Gorgeous, acrobatic, and lit-up, Sailfish rank as the # 1 sporty catch of south Florida. But there is a lot involved in the catch and release of these sought after game fish, after all their not the best table fare. How much vacuum packed smoked Sailfish can you eat? So what’s involved in catching the Sailfish? What kind of bait? What is the best rod and reel set-up? What are some of the techniques to use on the water? Let’s start out and learn from the end result and work our way to the steel bite pro beginning.
The fact is Sailfish fight their heart out, displaying themselves in full view acrobatics over and over again. Did you ever run the 100 yard dash in high school? What happened when you finished? If you were like me, you stood there with your head between your knees and tried to catch your breath. A Sailfish doesn’t have the luxury of sitting there and catching his breath, they will sink. So what do you do when you get a Sailfish that looks half dead at your boat side? You need to resuscitate him! Put on your gloves, grab his sandpaper like spindle beak, remove your hook and hold him boat side, preferably with the boat in gear. You need to revive him for 5-10 minutes before you let him go. This might take some patience, but the reward is great when your prize catch swims away in good health ready to fight another day.
The above scenario is a bit traumatizing for the Sailfish, don’t you think? Not to mention a little novice. Most cases when a Sailfish has to be resuscitated it is because the fight was prolonged. Fighting your Sailfish on anything less than 20 lb. test will prolong the battle unless you chase down your fish. Personally I prefer to fight my Sailfish with no help from the boat, but I also have that luxury since I fish from a center console. My clients have on numerous occasions commended me for not chasing down their fish, they appreciated catching their fish all on their own. As an example, if your using a 12 lb. set-up, you will need to hold at least 400 yards on your reel, and you might still get spooled from your average Sailfish if you don’t chase him down. Even if you don’t get spooled what fun is it seeing your fish jumping 300 yards away from the boat not to mention all that line dragging in the water increasing the risk for it to break. And finally you might have your fish boat side an hour or so later.
Fast reels, Hot baits
One of my favorite set-ups for Sail fishing is a Shimano TLD 20, spooled with over 400 yards of Berkley Big Game 30 pound test, accompanied with a seven foot, medium action Oceanmaster rod. This rod and reel set-up has caught tons of Sailfish over the years and remains unbeatable offshore. Keeping 4-5 pounds of drag set in the strike position, most Sailfish stay inside of 150 yards from the boat and are brought to the stern within 20 minutes. I use Berkley Big game fishing line on most reels, it doesn’t have a lot of stretch or memory and is easy to tie with, it also is abrasive resistant. With experienced fishermen on board I’ll tie a 5/0 Lazer sharp Eagle Claw Salmon hook directly to the main line. You can bring in the fish within 20 minutes and the line holds up very well, and you get a lot more hits that way. You will need to retie your hook after each fish caught to be safe from any nicks or chaff on your line.
Putting the right bait on your hook is critical to your success. I have caught Sailfish on Ballyhoo, Pilchards, and Threadfin Herring, but my best success is the valuable goggle eye. ( Literally at $50. to $100. a dozen) They are a soft bait with big eyes and strong swimmers making them great baits for all techniques. You can catch this bait on size 12 sabiki rigs but only at night, that’s when the Goggle-eye becomes active. You can find them around structure up to about 80 feet of water and around anchored ships. As soon as the sun comes up the bite is off unless there is a full moon setting as the morning light breaks, then the bite will last just a bit longer. So prepare to fish for these Goggle-eyes 2-4 hours before sunrise giving yourself time to find them first.