Gorgeous, acrobatic, and
lit-up, Sailfish rank as the number one sporty catch of south Florida. But there
is a lot involved in the catch and release of these sought after game fish,
after all there 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
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,
and 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 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 you time to find them first.
Setting up on the drift.
As mentioned earlier, on
my flat lines I like to tie the hooks directly to the main line, otherwise I'll
tie a short Bimini to the tag end and attach my leader, 10 feet of 40 pound test
Seaguar fluorocarbon with an Albright knot. This knot takes practice, but once
you get the feel of how this knot works you will never change. 2 to 3 flat lines
are usually deployed at 50, 80, and past 100 feet away from the boat. 2 down
lines are deployed at 40 and 80 feet down. The down lines are rigged different
since weights are attached and the baits make more line twist, therefore I
attach a stainless steel ball-bearing swivel to my Bimini and then 8 feet of
40-50 pound mono attached to 1 foot of # 4 wire Kingfish rig. You might not want
Kings, but sooner or later your drift is going to take you over their zone, so
be prepared for cut-offs. Most of the time I tie wire to all the rigs because
the Kings bite on all lines. I use 4-6 oz weights on the down lines. The weight
can be attached a few different ways. I like to insert the Bimini twist into the
weight then tie on my snap swivel. You can also take a piece of dental floss,
attach it to the weight and leave a long enough tag end to tie to the swivel.
You can also use the breakaway technique where you will lose the weight. You
take your line above the swivel and insert it through the weight so a loop
appears on the other end, then take a rubber band, put it through the loop a few
times and pull the mono slowly so the rubber band gets stuck inside the weight.
When a fish strikes, the pressure on the line will release the weight. Setting
your lines for the kite is the same as the down line without the weights. Tie
your Bimini, attach your ball-bearing swivel rated for 75-100 pounds, tie 8-10
feet of 50 leader material to the swivel and attach your tag end if you prefer,
to 1 foot of number 4 wire leader attached to your hook via a haywire twist.
Then I will take a 2-foot strip of red or orange ribbon and attach it to my
swivel on the Bimini end, that way I can monitor my baits much easier.
This technique is more
advanced than drifting. It requires dropping your baits back on the strike.
Sailfish are very sensitive as they pick up your bait, if your bumping in and
out of gear a Sailfish can come up on your bait, mouth it, and if your drag is
tight the boat will pull it from his mouth and he might not come back. I prefer
to keep my drags in free spool with the clickers on, or on a spinning outfit I
will leave the bail open, attach a piece of copper wire to the arm that is
attached to the rod and make a small hook to hang the line on, with a gentle
tug, the sailfish will pull the line from the tiny hook in the copper wire and
put this reel into free spool as it runs with the bait. Let the fish eat for at
least 5-10 seconds, or until he takes off speedily, then put your drag lever in
the strike position and reel down until line starts peeling off the reel. When
the kite bait gets hit, the Sailfish needs time to eat just like above, as you
reel down on the fish the line will pop off the clip, so reel fast to get tight
before he jumps. If he jumps before you get tight, chances are you missed him.
Prime time for south
Florida Sailfish starts from November through April when these fish are
concentrated in 100 to 200 feet of water. On winter days as the wind comes out
of the east it is not unusual to get 4-5 releases in a days fishing out of Ft.
Lauderdale, 3 or more releases constitutes a good day. During the winter season
be sure to present plenty of baits down deep, at least 50 feet or more down. We
catch a lot of sails this way, it seems the top part of the water column is a
bit too cold for them especially on those days when the winds are blowing from
When targeting Sailfish,
look for the edge where the cobalt blue waters meets the green water. This is
where the bait usually winds up as these two currents move against each other.
This edge always changes; sometimes you will not find blue water past 700 feet
or so. Don't neglect this area, many times I have put lines down from 75-100
feet and came up with a beautiful tail walker. Pay attention to the current as
well, a good 2-knot north current produces some of the best bites.
Captain Cary Hanna
fishes the offshore waters off Ft. Lauderdale beach from the Hillsborough inlet
south to Haulover. He pursues Sailfish, Kingfish, Dolphin, Tuna, Sharks, and
Swordfish aboard his 2004 Donzi 32 ZF center console, powered with twin 225hp.
Mercury Opti's. He can be contacted at 954-907-0967 or visit his website for thelatest fishing report at