How to Catch Sailfish
how to catch a sailfish

How to Catch Sailfish

Sailfish are one of the most cherished saltwater fish. Any person who has a Sailfish mounted in their house is guaranteed to have a phenomenal story behind it. Not only are they some of the most unique fish in the world, they put up wonderful fights and make you earn every inch of line you’re able to retrieve.

You can find Sailfish on both coasts of the United States, but they’re more commonly caught in the Atlantic Ocean. You’ll find them along the Florida Keys all year round. They move north in the spring in search of cooler waters and return back to the Keys in the fall.

These fish are landed a long ways offshore so be prepared with a capable boat when you’re targeting these fish. If you’re in the Atlantic Ocean, fish for these near the edge of the Gulf Stream. You’ll have quite a bit of success and formulate quite an addiction.

Here are a few tips to help you catch a Sailfish!

Where to Go and When to Fish

fishing for sailfish stuart fl

First and foremost, it’s important to realize how important timing is to your Sailfish mission. These fish are able to be caught in the Atlantic from November to May. If you want the best shot at one, be sure to plan trips in January through the end of February.

The colder the water, the more active the Sailfish. They’ll be feeding in a variety of levels of the water column, but if you do see them on the surface, you’ll know it’s time to stop and begin targeting them.

As January and February conclude, you’ll start to see larger swells as the north winds and southern current meet. The Sailfish are found in the swells and are on their way south. These fish are always moving so be sure to try and find fish! They’re usually following bait.

If you can’t find fish, spend your time near wrecks and along reefs. These areas are likely going to hold bait and the Sailfish will likely be close. They aren’t a complicated fish to locate, but the timing has to be right. Do your best to find some recent reports before you make the effort to search for them.

If they’re surface feeding, you’ll see them. They’re extremely active and are amazing to watch!


You can use both artificial and live bait for Sailfish, but live bait has proven to work the best. Ballyhoo, Sardines, Pilchards and Blue Runners are some of the best live bait options for Sailfish. These can either be rigged live or dead. Sailfish aren’t too picky!

You can also use skippers, Seawitches and Chugger baits as well.

Rods and Reels

TLD 30 for sailfish

Your rod and reel is extremely important for successfully landing a Sailfish. If you’re using live bait, use a 7 foot heavy spinning rod. Your reel needs to be around an 8000 size and rigged with 40-50 pound braid.

You should also be sure you use a leader. Fluorocarbon is best and it only needs to be around 30 pound test.

If you’re trolling, you only need a 6-foot rod with a conventional reel. Be sure the reel can hold around 250 or 300 yards of monofilament. Your rod should also have a fast action.

Different Techniques to Catch Sailfish 

Sailfish can be caught in numerous ways. At times, it can be overwhelming to choose the best method. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of trial and error, but you’ll eventually learn and experience the joy of landing one of these fish.

Trolling is a common technique that has proven to catch Sailfish. If possible, troll dredges and teasing baits if you don’t have the luxury of live baiting. You can find artificial dredges from a variety of bait companies that will all have realistic baitfish presentations.

You want your dredge to be a ways away from your boat and fairly deep in the water. However, if you can’t see it, it’s too far and too deep. You’ll need to be able to quickly locate it to begin baiting some of the more interested Sailfish.

If you do choose to troll dredges, be sure you’re trolling at slower speeds no faster than 7 or 8 miles per hour. If you see a Sailfish rising near one of your teasters, retrieve it and throw some bait near it. Trolling is a cat and mouse game that requires time. You want the baitfish to appear wounded so the Sailfish have no problem striking them.

If you choose to not use a dredge, you can fish a simple four or five rod spread. The spreader bar is going to spread your baits out in the water to provide you the ability to cover a nice amount of water. Be sure that your spreader bar is attached to your boat and the lines are run properly through the release clip. If all rigged properly, the line will break from the release clip and you’ll begin your fight.

One of the easiest methods is to drift or cast live bait. This is a great technique to use if you see Sailfish feeding on the surface. The biggest thing to remember when casting for Sailfish is that they can easily spook. You don’t want to have to launch your casts, but a good casting distance away is important.

Longer casts will cause heavier splashes and increase the chances of spooking these fish. If you can cast the bait around 15 or so feet from the fish, you’ll have a nice chance to hook into it!

How to hook into a Sailfish


As soon as you’ve hooked into a Sailfish, the fun begins. As long as you’re using a circle hook, the fish will likely set itself as it begins to attack the bait. Once the fish picks up the bait, you’ll want to make sure your spool is open. Let the fish run for a bit to ensure it has the bait, flip the spool and reel into the fish.

Keep your rod tip low to make sure that you don’t rip the bait out of the mouth. Be careful once you have landed the fish, be sure you wear gloves. Their bills are extremely sharp and can cause quite a bit of damage.

Tips and Tricks

Patience is key when targeting Sailfish. It’s not often that they’re going to swim directly up to the bait and swallow it. They’re likely going to slash it to stun it and then begin feeding on it. Don’t mistake a slash of the bill as a take.

You won’t be able to miss when a Sailfish takes your bait. It is ripped off of the reel at an impressive pace.

It’s also important to be patient when you’re releasing a Sailfish. These fish will give you everything they have during the fight. Once you do catch them, keep it in the water if you’re not going to keep it. Slowly revive the fish by driving slowly forward with the boat and let the water get through the gills.

Book a charter boat. If possible, fish with a professional to learn all of the ins and outs of fishing for Sailfish. These men and women have years of experience and will be extremely helpful and provide you with all of the necessary information to land one of these fish.

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