From Islapedia
World's Record Broadbill Swordfish caught at Catalina Island, California. Weight 571 lbs.
Zane Grey pictured with a large swordfish caught in the 1920s around Santa Catalina Island.

Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) are a large marine fish with a round body, one of about ten species of billfish of interest to sportfishers. They are found throughout the world’s oceans and can withstand the greatest temperature range of all the billfish, possessing a tolerance for both warm and cold waters. The physical appearance of the swordfish resembles that of the marlin, although swordfish are slower swimmers than marlin. The dorsal fin of a swordfish can be mistaken for that of a shark.

A swordfish is smaller than marlin (weighing up to 650 kgs), but it can also grow up to 5 meters in size – partially thanks to its legendary long sword, which can take up almost one-third of its length. Female swordfish are much larger than male swordfish.

The snout of a typical swordfish is flat, whereas that of a marlin is round. The sword is not for the purpose of spearing, but rather for slashing at prey. Swordfish, in comparison to marlin, only live around 15 years. The oldest female ever recorded was 16 years old.

The record swordfish caught by an angler was off San Clemente Island on July 6, 1958. It weighed 337 pounds 12 ounces.


  • 1913
  • 1018
    Swordfish caught at Santa Catalina Island, CAl.
    wright 292 lbs., time 25 minutes
    Carlin Post Card Co.
    postmarked March 22, 1915
    [original in SCIF archives]
    left Col. John Sterns, right George Farnsworth
  • 15122.
    Swordfish caught at Catalina Island
    H.H.Tichnor CO.
    postmarked May 19, 1920
    [original in SCIF archives]
  • 1917
  • Zane Grey is pictured here with a large swordfish caught in the 1920s around Santa Catalina Island.
    Photo: Catalina Island Museum
  • C-81
    A Catalina Fish Story.
    Marlin Swordfish Caught Near Santa Catalina, California
    [original in SCIF archives]
  • 588 lb. Marlin Swordfish, Catalina Isl., 1936
  • Capt. Vaughn and Dr. O. E. Utzanger, August 26, 1937
    photo by P. V. Reyes
  • George Rehers, September 27, 1940
  • Swordfish on the Pleasure Pier
    [original in SCIF archives]

  • In the News~

    January 6, 1886 [SBDP]: “The head of a swordfish was brought in the schooner Angel Dolly this morning that measured forty-five inches from the tip of the sword to the eye. The fishermen say the body, which was severed from the head, would weigh about four hundred pounds. The monster was captured near San Miguel Island, and is perhaps the only one ever seen in the channel, or at least the only one ever known to have been caught.”

    March 8, 1890 [SBDI]: “Donations to Museum. Snout of swordfish (Xiphias gladius) from San Miguel Island, four feet long, Captain William G. Waters.”

    September 29, 1894 [SBDI]: “The schooner Santa Rosa came over yesterday from Santa Rosa Island bringing a swordfish taken near the island for Dr. Yates.”

    October 1, 1894 [LAT/SB]: “The schooner Santa Rosa arrived last evening from Santa Rosa Island, bringing over a swordfish taken near there, which will be stuffed and added to Dr. Yates’ collection.”

    November 29, 1896 [NYT]: “Battle with swordfish. A whale killed off the coast of California. Passengers on the little steamer that makes daily trips between San Pedro and Santa Catalina Island, some thirty miles out in the Pacific Ocean, were excited the other day by a terrible battle between two sea monsters… The monster, a very large-sized whale, turned this way and that, all the time lashing its black tail with fury and beating the water so that the sound came like claps of thunder… The swordfish had the advantage of the great sea mammal, and was thrusting its only weapon of attack and defense, the long, sharp and pointed sword…”

    June 12, 1898 [LAT/SP]: “The schooner Lucy, Captain Petersen, on her last trip from the north, was discovered to be leaking when near this port. Peter Hasselbach investigated, and found that a swordfish had struck the hull amidships on the starboard side six feet below the water’s edge as the vessel lay loaded…”

