September 2019: Learning to deep drop for swordfish with Capt. Bill DePriest
“If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.” – Zane Grey.
A quote I had not previously been familiar with but after a quick search on the ever-trusty interwebs, stumbled upon it and immediately connected with its simple meaning. Especially as it applies to this trip and even more so, this particular fishery. Swordfishing.
For those hoping to read a story of another epic fishing trip, unfortunately, like most good things, the hot streak on these Student of Slay trips has ended. Beginner’s luck can only stretch so far right? This one was definitely not due to a lack of effort or preparation on Captain Bill DePriest’s (@pacificbillscharters) part either. We ground it out from sunrise to sunset, fighting some adverse wind conditions through the afternoon and subsequent ride home in the dark.
Broadbills are notoriously elusive so I set my expectations accordingly well before this trip.
“I would be going with the expectations/fully ok with no bites – learning the deep drop program is my main goal. Of course, if Elvis decided to show – that would be the ultimate bonus.” I wrote Captain Bill as we hashed out the final game plan.
The daytime deep dropping program has been a staple of Florida (amongst other places) recreational swordfishing but lately seems to be gaining popularity around Southern California. It feels like this season specifically, there seems to be a lot of buzz and social media posts of successful deep drop swords trips. So being the hopeless optimist and perhaps overly opportunistic human I am, I wanted in on the action.
As we rode out to the sword grounds, Bill and I chatted a lot about this style of fishing as well as why we are seeing more and more So-Cal broadbills caught on the deep drop. The short answer is the conditions and timing are ripe for this fishery right now. Our recent warm water cycles, lack of giant squid to peck away the baits, and an eager community of local fishermen to capitalize on all the above contribute to the justifiable hype around this pinnacle gamefish. I also learned that many have been fishing this style locally for years but now the timing is aligned to really capitalize.
“So, I’m going to run a buoy rig and the rod tip rig today. So we will set the buoy out first then the rod tip line. As I’m dropping, I’ll have you bump us in and out of gear to help get everything away and down. Then I’ll explain all the rigging and other parts of deep dropping while we wait.” –Captian Bill started coaching me on one of many valuable tips of the day on deploying the lines without tangles.
Bill and I started this deep drop dance of getting the line outs. We knew that there was really good current moving on that morning’s incoming tide but something didn’t seem right. The buoy line was sitting very strangely and the indicator kept getting sucked under. Bill brought the buoy back to the boat to see what the deal was and on the wind in, was acting erratically and somewhat heavy. Or heavier than just the weight, even with the fast-moving water.
“Maybe we have a Bigeye Thresher shark on already? This is really strange and let’s just run it off the rod tip for a second to see what it does.” Captain Bill suggested.
Then there it was. After just a few minutes of hanging off the rod without the buoy, I saw the unmistakable double bounce of the rod tip that was completely unnatural to the even bouncing of the weight. Something definitely bit our line and as we eagerly waited for it to come back or go slack or bounce again, nothing. For a split second, I think we both thought we were in for a very early day with a fish on the first drop. But it wasn’t going to be that easy and we were unable to connect.
After the initial excitement died down, we began our first drift. I admired and picked Bill’s mind about his gear. Both setups we were fishing had the same custom-built Seeker OSP 3X rods with long AFTCO bent butts. One was outfitted with an Accurate ATD 50 Platinum Topless while the other, with a Shimano Talica 50. Both had 130-pound string and our So Cal Deep Drop (@socaldeepdrop on Instagram) rigged squid baits rocked a 500-pound mono leader and burly 12/0 circle hook. The cherry on top was the zero degree rod holders with swiveling bottoms to aide with keeping our lines at an ideal angle away from the boat. At least until a stiff afternoon breeze stirred up which made managing our drift speed and bait depths a bit of challenge.
“These are the same setups we use to kill the big bluefin too. They pull double duty but the Seeker 3X’s have a good blend of the right amount of give and still crazy backbone.”
I was actually relieved to see that we were going to be using traditional conventional reels. Of course, I wouldn’t have readily admitted in the moments while winding in the seemingly bottomless amount of line set out with 8-pound weights attached. But before this trip, I wasn’t sure if an electric reel, which I noticed is primarily used for deep dropping, was a necessity or nicety. At least for our application and need, it falls in the latter. Either way, I would prefer to fight by hand and/or in a harness anyway, or at least my first one, despite however painful that is going to be. But part of me was worried that you had to use an electric reel to at least get tight or catch up to the slack or other specific deep drop unknowns I am naïve to.
Much to Jo-Jo’s unknown delight, I’m happy that I won’t “need” to add another reel to my already absurd, out of my league quiver of fishing gear.
I would be remiss and frankly somewhat dishonest to tell you anything other than this style of fishing is definitely boring. That is until it’s not. But we, unfortunately, weren’t going to experience that side of it this particular trip. We made a couple long drifts through zones we knew (for a certainty) had fish around and over high spots we really liked. Everything felt right but it just wasn’t happening. But that’s what keeps us coming back and for me personally, only makes the fire burn hotter.
Shockingly, the 14 hour day flew by despite the slow fishing. Fishing with Bill was an absolute pleasure as he is a wealth of knowledge and fishing stories from many years of industry experience. I learned a tremendous amount about not only swordfishing but a plethora of other fishing tidbits and tips that I plan to use moving forward.
- Avoid distractions & temptation – this one will be a tough as old habits die slowly for me. We took only the tools, bait, and mindset needed for deep drop swordfishing only. No jig sticks or live bait sticks or other items that would have tempted us (or at least me) into chasing the foaming Yellowfin Tuna next to our boat while at drift. One goal, eyes on the prize style fishing.
- Align with others willing to fully commit – this is mostly true in any fishing as I’m sure most of us have some version of the same story of “that guy” on the boat that can suck the fun out of any trip. But no more is this point true than with swordfishing. No, if, and, or buts about it, I doubt burning your eyeballs staring at a rod trip is anyone’s definition of fun but the end result is a far worthy reward. Choosing who to bring with me on future sword trips is definitely a priority I won’t take lightly and can’t wait to share a win with those willing to log the time staying committed.
- Stay persistent – I’ll say this one point-blank, I would have felt like a borderline a-hole had I bagged Elvis on my first crack at him. This fishery absolutely requires persistence and has what I believe to be a pretty steep learning curve. Being able to fish with and talk to guys like Bill certainly helps tremendously but at the end of the day, it’s all about time on the water and putting in the persistent efforts to reap the reward.
Thank you again, Captain Bill DePriest for sharing your know-how and doing everything in your ability to make a swordy happen. I think it’s easy to connect with and be thankful for those ripper days of great fishing, but without a doubt, I can say I fully appreciate Bill’s effort and look forward to fishing with him again in the near future!