Going Deep

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R.J. Boyle specializes in catching broadbill swordfish in the Gulf Stream during the day

It takes a long time for bait to reach the bottom in 1,700 feet of water, even when you’re using 10 pounds of lead.

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The anticipation of hooking a massive broadbill swordfish and getting to see the beast in broad daylight seems to slow the drop even more.It’s like when you were a kid going to the movies: The trip to the theater always seemed 10 times longer than the ride home.

It’s sort of preposterous that you can even locate a single fish in so much water, let alone hook it and bring it to the surface, especially when you factor in the strength, tenacity and overall bad attitude that make the swordfish legendary game. But that’s exactly what the good crews accomplish day in and day out in the inky black waters hidden beneath the Gulf Stream off Hillsboro Inlet in South Florida.

Dr. Ruben Jaen is credited with developing the basic deep-drop technique used to catch swordfish on rod and reel in the daytime. The Venezuelan angler often needed a swordfish to round out a “grand slam” (catching three species of billfish in one day) or a “super slam” (four species of billfish) in the fruitful waters of Venezuela’s La Guaira Bank.

Today’s daytime deep-drop techniques are much more advanced than Jaen’s, although they stick to the same basic principle: Get the bait down as fast as you can, limit the slack in the line so you can feel the bite and be prepared to wind like hell. Dropping a bait 1,800 feet down is one thing, but when the boat is moving north at 3 to 4 knots, thanks to the Gulf Stream, it adds another dimension — a dimension that most anglers didn’t want to tackle until R.J. “Bobby” Boyle and a few other guys put in the time to master it. “I started daytime swordfishing seven years ago,” says angler-deckhand-captain-artist-shop owner Boyle. (He’s a bit of a Renaissance man.) “There was no one else out there doing it and it took me months and months to figure it out.”

Boyle is quick to point out that Richard Stanczyk, Stanczyk’s son Nick and Vic Gaspeny of Bud N Mary’s Marina actually pioneered daytime swordfishing in Florida. But they were fishing out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys; Boyle was fishing out of Hillsboro Inlet, a much different area. “They were fishing for a year before I started daytime swordfishing,” Boyle says, “but I really perfected fishing for swords in high-current conditions.”

Overcoming the Gulf Stream

The average depth of the Gulf Stream is 300 feet — the top section of the water column — and this giant chunk of water is cranking north. It’s this top section that’s the most difficult to get your bait through. There are three hurdles to overcome when trying to drop a bait to the sea floor as you combat the Gulf Stream. First, you don’t want to get tangled on the drop. Second, you need to control the boat, which means pointing the bow south at a slow trolling speed. The boat will actually be creeping north. Lastly, you have to hook the fish and retrieve all of that line.

“When I started, I’d get bites, but I couldn’t hook the fish,” Boyle says. It turns out that he needed to get the bait farther away from the 10-pound lead weight he used to find the bottom. After that, his hookup ratio increased dramatically.

It took a lot of trial and error to figure out these subtle changes, but after months of R&D Boyle began showing up at the dock with proof that not only were there swordfish around during the day, but they could be caught, too. And the best part is that you get to see the fish swing its sword in full battle under the bright Florida sun.

Boyle has come up with an equation to determine how much line it takes to get a bait to the bottom in 1,750 feet with a 3.2-knot current and 10 pounds of lead. “If you’re fishing 65-pound braided fishing line, it will take about 2,100 feet of line to hit bottom. If you bump it up to 80-pound braid, you’re talking 2,250 feet to hit bottom; 100-pound braid takes 2,400 feet of line,” he says. “It took me a long, long time to figure that out.”

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Tall and good-natured, Boyle doesn’t come across as a fishing tactician. He’s affable and a bit goofy, with long arms, thick glasses and canoes for feet. But this gentle giant is more dexterous than he might appear. He almost made it to the big leagues as a pitcher for a farm team of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins. When his baseball career took a slide, he followed his brother Ed into the fishing business and worked as a deckhand on several boats out of Hillsboro Inlet.

Valuable lessons

Boyle landed his dream job in the early 1990s as first mate on the 72-foot Donzi Concrete Machine, run by Capt. Bill McMurray. Boyle was the one and only mate on a $3 million sportfishing yacht. “That job put me on the map,” he says. “This boat was cream of the crop at the time. I was all by myself and it was a grueling schedule, but it was school for me.”

Boyle would arrive at the boat at 4:30 a.m. and put on coffee for the owner, Joe DePaola, one of the biggest reinforced-concrete builders in the world at the time. “No matter how hard I worked, it was a joke to Joe,” Boyle says. “We were just fishing. He was used to giant jobs, guys working 1,000 feet up on the world’s biggest buildings.”

They’d leave the dock at 5 a.m. and run to the Bahamas, fish until 2 p.m. and be back in Florida at 4 o’clock. Boyle washed the boat from the tower down, then sold the fish they caught. He wouldn’t get home until 9 p.m. and would be back at the dock the next morning at 4:30. “I did that five days a week for five months,” Boyle says. “I had no life, but I learned all that I could.”

Working for a tough boss makes you a better fisherman. You simply can’t afford to lose a single fish. Boyle obsesses over the details: Line connections, frayed leaders, hook sharpness — nothing is overlooked, and it shows. Boyle has caught 2,500 swordfish up to 600-plus pounds and he still gets out there 100 days a year. He doesn’t fish for notoriety; he fishes because he loves it.

R.J. boyle is as adept at painting monster swordfish as he is at boating them.

When he was a deckmate, Boyle would sketch fishing scenes on the long rides to and from the fishing grounds, and he soon was selling shirts to his fellow deckhands and charter clients. He still paints, and if you want one of his hand-painted swordfish bills, you might have to wait in line. These are original paintings on swordfish bills, with an authenticity card stating the title of the painting, the weight of the fish and the area where it was caught. Take a look at www.rjboylestudio.com.

These days, Boyle runs a boat that’s much like him — a bit older, but solid and full of character. It’s a 1987 31-foot Ocean Master with twin 250-hp Suzuki outboards. The name on the transom: Datsnasty. Boyle worked on the boat when it was known as the Bill Collector. “That boat has caught more swordfish than any boat of all time,” he says. “I will never get rid of that boat. It’s mint.

“My goal every year is to fish one more day than the year before,” he adds. “I’ve got the best job in the world, and I can look anyone in the eye and say I’ve earned it.”

See related articles:

- Fishing for perfection

- A look back at King Cod

- Acts of cod

- What happened to the halibut?

- Sport fishing for groundfish

June 2013 issue