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September 22, 2010

Atlantic Sails on Fly

Two seasoned pros share their tips on overcoming the challenge of catching an Atlantic sailfish on fly

Capt. Anthony Mendillo
Isla Mujeres

If you were to travel southwest far enough from Islamorada, you would eventually reach another hot spot for Atlantic sailfish on fly. Isla Mujeres, Mexico, is located approximately eight miles northeast of Cancún, and Capt. Anthony Mendillo has been prospecting these waters for the past 13 years. Isla is a prime spot to target sails on fly because the fish are plentiful, and plentiful fish means more shots for anglers. Mendillo says that on normal days, anglers can expect to make casts to seven fish, and it's not uncommon at all to have shots at as many as 10.

On the Troll
Before Mendillo begins his troll, he always sets the distance of the fly line for his client. For this type of fishing, bait-and-switch trolling with rigged dead baits, you need only so much fly line, and anything more is just going to be a hindrance.

Mendillo is known particularly for racking up large numbers of fly-caught sailfish. His big secret is pretty surprising - he uses a dredge rigged with dead mullet or ballyhoo. "Because we use a dredge, we do end up losing a lot of fish, but by using the dredge, I'm raising a lot more fish and providing my clients with more opportunities," he says. "That's what you've got to have, especially if you want to rack up release numbers."

In the Spread
Ideally, Mendillo raises fish on the flat line, which normally has a ballyhoo. Unlike Moret's crew, his will try to keep the fish there as long as possible, to get the fish really hot and give time to clear the dredge. The mate lets the fish mouth the bait a little bit, and when everything is cleared, the tease is on. Once the fish is in range, Mendillo will yell for a cast. "When I yell out, that is the point when I want the angler to make his cast," Mendillo says. "I can't stress it enough to my mates that when I yell out, I want the teaser to be erased completely. If the teaser does not completely exit the water at this point, you're not going to get the fish off it."

sailfish hook-upLike Moret, Mendillo prefers the fly to be behind the fish, to get a going-away bite. However, it's not a perfect world all the time. "If the fly lands beside the fish, you can still get a good bite, but it's harder to get a hookup," he says. "When we catch those fish, that's what I call 'stealing fish,' and you've got to steal the occasional fish to post the big numbers." When a fish bites from side to side, Mendillo's method is pretty simple: "Strike with the line and the rod, and always strike in the opposite direction of the bill." To give the fish a better chance of seeing the fly, Mendillo prefers using patterns a little larger than Moret's favorites. Larger flies are often more appealing to marlin, which are very likely to come up on the same spread as sailfish in Isla Mujeres. He customizes the hooks on his flies by filing down the sides in order to make them more like needles. When a fish bites from the side and the angler strikes as instructed, it doesn't take much pressure to penetrate the fish's mouth, especially with Mendillo's custom hook setup.

There's something about trolling in open water - while it can be boring, knowing that any second something truly exciting could occur always puts your mind at ease. When it does happen, there are only two words to describe the few seconds that follow: absolute pandemonium. The great thing about fly-fishing for Atlantic sailfish is that, when things come together, the action literally happens right in front of you. Again, fooling these fish on fly is definitely a low-percentage game, and that's what makes it a true test for anglers. When you get a shot, you've got to make it count.

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