It’s after New Years and here in South Florida that usually means that we will get some occasional cold fronts moving in, sweat shirt weather as my brother calls it, but what it really means is that the best part of the South Atlantic Sailfish season is finally here. Although many people consider November the beginning of Sailfish season, I catch just as many in the summer as I do around Thanksgiving lately; the real bite in recent years has begun just after New Years. The funny thing is that so many people talk about Sailfishing from their boats but think its something only the big charter boats of expensive boats can do, when the truth is that it’s really not that difficult and in most of South Florida only about 15-20 minutes our of any of the cuts. So here are some valuable tips to make this year’s Atlantic Sailfish something you can enjoy as well, provided you can deal with some bumpy seas that usually go hand in hand with cold fronts.
Where to catch Sailfish
Most South Florida Sailfish are caught in the 90-200 foot depth range, the exact depth can change as quickly as my girlfriend’s moods; a call to your local tackle shop or the Internet can narrow down where you might want to start fishing, although seeing jumping fish can change your mind in a heartbeat! Basically, see which way you are drifting and let the current take you through various depths in that range.
What kind of bait is used for Sailfish?
I have caught Atlantic Sailfish with all kinds of baits from skirted ballyhoo trolled behind the boat for King Mackerel to Pinfish when no other bait was available. Live bait is by far the best way to go, and of those live baits goggle eyes and blue runners probably are the most popular. Check out the article about live baits to learn how to catch them and how to rig them correctly.
Do I need a big boat?
Since this article is primarily for the new guy wanting to try his hand at catching a Sailfish and might only have a small 20 foot center console to fish from lets not worry about kite-fishing or exotic rigs for now, lets just try and get your first Atlantic Sailfish to the boat for that all important photo op! So first lets talk about the tackle that will do the job and that you probably already have in your arsenal.
Tackle needed for Sailfish
Sailfish are fast. Really fast! So when a fish, that usually weighs anywhere form 50-100 lbs (off South Florida) decides he doesn’t want to play with you anymore you will definitely need a good reel and lots of line. I tend to use line in the 20-30 lb and a reel that can hold that line with a quality drag, as it will be put to the test. If spinning rods or more conventional rods are your choices, I always suggest using what you are most comfortable with.
Tie a leader of 40 to 60 lb test monofilament to the end of your line using a combination of a bimini twist know and a no-name not, but any not you can really master should do the trick. The key is getting a long enough piece of leader that will hold up to the slashing and rubbing motion of the Sailfish’s bill. Streamlined knots can be reeled through the guides allowing you to have fewer issues with a longer leader.
As for hooks, first let me say that I prefer to always use circle hooks for fish that I am planning to release. It’s just a good habit to get into. A 6/0 circle hook should work just fine but remember you may want to go a size smaller or larger depending on the size of the bait.
Fishing for Sailfish
Hook your live bait through the nose or lips and make sure it can swim freely and then just start letting out some line. You should shortly get a feel for how much line to let out. You can then engage the clicker or bait runner feature on your reel (depending upon the type of reel) and then you can actually stick the rod in a rod holder and do your fish dance! Some anglers like to control the depth they fish by using a balloon attached directly to the monofilament at a given depth, but I prefer to drift through the entire water column. Drifting with flat lines is very simple and you don’t need to be an expert to get results. Just use common sense and try things out.
Some key tips to catch Sailfish:
The gulf stream flows North, pretty much anyone who fishes south Florida knows this, but when fishing for sailfish remember that they prefer hunting into the current so keep this in mind depending on how you decide to fish.
When using a circle hook let the fish run for a few seconds before engaging the reel. Do not strike the fish by jerking your rod tip upward, let the circle hook do its job and set in the corner of the fish’s mouth.
Sailfishing is a team activity, maneuvering the boat, fighting the fish and releasing the fish takes teamwork. Make sure you have a clear area to fight the fish and that everyone knows their job. Sailfish can get really crazy and make a number of reel screeching runs as well as incredible jumps but getting the fish to the boat quickly is key to successfully release this fish relatively unharmed. The bill is a weapon so when handling this fish for releases make sure to wear good gloves for both your protection and the fish. Don’t take him out of the water; you’ll have great photo ops by merely leaning over the side. Hold the bill and pull him through water at a slow speed and when he seems like the color and life has returned to him, let go and wave goodbye. The try and do it all over again!