Sailfish - Istiophorus platypterus
Also known as: Bayonetfish, Spindlebeak
Inhabits tropical and subtropical waters near land masses, usually in depths over 6 fathoms, but occasionally caught in lesser depths and from ocean piers. Pelagic and migratory, sailfish usually travel alone or in small groups. They appear to feed mostly in midwater along the edges of reefs or current eddies.
Its outstanding feature is the long, high first dorsal which is slate or cobalt blue with a scattering of black spots. The second dorsal fin is very small. The bill is longer than that of the spearfish, usually a little more than twice the length of the elongated lower jaw. The vent is just forward of the first anal fin. The sides often have pale, bluish gray vertical bars or rows of spots.
Its fighting ability and spectacular aerial acrobatics endear the sailfish to the saltwater angler, but it tires quickly and is considered a light tackle species. Fishing methods include trolling with strip baits, lures, feathers or spoons, as well as live bait fishing and kite fishing. The most action is found where sailfish are located on or near the surface where they feed.
Recent acoustical tagging and tracking experiments suggest that this species is quite hardy and that survival of released specimens is good.
Floating Foam and Debris
Foam from crashing waves follows along with the currents. As it moves, it collects debris and small marine critters. Little fish are attracted to the critters and big fish are attracted to the little fish. Sometimes these floating lines of junk are big enough to provide shade for larger game fish. Fish them.
The Open Ocean
Fishing in the open ocean is an endeavor that only confident and experienced anglers should attempt. To successfully and safely target pelagic fish species that live in the open ocean, specialized tackle and boats are typically required. The easiest way to experience offshore angling for those anglers who don’t have larger boats is to book a fishing charter.
When researching charter boats that you’re thinking of hiring, be sure to ask plenty of questions before booking your trip. Ask about the length of the trip, what species you’ll be targeting, how may people can the boat hold, will the trip be private or open to other customers and anything else you may think of. If you would like to keep any of your catch for dinner, be sure to clarify what the boat’s policy is on fish that are caught. Depending on where you’re booking a charter, some charter crews have a policy of taking fish to local auctions to sell fish that the anglers catch. Always remember that you don’t ever have to keep a fish in order to get it mounted. Exact replicas of fish can be made with only a few pictures.
Open ocean fishing takes place all over the country but certain regions require a farther boat ride offshore in order to find good fishing grounds. Eastern states typically require a longer trip out to the fishing grounds (with the exception of Southern Florida) whereas states along the Pacific Ocean have steeper dropoffs and require a much shorter ride to find deeper waters.
Open ocean pelagic species of fish include tunas, billfish, dolphin, wahoo and some shark species.
Deep Shore Water
Currents can run along the shore and form pockets of deeper water. This deeper water usually appears darker than the surrounding water in the area. Bigger fish will move into these shallows and rest or wait for baitfish to pass by. You might get something bigger than you expected.
Surf and shore fishing takes a good eye. If you can spot a school of baitfish, then you might be able to catch bigger fish that are following them. But hurry, game fish strike fast and leave. When you locate a school of baitfish, look for the openings or lighter colored circles in the schools of bait. Often times, if a predatory fish is in the midst of a school of baitfish, the bait will try to keep a safe distance on all sides of the larger fish to avoid being eaten. This is what creates the holes in the bait schools. If you cannot locate these holes, cast your bait or lure to the outside edges of the baitfish schools.
Reefs, Wrecks, and Shoals
Reefs, wrecks, and shoals provide some of the most productive fishing grounds. In fact, reefs hold a great concentration of biodensity and diversity. The reefs offer shelter to many bait fish that game fish prey on, and this occurs throughout the water column. One can bottom fish, jig, or troll a reef. All methods attract various fish that inhabit these areas. Chumming the water helps to concentrate the fish and bring them up from the bottom. Depending on your fishing method, you can catch anything from a grouper to a king mackerel.
Drift fishing allows you to fish over a variety of habitats as your boat drifts with the currents or wind movement. You can drift fish on the bottom or change the depth with a bobber or float. Natural baits work very well but jigs, lures and scented artificial baits will produce good results, too. When drift fishing with multiple baits and rods, it is always a good idea to set out each bait at a different depth. This allows the angler to cover more of the water column.
One of the oldest, yet most effective, methods for catching fish is kite fishing. Originally used to carry baits out farther distances than could be cast from shore, kite fishing is now used to present baits in a more effective manner. Kites are flown from a modified rod and reel and have release clips attached to the kite line at various intervals. As the kite is let out from the boat, single fishing lines from the rods you’re using to catch the fish are attached to each release clip and carried out with the kite. Each of these attached lines will baited with live baits. Once the kite is set in place at a far enough distance from the boat, the fishing lines are tended to so that the baits are suspended from the kite and are just barely below the surface of the water. By keeping the bait splashing on the surface of the water, predatory fish are attracted to the struggling baitfish that is trying to swim down deeper into the water. When a fish takes the suspended bait, the release clips will drop only the baited line that was eaten so that the angler is now free to fight the fish in a normal manner.
Kite fishing requires constant attention to each line that is connected to the kite. It is important to make sure that the baits remain at the surface of the water while the boat is bobbing over waves in the ocean. You want to make sure that your bait remains in the water and is not floating around in the air or too far below the surface. Beginners should start kite fishing with only one or two lines connected to the kite release clips so that it is more manageable.
Contact your local bait shop to determine what kite will work best for you. There are various types of kites for virtually all wind conditions including storm force winds.
Trolling in saltwater is a good way to present baits and lures to pelagic fish by imitating a swimming baitfish or triggering the natural instincts of a fish to strike. When saltwater trolling, anglers will typically put out anywhere between two and nine lines with trolling lures staggered at various distances from the boat. Although there is no one universal trolling speed, most boats will typically troll natural baits like rigged ballyhoo, mullet, and mackerel, at speeds of 4-7 knots depending on sea conditions. Artificial trolling lures and plugs can be trolled at faster speeds of around 7-9 knots.
Still fishing is a versatile way to go. You can do it from a pier, a bridge, an anchored boat or from shore. And you can still fish during most seasons and during any part of the day. Your equipment and the size of the hooks and bait you use depend on what kind of fish you’re after. Your best equipment for still fishing is patience. You have to wait for the fish to bite. A great method for still fishing is to use one rod with natural bait that will soak or sit on the bottom as well as a casting rod with an artificial bait or lure. While you’re letting your natural bait soak, you can keep occupied and cover more ground while taking casts with a lure.
Bait & Lures
Saltwater Live Bait
Using live bait such as shrimp or various baitfish is a very effective method to use while targeting pelagic species of predatory fish. “Baitfish” is a term that refers to any saltwater schooling fish that serve as a food source to other larger fish. Species used are typically those that are common and breed rapidly, making them easy to catch and in regular supply. Good examples of marine bait fish are anchovies, ballyhoo (sometimes referred to as halfbeaks), herring, menhaden and scad.
Spoons are metal lures designed to look like a swimming baitfish or minnow. Many spoons are made to be cast while others are meant to be trolled behind a moving boat. Depending on where and how you're fishing, you can buy weedless, structure or trolling spoons. Ask your tackle shop which types you need.
Just about any fish that lives nearshore or in the open ocean can be caught using cut or whole squid. Use them whole by running the line through the inside of the mantle (the outside body shell) and hooking the squid in the head. The mantles of larger squid can be cut into vertical pieces for strip bait. You can use squid for trolling and for bottom and floating rigs.