Louisiana Swordfish?

Believe it or not, huge swordfish swarm off the Bayou State’s coast.

The Mississippi River delta and surrounding offshore waters are without a doubt some of the richest fishing grounds in the world. There is no other place on the face of the planet where an angler can target largemouth bass and blue marlin in the same day, no other place where limits of 20-pound red snapper and 10-pound mangrove snapper are not uncommon, no other place where you can catch 100+-pound yellowfin year-round on a day trip.

Several years ago, after reading an article about the swordfishing out of Miami, I started wondering why no one caught swords out of Venice. After checking the fish records, I discovered that, in fact, people did used to catch them out of Louisiana, but not a single fish had been recorded in over two decades.

In 2003, I decided to change that.

It was an abnormally cool, crisp afternoon in May when Ched Cook, Capt. Devlin Roussel, Zach “Snacks” Bogard and I decided to give swordfishing a try. Cook, a friend from Nashville, was down on business, and had a short window to go offshore.

We left about 2 p.m., and headed out to catch some tuna before looking for swords. It didn’t take long before we had one side of the Glacier Bay’s fish boxes filled with fat yellowfin, and we were staring at a bathymetric chart looking for a place to drop baits down for swordfish.

After much discussion and careful consideration, I opened the chart to an area with a lot of peaks and ledges, closed my eyes and pointed.

Right about dusk, we were setting the first baits. None of us had any idea what we were doing. Roussel had picked up some huge fresh squid from a market in New Orleans, and we threaded them on the 200-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leaders, and then put Mustad 7732BT hooks on the end. About 2 feet up from the bait, we attached a green light stick to the leader using a No. 64 rubber band, then a 12-ounce weight right where the swivel of the leader connects to the main line.

We sent the first bait down 400 feet, rubberbanded a balloon to the line and set it out drifting away from the boat. We repeated the process, setting baits at 200 and 100 feet, then kicked back, ate dinner and enjoyed the stars.

Our relaxing evening was interrupted about 20 minutes into dinner as the middle line started screaming. Roussel strapped in while the rest of us scrambled to get the other lines up. It was a big fish, and we were all anxious to see what it was.

Unfortunately, an hour into the fight, we pulled hooks, and never got to see him. As true fishermen, it was our right to agree with certainty that we had just lost a giant swordfish, but when the next fish came up as a 300-pound hammerhead, morale crashed.

By this point, we were all pretty tired, but decided to set the baits one more time.

It didn’t take long to hook up again. Cook was on the reel, and another long fight ensued. We were all hopeful that it was a sword, but I don’t think any of us believed it really was.

An hour into the fight, the fish came screaming at the boat so fast that Cook couldn’t keep up. He finally made contact again right as the fish came into the aura of the Hydroglow light. It was a huge sword, and he wasn’t happy!

Everyone on the boat got an instant shot of adrenalin as we scrambled for the flying gaff.

The big sword had other plans, though. He shook his head as if to say “no,” turned and went screaming to the bottom doing at least 50 mph. On his way down, he shook the hook, and we lost him. But it didn’t really matter. We had brought a sword boatside. We knew they were there.

We spent the rest of the night fishing with a new intensity, and hooked several more big fish but never saw any of them.

At daybreak, we were reeling in the lines when the rod Roussel was taking up bent over. He reeled in a small 30-pound sword — the first known recreationally caught sword in more than 22 years.

At that time, my friend Jeff Pierce with Mustad was in New Orleans for some meetings, and I knew he always wanted to catch a sword. It didn’t take much convincing to have him move some things around and be on the dock that evening. We didn’t leave until late, and went straight to the sword grounds. We didn’t have nearly the action we had had the night before, but about 1 a.m., the short line went off, and almost two hours later, I stuck a flying gaff in a 163-pound sword!

From that day forward, it’s been “game on” for swordfishing out of Venice.

I have learned a lot since then. I’ve caught swords in 20 different spots, and almost every month of the year. Every year, I learn a little more and have more successful trips.

This year alone, we have caught 34 swords in 19 trips, including my 100th and 101st boated in September. I have guided anglers to three swords over 300 pounds — with a 341-pounder being the largest — and 27 swords over 200 pounds.

Unfortunately, none of the fish that beat the current state record of 310 pounds were “fair” fish, meaning that the angler passed the rod. Michael Skeedrow caught the largest “fair” fish. Weighing in at 291, it is now No. 2 in the state, and pending Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association fish of the year for 2008.