    September 2, 1904 [LAT/SP]: “Captain Swenson of the power-launch Leone, which arrived last night with a catch of 6000 pounds of lobsters from San Nicolas Island, reports a desperate battle between a swordfish and two whales which occurred day before yesterday off that island and resulted in the death of both the whales, the bodies being later washed ashore by the tides and secured by Swenson. When first seen by Swenson the battle was at its height and the monsters of the deep were lashing the waves into fury in their desperate conflict, the huge bodies of the whales rising many feet out of the water in their attempt to inflict damage to their enemy. The swordfish, which was an exceptionally large specimen, had the fight all its own way, and succeeded in killing both its adversaries. The larger of the whales is about seventy feet in length and twenty feet in diameter, while the smaller is fifty-five feet in length and fifteen feet in diameter. The sword of the swordfish had entirely penetrated the body of the larger whale, and there were numerous jabs in the body of both. The bodies were washed upon the beach, and Captain Swenson made an ineffectual attempt to pull the small specimen off the beach and tow it to San Pedro, but the weight was too much for his engines. He thereupon covered the bodies with sand and will make an attempt to bring them over, using a larger boat. Captain Swenson states that he has been offered $100 by the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad to deliver the bodies of the whales at East San Pedro.”

    September 16, 1904 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. Mr. and Mrs. M. Garrett of Cleveland, Ohio had a thrilling encounter with a swordfish while out in the launch Cushman with Captain Walker. Mrs. Garrett was pulling in a skipjack when the line began to run out uncontrollably. About six hundred feet of line had gone when there was a great splash not fifty feet away in the opposite direction from that in which the pull had begun. Another splash and a big swordfish leaped fifteen feet into the air… A little later a leader broke and the occupants of the launch were glad to part company with the too big game.”

    October 7, 1904 [SBMP]: “Fishermen returning from the channel and islands report that large numbers of swordfish have been seen jumping high out of the water. Some of them have been hooked by those fishing for albacore, but none have been landed. They can be captured most easily by using flying fish for bait the same as tuna. Swordfish are very good eating, but are difficult to land when once hooked upon a long line.”

    March 7, 1905 [LAT/SCat]: “Avalon. William Moncrieffe, and Lee Ballington, cattlemen of Sheridan, Wyoming, who have been putting a bit of variety into their lives by spending a few weeks in fishing here, having the Nestella under charter, were witness to an ocean tragedy Saturday between a couple of marine monsters. They were several miles off shore, fishing for albacore, when their skipper George Farnsworth called their attention to a tremendous commotion in the water ahead. Huge columns of spray dashing upward at short intervals showed that a terrible combat was being waged by some powerful creature of the sea. Soon they discovered that one of the combatants was a whale… All was quiet for a time when to their astonishment a big swordfish leaped into the air, flourishing his sword and seemed to say to the spectators: ‘I’ve fixed him! And he went below to finish the job.’”

    July 12, 1905 [SBMP]: “Captain Haron Rock of Montecito, Frank Knott of New York and Cameron Rogers enjoyed a pleasant fishing trip on the channel on Monday. They made the trip in Ira Eaton’s Irene... A large whale and a swordfish were sighted on the trip.”

    November 3, 1905 [LAT]: “Many dead whales afloat in channel. The bodies of over twenty dead whales, known as ‘killers,’ are floating in the channel off San Nicolas Island, thirty miles from this city. The discovery was made by Walter Stafford, who has just returned from the islands in the launch Irene. These gigantic corpses, which measure from twenty to forty feet in length, bear mute evidence of a fierce battle between the monsters that inhabit the deep. This warfare has, to his knowledge, been going on between two varieties of whales and swordfish for several weeks in the ocean near the Channel Islands, and it is probable that in the extermination of so many of this variety of whale, a signal victory has been won by some of the marine leviathans over their adversaries… What caused the death of so many whales at one time is not known, but it is believed that their most deadly foe is the swordfish, which are able to make deadly thrusts at the whales’ most vulnerable parts with their sword-like noses.”

