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Sailfish 101

Mr. Elusive is what we call him. Why because he does not want to be caught and will do anything to achieve that end. The Atlantic sailfish can be, at the same time, the most aggravating and rewarding fish you can pursue in the Florida Keys.

You can find sailfish in the winter along the edge of the reef in 30 to 200 feet depths. The prime areas are Alligator Reef, Tennessee Reef, and Sombrero Reef. Look for a color change from the turquoise powder blue to the deep electric blue of the Florida current. Summer sailfish can be found along temperature eddies in the same areas where dolphin feed. Temperature eddies can be found using ROFFS Ocean Fishing Forecast System., available daily at The Tackle Box.

The equipment required for sail fishing starts off with the rods and reels. Twenty to thirty pound tackle is generally acceptable for sailfish. Spinning rods should be stout with lots of backbone, but yet be sensitive and cast a long distance. The Capt. Dave Brown Signature series 20 pound 7' conventional spinning rod, the 20 pound stand up spin troll rod or the STAR deluxe 20 pound spin rod are all good choices. Twenty pound stand up trolling rods with Shimano TLD 20 or Penn International Model 12LT reels are ideal for sail fishing. Terminal tackle for for casting or trolling live bait consists of a 4/0 to 6/0 very sharp strong hook such as an owner 5170 or 5111. The best leader for live bait sailfish rigs is 4 to 6 feet of 60 to 80 pound test fluorocarbon line. Single hook monofilament rigs are best for trolling dead bait or artificials.

The most common baits for live baiting sailfish are blue runners, pinfish and ballyhoo. Live bait except pinfish can be caught on the reef by chumming and throwing a cast net or by using light line and small hooks to catch blue runners and ballyhoo, pinfish are available at The Tackle Box. The best dead bait for trolling is fresh ballyhoo. Artificials to use for sailfish are Triple D's or Calcutta Bait "Bullyhoo".

The trick to trolling or casting a live bait to a sailfish is to first locate the fish. You can find sailfish usually near the reef in 60 to 150 feet depths. A good area to troll is along a color change. This is where the water goes from a powder blue-turquoise color to the deep ocean  electric blue, birds are also a good sign. Slow trolling is the best method with live baits. Set your speed so that the baits swim naturally through the water, even if you have to run on one motor or with a single engine, just bumping it in and out of gear will do the job. Two lines with a maximum of three are plenty for live bait trolling. When trolling fresh dead ballyhoo or artificials, the more lines you can handle the better. Some boats troll as many as 6 lines, with at least two of the baits weighted so they go deep in a turn around a bait pod or tailing fish. Artificial "Bully Hoos" or natural ballyhoo should be trolled plain with no skirt. 


The Tackle Box is proud to have one of the largest in-store salt-water fishing product lines in the area. Additional items are available from The Tackle Box warehouse. When browsing our online catalog, look for the following Stock Status messages – Usually In-Store and In Warehouse. If it says Usually In-Store then chances are good we have it here. If it says In Warehouse, please Contact Us to see if we have it in stock or we can order it for you.