Each individual has a preference as to what he or she wants to use for conventional tackle so basically I suggest between 12 and 30 pound test due to my personal experience. 12 pound requiring more expertise and 30 pound being a little more forgiving on both angler and fish (the less time the fish spends in battle, the healthier it will likely remain and can be released healthy to fight another day.)
Spinning rods and reels is the most popular due to the fact they are easiest to use for dropping back (feeding) the fish. Make sure to use a reel that will hold an adequate amount of line for the job. 300 yards is plenty. Match your reel to a rod that is complementary to the reel size and line strength. A mind-boggling amount of hooks are on the market at you disposal, keep in mind that the size should be between 3.0 and 6.0. Your leader should be 30 to 50-pound test, and about 10 to 15 feet long, tied to your double line. Bait can be the most difficult part of any fishing trip. To be truthful about it there doesn’t seem to be any one bait that is better than all the rest, but live ballyhoo seem to be the most popular here in the Keys. Now on the other side of the coin pilchards and cigar minnows are also top producers. Goggleyes, Blue Runners, Speedos are bigger baits and are not quite as used as the smaller bite size trio listed above. Sailfish do eat them all and it all has to do with the ferocity of the sailfish’s hunger. They also can be caught on dead bait rigs and lures and even though you won’t run out of rigged ballyhoo or lures, the live ones definitely give you an advantage.
There are basically three different types or methods to successful Sailfishing one being trolling, the second spotting and last kite fishing. All three can be utilized at the same time but to keep things simple, a brief overview will have to do.
Dead bait trolling with a well rigged Ballyhoo, trolled 4 to 8 knots can be a successful method for achieving your goal. You can cover more ground and you can bait and switch. Slow trolling with live bait however adds a different twist, the fish respond to their prey trying to escape and putting off the vibrations the predators respond to. First they respond to the harmonics, then sight takes over when they find the prey behind your boat, trying to escape being eaten. This typically excites then into an aggressive feeding pattern.
Spotting can be tremendously exciting. There are multiple situations in which you can find yourself spot fishing. These being shower chasing, tailing conditions, or cruising the edge. All require relatively accurate casting and a keen eye to know what to look for. This particular form of fishing does require some expertise and good teamwork.
Kite fishing may be the most expensive type of fishing but some arguably will tell you that this is the most successful method in which to Sailfish. Your bait is suspended right on the surface with your leader above the water so as not to be visualized by the fish. Basically, all three methods are productive; you have to pick the situation and condition to best fit your needs and liking.
There is ultimately a place that you find fish, that place is where you find them. Keep in mind that most of the time sailfish are migrating. But there are places that stall their movement these places are points that extend out from the reef or where the natural terrain rises and falls. Like most pelagic fish they also respond to temperature changes and or current rips. Now whether a body of fish is continually moving, or they have picked a certain spot to stop rest and feed. Keep mobile, until you find that there is a specific depth that they come through, and if the fish appear to be traveling try to move with them. Keeping ever vigilant for fish on the surface or signs like flying fish spray, to get out of their way. Also watch for the hound fish or ballyhoo to shower this may be an indicator, that they are traveling in shallower water in a feeding pattern.
Sheer walls are popular spots. Man made spots are also quite successful in holding sailfish. Here in Islamorada a few spots are great producers starting Northeast, Conch Reef is popular there is a sheer wall also with man made FAD type buoys as deep as 110 feet, and good bottom terrain. Little Conch has great bottom and usually lots of bait. Davis Reef is unique with an unusual gully and wall offshore of that, and great terrains all the way out to 180 foot. The Tarpon Hole on the 97 line is fantastic the bottom slopes semi-steep and is very erratic and also has a wreck. The Eagle Wreck has always been popular and the North Hole has just the right slope, and terrain, it also has a FAD. Bait is frequently thick in the North Hole, out in front of the light is good as well. Hopefully these few spots will help you.
There is not a tremendous amount of dos and don’ts but, always try to treat the fish as carefully as you can, we need them to survive this traumatic event. Also remember to always give the other guy room while fishing as well as while catching bait. A little courtesy goes a long way towards making everyone's time on the water a pleasant one.
Captain Ron Brack
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