Sword Fight - Destin, Florida

“Absolutely not!”

These are the first words I heard out of my Dad when I inquired about going sword fishing overnight in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time.

“Come on, Dad! It’ll be a blast!”

If you knew my Dad, he was the kind of guy that would never say no to anything that would create a memory. The kind of guy that LIVED for creating memories, so usually when he initially says no to this kind of thing meant that it would change to a yes with a little prodding (and a hint of annoyance). After a couple days of ribbing, he finally agreed that we’d go sword fishing the next time that the weather lined up for us, which just so happened to be two days after the fact.

We spent all of the two days doing some extremely in-depth research, which mostly consisted of making the precise calculation of how many Miller Lites to bring so that Dad wouldn’t run out while “watching the stars all night.” After talking to a few people and crunching the numbers, we came to a conclusion that it was probably a safe bet to bring two cases. You know, in the event that a great white shark eats our engines or something and we got stranded for a few days, Dad would be set.

Other than that professional research, the only other advice we were living off of was “Hit 1,200 feet of water, keep the engines running, put a hook through a dead Boston mackerel, tape a glow stick on the leader, and drift all night” and then magically a swordfish should eat our bait if there was one around. Seems simple enough right?

We pointed our 31 foot Contender due south of Destin, Florida in the mid-afternoon on a hot October day. The Gulf of Mexico looked like a lake, one of those days where you couldn’t tell where earth ends and heaven began. We rode out 60 miles offshore in a jiffy and arrived in 1200’ of water where we put out a trolling spread in hopes of scoring a quick wahoo or open water yellowfin tuna to no avail.

The sun started setting so we eased the boat back to the 1200’ line where we had chosen to start our first drift for a swordfish. Dad plopped down in one of our marine bean bags with an ice cold Miller Lite and a turkey+cheese sandwich to watch the sky turn thousands of different shades of red. Sunsets on the water are a sight to behold. I started getting our two drift lines set up with the plan being to put one bait at 100’ and then keep one closer to the surface at 50’. I eased the lines down to ensure that they did not tangle on the drop, then set the drag extremely loose so that we’d hear if any line started peeling off the reel with a bite.

Within minutes of the sun completely setting, we started seeing little baitfish and squid swimming through our underwater lights. It’s a sight to behold seeing the sea come to life and felt like we were floating in a life-sized aquarium.

I took the dip net that we used for bait and started scooping up some of the fish just to see what they were out of curiosity. Some fish are electric blue in color, some are more dull grey, but all of them are fun to see swimming through the lights. I was in the process of trying to scoop up a flying fish, when I started seeing one of our green strobe lights that we put on one of our drift rods start moving up towards the surface. It looked like something out of this world and for a minute I thought I was just seeing things in the pitched black dark of the night. I yelled over to my Dad who was catching a little shut-eye:

“Hey Dad, uhhh, It looks like this light is swimming towards us, but I’m really not sure.”

“Well reel it in and see what is going on!” he shot back to me. I cranked down hard on the rod and sure enough we came tight on an UFO. We played this fish incredibly safe, as all the research I had done pointed to hooks pulling out of swordfish mouths at a frequent rate and that you should keep a loose drag. We fought the fish into the wee hours of the morning and then finally got our first good look at it. After my Dad let out a few choice words as we’ve never seen a fish this big in real life, much less on the end of our line,  we cranked the fish close enough to the boat and Dad sunk a gaff in him.

I reached down and grabbed the bill to pull the fish into the boat and with a “plop” on the deck we had caught our first ever broadbill swordfish. We hit each other with some high fives and then just stared at the fish in disbelief of what we had just accomplished. Dad cracked another cold one and then we crashed in the bean bags elated as ever and waited for the sun rise to peek over the horizon.  

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Steven Vanden Heuvel