    March 19, 1908 [LAT]: “Avalon. Lashing the surrounding water into foam and struggling frantically to free itself from some marine monster it had killed, a huge swordfish was seen today off San Clemente Island by local fishermen…”

    March 20, 1908 [LAH]: “Avalon, March 19. Lashing the surrounding water into a veritable foam and struggling frantically to free itself from some submarine monster, a huge Xiphias, or swordfish, was seen today off San Clemente Island by local fishermen. Whether its victim was a large tuna or the dead body of a seal could not be ascertained. Owing to the fact that several launches have been struck and almost sunk by these ferocious fishes after they gain their liberty, the men who witnessed the affair remained as a safe distance.”

    March 21, 1908 [LAH]: “Ocean Park, March 20. Fisherman Joe returned to Long Wharf early this morning, bringing confirmation of the story of a gigantic swordfish, which is cruising off the fishing banks of San Clemente Island. The monster attacked Joe’s boat, thrusting its sword through the bottom and leaving the point sticking in the vessel. Fisherman Joe was thoroughly frightened by the attack of the big fish, which is known as the fiercest that inhabit the Pacific. The fish made only one attack, disappearing with a great swish after losing the tip of its weapon.”

    September 2, 1908 [LAT]: “Hon. C. G. Conn of Indiana returned from his second trip to Anacapa Island bringing with him a splendid leaping tuna which weighed ninety-four and one-half pounds. This is the first leaping tuna taken this year, and the largest since 1904… Mr. Conn is having his prize mounted. He says he struck a 600-pound swordfish and played it for an hour. He is very enthusiastic over the fishing possibilities of Anacapa Island.”

    April 13, 1909 [LAH]: “Long Beach, April 12. Five boys who returned yesterday after a cruise among the Santa Barbara and San Nicolas islands witnessed a fight between a whale, thresher shark and swordfish near San Nicolas. They say the memory of the terrific struggle between the three monsters of the deep will remain long in their minds. The lads found many remarkable curios, including Indian bones, war implements, beads, hammers and other things.”

    September 19, 1909 [LAH]: “Gifford Pinchot, United States forester, yesterday landed at San Clemente Island a swordfish weighing 180 pounds and measuring seven feet nine inches in length. Pinchot plated the monster for more than two hours from the launch Juanita, on standard tuna club tackle. The fish was taken to Avalon for the purpose of being mounted and recorded. Despairing of catching tuna at San Clemente Island the Pinchot party will put in the early part of the week angling for the gamey bluefin at Catalina. A large number of yellowtail, black sea bass, albacore and white fish have been taken by the party, although as yet no records have been broken.”

    September 25, 1910 [LAH]: “Avalon, September 24. A launch returning today from San Clemente Island, where Gifford Pinchot, his brother Amos and their party are fishing, brought back the body of a giant swordfish as proof of the piscatorial skill of the ex-forester. The swordfish, which was only landed after a terrific struggle in which the safety of the boat and its occupants was many times endangered by its frantic rushes, was found to be over eleven feet long and weighed more than 200 pounds. The party plans to return to Avalon Sunday evening and will immediately proceed to Los Angeles, where Mr. Pinchot will address the American Mining congress Monday evening on conservation.”

    July 21, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “After a battle in a rough, awkward sea for over three hours with a monster swordfish, Felix Kahn of San Francisco, landed the catch Sunday afternoon and is now the proud possessor of several prizes from the Tuna Club, also a gold button, and is eligible for membership to this famous club. The catch, which was made from the launch Leta D., Captain O. I. Danielson, was an excellent specimen of the marlin variety, weighing 217 pounds and measured over ten feet in length and is the first of its kind caught this season. With the sea running heavy from Mosquito Harbor, the swordfish towed the launch and its occupants several miles out into the channel…”

    August 7, 1917 [TI/Avalon]: “W. C. Boscen of New York established another new world’s record on Saturday, when he landed a swordfish weighing 463 pounds, after a fight lasting over two hours… exceeding the Johnstone 1916 record of 362 pounds… ”

    August 25, 1914 [LAT]: “While fishing at Mosquito Harbor, San Clemente Island, Tuesday, N. B. McMillan brought to gaff a swordfish weighing 201 pounds after a hard battle, which lasted fifty-seven minutes…”

