With what has been going on off Florida, Farrington may want to revise that last statement. Thus far this year, Beardsley estimates that sports anglers have caught nearly 200 swordfish in Florida waters. Because of their value as both trophies and food, most of these fish have been kept, even 40-pounders. Now that the fishery has been proven beyond a doubt, scientists and enlightened fishermen are promoting a tag-and-release program to preserve the fishery and perhaps learn about the migratory habits of this magnificent fish.
Professional swordfish guides (a brand-new occupation in Florida) are charging from $200 to $350 for an all-night trip. And these summer nights the boats can be seen headed east at around eight o'clock. The ocean deepens off South Florida to 900 feet at 12 miles, then slopes away to 1,450. The deep, powerful currents of the Gulf Stream carom off this drop-off like thermals off an Alpine crag, creating rips all the way to the surface. Baitfish are caught up in this turbulence, attracting squid and sword-fish. The boats drift north with the stream, trailing three or four baits at varying depths, from 30 to 200 feet. Each trip is an experiment. Different size balloons are being used to vary the depths at which baits can be drifted; heavy monofilament leaders are employed in place of wire; spotlights are aimed into the depths. Fishermen joke about new tricks, like underwater microphones, yet untried, to broadcast squid distress calls. Occasionally a shark is hooked, but most strikes are from swordfish, and the suspense of waiting is heightened by the awareness of enormous depths and the eerie nighttime sea. There are thousand-pound swordfish down there, rising toward the hooked squid, nightsticks and quickened pulses. As one red-eyed Floridian said at 4 a.m. last week, "Just think of all those stupid people home in bed."