Many anglers dream of catching a sailfish on a fly. But at Florida’s Sailfish Alley, few actually fly fish for sails. Not many captains want to drag hookless dead baits or lures near the live-bait fleet. However, Capt. George LaBonte of Jupiter, Florida, successfully attracts sails for his fly-fishing anglers. His secret: a dozen live baitfish on two teaser lines.
LaBonte positions the boat with its bow angling into the wind — port side upwind for right-handed casters or starboard side upwind for lefties. Raise the upwind outrigger and lower the downwind one. Attach one teaser line to the downwind outrigger line and the other to the teaser rod. LaBonte uses an 8-foot teaser rod with a high-speed reel for fast action. Set the teaser rod on the upwind corner of the transom.
The angler positions himself in the upwind corner of the cockpit near the teaser rod. This keeps the wind at his back, making longer casts easy. The angler should strip at least 50 feet of the fly line into a bucket, ready to cast when a fish appears.
When a sail shows up, remove the outrigger teaser from the water as quickly as possible and use the teaser on the rod to excite the fish. It’s hard to pull a live-bait teaser out of a sail’s mouth, so don’t let the fish grab one.
When the sail gets really excited, snatch the teaser out of the water. At the same time, the angler makes the cast. If the sailfish refuses the fly, place the rod teaser back into the water to get the fish excited again. If the sail still refuses the fly, cast a hookless bonito strip bait to the fish and let it taste it before jerking it out of the fish’s mouth. After catching and losing the strip bait a few times, sailfish will eat anything. Present the fly again and hang on.
To make one of these live-bait teaser lines, you’ll need 15 feet of 60-pound mono and six 50-pound snap swivels. First, tie a surgeon’s loop at one end of the mono. Then, 18 to 24 inches away, tie a dropper loop, followed by four more 18 to 24 inches apart, until you have a total of five dropper loops. Cut one leg of each loop to make five dropper lines.
Tie a snap swivel on each dropper 4 to 6 inches from the main line. These short droppers help keep the baitfish apart. Tie the last snap swivel to the end of the line, 18 to 24 inches from the last dropper, for the sixth bait. Make some backup teaser lines in case they are cut to pieces by marauding barracuda or wahoo.
Durable goggle-eyes, blue runners and scad make good teasers. Start with at least two or three dozen baitfish on board because they tire easily from struggling against one another and may be eaten by barracudas or wahoos.
Bridle at least a dozen baitfish through the eye sockets before snapping any onto the snap swivels. Heavy rigging twine or Dacron makes a good bridle loop, the heavy line preventing sailfish from pulling a bait off and eating it.
Putting the largest baitfish on the ends of the teaser lines will pull the others away from the boat and reduce tangling. Bump the boat in and out of gear to keep the lines separate, or keep them short so they can’t touch each other.