    August 25, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “While fishing near Catalina Harbor in the launch Pirate, Captain Enos Vera, W. G. Evans of Denver, Colorado, brought to gaff the season’s record swordfish, and possibly the world’s record of this variety of fish ever taken on Tuna Club standard tackle. The monster tipped the scales at 340 pounds and took angler Evans almost an hour to bring it to gaff…”

    September 8, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “A swordfish hooked by W. C. Boschen Sunday, rammed the angler’s launch, and in its attempt to gain liberty, left its broken sword embedded in the solid oak. It was gaffed and successfully landed.”

    September 15, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “Angler Boschen has brought to gaff fourteen tuna and six swordfish.”

    September 22, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “Mr. N. B. MacMillan brought to gaff his first swordfish Sunday night, while fishing from the launch Juanita, Captain George Michaelis. The catch weighed 210 pounds, and battled for 57 minutes.”

    September 29, 1914 [TI/Avalon]: “Swordfish. Largest of the season — Wm. G. Evans, Denver, 340.”

    June 29, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “While fishing near Seal Rocks, Friday, W. C. Boschen of New York City, brought to gaff the first swordfish of the season after a battle that lasted two hours and twenty-six minutes. The fish measured over ten feet in length, weighed 285 pounds and is considered by fishermen as good a specimen as was ever brought into Avalon by anglers. It is the first time in the history of the swordfish anglers that a big fish was captured in the month of June.”

    August 17, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “Two swordfish have been sent from San Clemente waters by Zane Grey, the largest one weighing 138 pounds, the smallest 110 pounds. Swordfish are said to be almost as numerous in San Clemente waters as the tuna are now in Catalina waters.”

    August 24, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “The season’s record swordfish weighing 284 pounds was brought to gaff Saturday by Zane Gray of New York, while fishing at San Clemente with Captain Danielson. The fight lasted for eight hours. Over 32 pounds was lost in transit. Mr. Grey is still in camp at Mosquito Harbor.”

    August 31, 1915 [TI/Avalon]: “A swordfish weighing 115 pounds was brought to gaff Wednesday by G. S. Patton of Boston. Mrs. Patton also secured a yellowtail weighing 24-1/2 pounds. The fish were caught at San Clemente.

    September 28, 1915 [LAT]: “Fred Burman of San Francisco captured a 173-pound swordfish off San Clemente recently.”

    May 7, 1916 [SBMP]: “A. C. Coy of New York, fought a good sized broadbill swordfish Friday 40 minutes and was in a fair way to win when the leader failed, kinked by the tactics of the fish no doubt.”

    August 8, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “Two broadbill swordfish in one week, and the last fish caught a world’s record, weighing 377 pounds, is the trick that has been turned by W. H. Adams… The former record was held by Mr. W. C. Boschen, with a fish weighing 355 pounds. In 1913 when angler Boschen brought his record to gaff, many enthusiasts believed that the limit had been reached…”

    August 19, 1916 [SBMP]: “At Larco’s fish market yesterday morning was on exhibition one of the largest swordfish ever seen here. It was caught by Martin Suich, a Santa Barbara fisherman who was out in his motor boat fishing in the waters of the lower channel, in his nets that had been lowered at a point midway between Ventura and the islands. The swordfish was twelve feet long, and weighed 440 pounds. It was shipped last evening to Los Angeles where it will be the prize of the Japanese epicures, who esteem certain pasts of this marine monster a great delicacy.”

    August 19, 1916 [SBDN]: “Following a fierce battle during which his small motor boat was endangered as well as his life, Martin Suich, a fisherman of this place, landed a monster swordfish in the lower channel yesterday and brought it into port. The swordfish measured approximately 20 feet from tip to tip, and it tipped the beam at 440 pounds — by far the largest of its kind taken from waters in the memory of the oldest fishermen along the wharves. The monster was on exhibition at Larco’s fish market yesterday, and later was sold to Los Angeles parties and shipped to that place last night, where it will become the prize of Japanese epicures. The swordfish was caught by Captain Suich in his nets.”

