Vary the Baits
A variety of live baits work on sailfish, including goggle-eyes, blue runners, threadfin herring, cigar minnows, large pilchards and speedos. If you can obtain more than one type of live bait, do so. The small- to medium-size goggle-eyes, runners and speedos are best for sailfish.
When we have more than one kind of bait, we’ll dispatch them in the spread. The hardier baits — goggle-eyes, runners and speedos — are excellent kite baits, as are large threadfins. Sometimes sailfish prefer smaller baits, such as threadfins, cigar minnows and pilchards, and these do very well on the flat and deep lines. If a pattern develops where a specific bait is getting the bites, we’ll switch to more of those.
Lively baits are key. Change them out when they slow down. Even though they appear fine, it’s often the fresh, energetic, panic vibrations emitted by fresh bait that gets the bites. Keep a pitch bait ready on a spinning rod. Should you spot a sailfish tailing or cruising within casting range, or if one follows a hooked fish to the boat, you’ll be set to capitalize on the opportunity.
Bridle a Must
Bridling even the smallest live bait makes good sense. I was hardheaded in this area early on, opting to simply run a hook in front of a bait’s dorsal fin, through its nostrils, or in front of its anal fin. After having hooks turn back into baits and dropping too many fish for my satisfaction, I converted to bridling.
Bridling serves two purposes: It creates a gap between the circle hook and bait so nothing interferes with it turning, catching and setting in a fish’s jaw. Second, the bridle prevents the hook point from turning back into bait.
With large kite baits, bridle in front of the dorsal fin, which lets them “dig” down. Ditto with slow-trolling them. With smaller baits for drifting and slow-trolling, like pilchards and herring, opt for a nostril bridle.
Fine-Tune Terminal Tackle
Sailfish are an ideal light-tackle fish, with 20-pound-class tackle a sporty choice, and 30-pound the norm. It’s great for the angler because they’ll enjoy a spirited fight. It’s good for the fish because 30-pound is heavy enough to bring the fish in quickly.
The key to baiting sailfish is to employ as small a hook and as light a fluorocarbon leader as you can get by with and still catch them. We use 7/0 and 6/0 in-line circle hooks on larger baits, and 4/0 and 5/0 circles on smaller baits. I don’t go heavier than a 50-pound leader, and when a bite is hard to come by, I’ll drop to 30-pound-test on the larger baits and 20-pound on the smaller baits. Before deploying a rig, I’ll first attach the hook to a camel-back strap on the boat, and pull to straighten the leader. This allows for a better presentation. I’ll then bridle the bait and send it into position.
With lighter leaders, loosen the drag a bit and try to get to the fish as soon as you can. Loosening the drag alleviates some tension and leader chafing should it rub against the fish’s bill. Getting to that leader fast ensures you’ll have a legal release and not a lost fish.