Swordfish are among the most popular game fish in the world. They are simply enormous, intensely powerful and they ensure an incredible fight. Deep dives and surface jumps occur for hours once hooked and anglers are overwhelmed by the sheer challenge of catching these fish, often begging for the assistance of electric reels. The waters surrounding Florida are a veritable nursery for swordfish and the area is possibly the best destination for catching this billfish worldwide. So where are the best places to find them off the coast of Florida?
This question has been much debated amongst local anglers for decades and there are many opinions about where the swordfish hotspots are. In order to answer this accurately, we need to discuss the topography of the surrounding ocean floor, the spawning habits of swordfish and their feeding needs. Swordfish can be caught anywhere off the coast of Florida but if you want the highest chance of catching them, you should know where they are.
Ocean topography off the coast of Florida
The land does not stop at the water’s edge. It continues underneath the ocean. Mountains, slopes, volcanoes, underwater canyons, coral reefs, ocean trenches, seamounts, abyssal plains and other continental slopes, shelves and land masses are prevalent everywhere. Currents push zooplanktons, fry and various other organisms that form the basis of the food chain into these crevices. This is where they congregate in numbers for safety, shelter and food. Practically every member of the underwater food chain benefits from these places, and swordfish are no exception. They frequent these geographical formations because it is an abundant food source, provides effective shelter and protects the smaller swordfish from their larger predators.
Swordfish feeding habits off the coast of Florida
It used to be believed that Swordfish were nocturnal predators. More anglers are now catching them during the daytime. The methods used to catch these fish are different. At night, Swordfish will come to the surface to feed where anglers mostly troll for them. During the day, they prefer to remain in deep waters where they are caught by deep-dropping baits with lights attached. This means that you can go to where there are large schools of pelagic fish for night fishing, or you can seek out underwater structures during daylight hours. Wherever you find their prey, you will find Swordfish.
Swordfish migration routes along the coast of Florida
Travelling with the major surface currents, Swordfish migrate along the Gulf Stream. This is directly off the coast of Florida and is the reason for the abundance of spectacular game fish in the area. It flows northward along the U.S. Continental Shelf, before going north-east toward the Azores. From there, Swordfish continue in a clockwise direction that brings them back to their spawning grounds in late spring.
Swordfish spawning grounds off the coast of Florida
Adults congregate during the months of April and May to reproduce. Similar to salmon in that they return to their birthing grounds, they come back yearly to the same spots. Their spawning locations are varied; one is about 350 miles east of Trinidad and the other about 550 miles east of St. Maarten. They also spawn in the gaps between the larger Caribbean islands, such as the Mona Passage, the Florida Straits, the Yucatan Straits, the Windward Passage, the Anegada Passage and the gap between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This means that Swordfish spawn in the Caribbean and their fry float down-current towards Florida’s east coast and the northern Gulf of Mexico. This is called their nursing areas and they are a few miles off the coast of Florida. Juveniles will remain here for the first two or three years of their lives before undertaking migration efforts.
A succesful hunter thinks like the hunted, especially when the hunted is an accomplished hunter.
Now that we understand the behavior of Swordfish, we can work out which are the best places to catch them in Florida. We know that we are looking for underwater structures where we can find their prey. We have learnt that they pass Florida on the Gulf Stream when migrating and we understand there are many juveniles in the nursing areas. This leads us to consider the Florida Keys and the east coast of Florida to be prime locations. These inspiring fish swim in the Gulf of Mexico, but they are much more prevalent on the eastern coast. However, we can narrow it down further with this information.
Ocean topography suggests the continental shelf that runs along the eastern coast of Florida is littered with ocean trenches, underwater canyons and other geographical features. The continental slope drops off sharply and provides very deep waters close to shore. The biggest canyon is closest to Islamorada and the Florida Keys. A few short miles further is another ocean trench infested with prey for Swordfish – and it is closer to Palm Beach and Miami. Fort Lauderdale, Destin and Stuart are also fantastic hot spots, but if you are prepared to travel then you can catch Swordfish from anywhere in Florida.