    September 12, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “The swordfish record raised. The world’s record swordfish, taken according to Tuna Club regulations, was brought to gaff Sunday afternoon by Mr. Hugo Johnstone, after a battle lasting over two hours. The swordfish weighed 362 pounds…”

    September 26, 1916 [TI/Avalon]: “The Sea Scout outfit report the Clemente waters literally alive with swordfish.”

    September 17, 1918 [LAT]: “Some fish, isn’t it? It’s a marlin swordfish: It weighs 311 pounds and was brought to gaff in twenty-eight minutes after a fight in San Clemente waters. The man standing beside it is Commodore James W. Jump, who smashes the light tackle tuna record by his feat.”

    August 5, 1920 [SBMP]: “Launch Sea Wolf attacked by swordfish. ‘Bulldog’ of the deep gets little surprise. Swordfish are naturally vicious. They are also known as ‘bulldogs’ of the deep and when in battle they work deadly havoc with an opponent. Attacks by swordfishes on ocean-going ships are so common as to be included among sea risks. The cause which excites swordfishes to attack boats is unknown, but they follow instinct so blindly that they have become a menace to navigation in a large sense. Captain Ira K. Eaton, of the schooner Sea Wolf, related yesterday an incident wherein a swordfish collided with his craft in the channel waters as few weeks ago. The Sea Wolf was speeding from Santa Cruz Island to the mainland when a swordfish made a dash toward a forward end of the boat and crashed head on. The little vessel faltered for but a moment and the last Captain Eaton saw of the swordfish was the flip of the tail as it disappeared well to starboard. When the captain had his boat in dry-dock recently his attention was called to a jagged hole in the keel. The specimen of planking had been pierced by the weapon of the swordfish as enclosed was the broken end of the sword 3 inches long, as if the fish had the object of concentrating its attack on the same vulnerable spot of its supposed enemy. The part of the sword which penetrated the Sea Wolf’s keel was broken off sharp and remained firmly embedded in the wood, the conclusion being advanced that the fish was unable to execute sufficient powerful backward movement to free itself by extricating the sword. The power required to produce such an effect upon a boat of the Sea Wolf’s type is described by Captain Eaton as the accumulated force of 15 double handed hammers. Instances have been cited where swordfish have driven their weapon through copper sheathing, oak-planking and timber to a depth of nearly 10 inches.”

    August 23, 1921 [LAT]: “Avalon. The first record heavy tackle marlin swordfish was brought to gaff today by Dr. J. Aubrey Wilborn, fishing from Dr. Zane Grey’s swordfish cruiser, the Gladiator. The button-winning sea tiger was hooked near San Clemente and weighed 205 pounds. Dr. Gray took two marlin on the same fishing expedition…”

    July 16, 1928 [ODC]: “One of the most remarkable fish stories comes from the islands, when at Anacapa yesterday a party of men piloted by Manuel Sousa in his fishing boat witnessed a series of parades of fish outlined below in the clear water and against a background of brown kelp. Countless hoards of long slim barracuda filed to and fro in rank 50 feet from top to bottom. Interspersed between them were yellowtail, bonita, kelp bass and mackerel… A large swordfish, and some flying fish disported on the surface near the island indicating there are swordfish to be had with the proper equipment. Swordfish are not easy to take, and when they do strike, there is action in every moment. Fishermen after swordfish should be well able to handle these monsters, or else leave them alone. A long runway at the front of the boat, and a harpoon are considered part of the equipment, then with the best of tackle, and some flying fish as a lure an interesting time is to be had by those who follow the sport…”

    August 6, 1931 [OT]: “Anacapa Island, a dry, barren, and lonely speck off the southern California coast, opposite Ventura, will be inhabited this fall by a community of twenty government employees and their families. H. W. Lippman, Los Angeles, contractor, has announced a real lighthouse station on the island will be ready for occupancy the latter part of September. Although uninhabited until the arrival of the construction crews, Anacapa Island has for many years been a favorite haunt of pleasure craft and occasional commercial fishermen. Around the lonely speck exists the best swordfishing water in this area…”