The Northeast winds are here and the Sailfish bite is Hot in the Florida Keys
Of all the billfish the Sailfish is the best bet for the novice angler. To catch this fish you don’t need any kind of specialized tackle. The spinning gear you already own is the gear of choice for this fish. If you’re going for Marlin on the other hand, you’ll need to be outfitted with something very substantial like an 80 or 130 reel and someone at the helm who knows just what to do to land the fish. And when you go for these big guys, someone can surely get hurt or killed. So stick to the Sails and let the pro’s go for the Marlins.
This is a fast-growing species. They can grow 4 or 5 feet in just one year. They can swim at speeds up to 50 knots. They feed at the surface and at mid depths on smaller pelagic fish and squid.
Here in the Florida Keys you don’t have to travel to the Gulfstream
to find this fish. They’re waiting just off the reef in 80 to 150 feet of water. Two things you need to remember when going for Sailfish, go to where they are and give them what they are looking for. Another thing to remember is that if you don’t see them you’re probably not going to catch them. But I got to tell you I have caught them on downriggers and flat lines in 500 and 600 feet of water. Remember it always raises your odds when you’ve spotted them in the area. There are many signs to look for to let you know if they’re around. Birds hovering or diving, baitfish blasting out of the water, a billfish jumping or even a rip. Any of the signs that an experienced fisherman looks for when out on the water hunting for fish.
Here in the Florida Keys most Sailfish are caught on live bait. You can stop on the way out and catch pin fish or chum at the reef and get blue runners or ballyhoo. Any live baitfish will do.
The most popular gear for Sailfish is light spinning tackle and a kite. Most people fish with 20 to 30 pound line. You’ll need to be sure the reel is in good working order and that you have at least 300 yards of line on the reel. You’ll want to rig a 10-15 foot - 60 pound monofilament leader. Monofilament is recommended over a wire leader. Choose a hook that fits the baitfish size. Smaller baitfish smaller hook. That means you’ll need to have hooks that range from 3/0 thru 7/0 in size. Six inch baits and larger need 6/0 to 7/0 hook.
Having a knowledgeable person at the helm may land you your fish. Sailfish can and do make long runs. When this happens you’ll want to get the angler to the bow of the boat on a small boat and chase the fish. It’s not a good idea to back down on a fish in a small boat, you could get swamped. If you’re in a large Sportfishing boat, it’s OK to back down on the fish. If the angler is using spinning gear and he’s cranking while the drag is slipping the line can get really twisted. This causes the line to weaken and you’ll probably lose the fish and that reel is shot for the rest of the trip.
Hook placement is important when using live baits. You can hook the baitfish thru the lip, nostrils, eye socket or in front or behind the dorsal fin. You’ll need to be careful not to injure the backbone with the hook.
I prefer to bridle the bait especially since I use circle hooks . To bridle a baitfish cut a 6-7 inch piece of floss and tie it into a circle. Attach a rigging needle onto the loop and run the needle thru the back of the baitfish just in front of the dorsal fin then run it back thru the loop. Now put the point of the circle hook in the loop and wind the floss a few times to shorten the floss. The hook is ready to slide under the floss at the top of the baitfish. In case you haven't heard all boats fishing natural baits in billfish tournaments are required to use circle hooks. This regulation took affect on January 1, 2008.
Kites are flown from the stern of the boat on the downwind side. It’s flown from a specially rigged rod and reel. You’ll need to keep the boat in motion by drifting or bumping the engine in and out of gear, this helps to keep the kite up. The kite works like an out rigger. It keeps the bait up and out from the boat. The bait is suspended from the kite line at the surface of the water. The baitfish is constantly pulled in and out of the water by the motion of the boat and the kite. The baitfish is trying to swim for the bottom the whole time. This commotion attracts any fish in the area. You could hook up on a Kingfish, Wahoo, or Tuna as well as Sailfish.
The kite not only keeps the fish suspended at the surface, it also gives you a drop back. The reason you need a drop back has all to do with the way billfish feed. They sneak up behind the baitfish and smack it with their bill. This stuns the fish. They turn and come back for the injured fish. If there’s no drop back the billfish is not likely to go after the drifting bait.
If he did go after the bait you’ll need to set the hook when you’re using “J” hooks. They have a very hard mouth so set the hook like you mean it. If you’re using circle hooks just point the rod tip toward the fish then raise it a little and start reeling him in. This is when the fun begins especially when he’s jumping.
All this action with Sailfish is just outside your door here in the Florida Keys. If you thought these fish were just for the experienced fishermen to catch, think again. It’s really one of the easiest fish to hook.