No sport fish is more exciting than your first Sailfish. While there are many Sailfish destinations, the Florida Keys consistently ranks in the top twenty. Whether your travel plans include a flight to Florida Keys to fish a charter or you are a Do-it-yourselfer bringing your own boat, this article help you have a productive vacation. The Sailfish peak runs November through April in the Keys. The peak time will vary some each year and some years are better than others. It is still world class fishing every year. A charter having four to six shots a day is a good average. Most of the sailfish are caught on live bait, Pilchards, ballyhoo, goggle eyes and other, in that order. Dead bait trolling and lures will produce, but not as well as the live bait.
More captains are employing drift fishing with live chumming as their preferred method. With this method, your captain will start drifting the boat in deeper water, releasing live Pilchards as he starts the drift. This attracts fish to the boat. Kite fishing is used by a few, but isn’t very effective if you have not found the fish. I prefer to mix it up, running and gunning a while to locate bait and sails, then live bait for them. Sight casting to the fish is really what I love once the fish are found, but drifting in a good area loaded with bait is what happens most of the time.
While a bait tank full of Pilchards or ballyhoo is preferred, sometimes you have to go with what you have. Blue runners, pinfish, yellowtail snapper and even needlefish have produced sails for me.
Rigging for sails is pretty simple. On the spinners I have 5 to 8 feet of double line and 6 to 8 feet of monofilament leader. Normally fifty to sixty pound leader is all I use and I fluorocarbon is a big deal with me. The hook is a 5/0 to 7/0 J or a 6/0 to 9/0 new type circle; it depends on my mate and my customers. With Pilchards or any live bait other than ballyhoo, just hook them in the nostrils. With ballyhoo, I hook them in the upper lip and us a short piece of copper rigging wire to wrap the bill and hook shank. Blue runners are tough to fish because at the first sign of a sail they try to climb back in the live well. This means I will use a balloon about six in front of the blue runners. This make them look a little more stupid and I can keep an eye on them. Having a bait look stupid isn’t a bad thing. Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory explains the reason. Stupid or defective critters are removed from the gene pool quickly.
For conventional rods, basic rigging is the same, only with longer leaders and double line. I use the conventional outfits a lot when I have rookie anglers and no mate. I teach anglers how to let the bait on the conventional tackle out and drive the boat in front of the fish. Conventional outfits also work well on regular drift fishing. It is much more fun for my customers to fight big sails on light spinning outfits. Catching an 80-pound sail on ten or twelve pound test is a hoot that you can brag about later.
The tournament charters use 30 pound on their spinners and thirty to fifty pound on their conventional rods to rack up numbers. That’s fine if that is your bag, I just prefer the light tackle and the shorter leaders. Who said its not destination, it’s the journey.
Finding the fish for is the fun part. Look for birds working, bait sprays, black trash bags in the water (that’s what a sailfish looks like swimming in the water) and free jumpers. Free jumping sails are neat to see, but you rarely get one in your lines. That said you have to check them out anyway. Come on! You got a shot right!
Best depths to hunt for Keys sailfish in the winter is 100 to 300 feet. They can be on the reef or all the way past the ledge. Whether you need to run to alligator light or the Sambos is your guess. I normally work from Bonefish towers to Bahai Honda. Well, once I ran to American shoal and did pretty well. It’s all fishing and sailfish are a very worthy adversary. If you have never tried it, get off you need to give it a go!
For information on accommodations and charters visit http://www.fla-keys.com/marathon/