, holes and ledges around which Boyle and other swordsmen drop their baits typically lie in the Gulf Stream, which flows north like a rushing river at speeds averaging around 4 miles per hour.

To get the bait down to the proper spot and avoid tangling the gear on ledges and other structures, Boyle started to deploy it nearly a mile south of the target area. To reach a depth of nearly 1,600 feet, he let out about 2,000 feet of line. When the lead hit bottom, he brought up about 100 feet of line. Keeping the line straight down and unbowed, Bassett headed the boat slowly south so that its true drift was still north, but at about half the speed of the rushing current.

“Now the whole day is consumed with watching the rod tip,” Boyle said. “You do not want to miss that first tap on the rod tip. You notice the rhythm of the rod and look for anything that doesn’t look normal.”

So, for about 15 minutes of the first drift, there was little conversation as the eyes of the entire crew were glued on the tip of the bent-butt conventional rod seated in the gunwales.

Suddenly, Boyle – seeing what the others missed – broke the silence.

“We got him on,” he said quietly. “It’s a sword.”

Engaging the button on the reel, stopping and starting to keep the line taut, Boyle watched the line and the water’s surface. About 10 minutes later, a silver shadow appeared just below the boat.

Boyle retrieved the rest of the braid, followed by the sash weight, and when the wind-on was on the reel, he began to bring in the remainder of the long leader hand-over-hand. About 15 yards away, a small sword leapt into the air.

Boyle kept control of the leader and eventually brought the fish up to the gunwales where he and Bassett scooped it up and posed it for photos. The hook, lodged loosely in the corner of the jaw, fell out on deck. They put the fish back into the water, where it flipped them off with its stout tail and swam away. Everyone exchanged high-fives.

Bassett pulled out a fresh bonito plug, and Boyle repositioned the boat for another drift across the same trench. Within 10 minutes, something struck the bait.

Boyle manipulated the electric reel, and something he felt told him the fish had come off. Sure enough, when the bait was brought to the surface, it showed evidence of minor mangling.

On the third drift, the crew used another bonito plug and got no bites. So Bassett pulled out a large rigged squid with colorful twine resembling a corset binding it to the hook.

In the middle of the drift, Boyle spotted a tiny peck that reverberated on the rod tip.

“He’s on,” he said confidently.

Indeed, after a 10-minute back-and-forth manipulation of the electric reel, a fish estimated at 100 pounds rose to the surface, and Bassett harpooned it. Again, cameras clicked to record dinner.

After watching the capture of two swordfish in less than four hours, Jerry Turner said he felt confident that he and Jeromey could duplicate the operation aboard their 36-foot catamaran in the Gulf of Mexico off Matagorda, Texas. Jerry figured he’d have to fork over about $4,000 for tackle.

“Absolutely!” Turner said of his readiness to take on a swordfish. “All of you, come down and go with us.”

Added Jeromey: “I’m not afraid to say I would have backed over the line during that fiasco!”

They got one more unsuccessful bite that day in a total of seven drifts. But the following day, the group scored the 300-pounder.

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