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December 17, 2012

Techniques for Sailfish Fishing

Follow these live-baiting guidelines and watch your numbers soar.

[Click through the gallery above, for sailfish photos and captions.]

It was a beautiful winter day with barely a breeze. Had we been headed to Bimini, it would have been ­custom-ordered weather. However, we were looking for sailfish — and a 15-knot northeast wind that never ­materialized. Nonetheless, we put out an attractive spread of live baits, with a pair of large threadfin herring dangling from a helium-balloon-assisted kite. When the day drew to a close, we’d logged three sailfish releases off Miami. But the kicker was that the surface and near-surface baits went unnoticed. It was the single deep bait set about 50 feet down that scored all three touchdowns for us. This served as just one more vivid example of the importance of ­covering both water area and depth to catch sailfish.

Live-baiting sailfish, something I’ve been doing a long time, is one of my favorite ways to fish. Over the years I’ve discovered six essential elements of consistently catching sailfish when they’re hard to come by, and for catching more of them when they’re pushing through. Stick to these guidelines and you will catch more sailfish.

Determine Depth Highways  

When sailfish are on the move, they show preferences for specific depth highways because of a thermal edge, ­current flow, bait concentrations or a combination of the three. If you hear of fish taken at a specific depth, say 120 feet, it stands to reason that more fish will be near that depth.

After determining where the current comes closest to the reef, we’ll drift over an 80- to 250-foot window, ­monitoring our bait spread as well as the fish finder for bait concentrations. When we raise a sailfish, we note the depth: If it was in 120 feet (to use that depth example again), we’ll narrow our focus to that 110- to 130-foot highway. 

Opt for Blanket Coverage

Covering a large area of surface and the water column is another critical tactic. I often deploy a sea anchor and drift rather than power troll. When I have the angler power aboard, I’ll deploy a fishing kite from the bow and another from the cockpit. Each kite will have three baits assigned to it. I’ll let the cockpit kite baits out farther than the bow kite. Those long baits serve as the “outside” baits on the downwind side of the boat versus the three “inside” baits off the bow kite. That string of six baits covers a large area. Should a sailfish pass downwind of the boat, I have baits in place to intercept them.

On the upwind side of the boat, the coverage continues. We’ll put out two baits under balloons, one well beyond the rest of the spread, with its bait some 20 feet down. The other balloon is set between 100 and 200 feet away, with its bait 10 feet deep. We’ll free-line another bait a couple of hundred feet out, and fish at least one bait on a breakaway sinker about 50 feet down, and sometimes a second one deeper than that.

With that spread in play, the surface area and depth we’re covering increases our odds of catching sailfish. The same spread can be deployed when slow-trolling, which often makes it easier to stay within a specific zone once fish are located.