Pacific Sailfish Description
Pacific Sailfish, and their cousins the Atlantic Sailfish, are probably the easiest billfish to catch. They are found all over the world in tropical seas, but congregate in large numbers at different times of the year off of Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Panama, among other places. During peak times some boats score double digit releases consistently on these fish in these areas.
Pacific Sailfish almost always jump repeatedly when hooked and put on quite a show. This usually tires them out and causes them to be landed rather quickly, especially relative to their relatives in the Marlin family. They do not have the strength of a similar sized marlin, but their acrobatics make them a fun fish to pursue. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen in fishing was a triple hookup of Pacific Sailfish in Costa Rica. They all exploded out of the water simultaneously right behind the boat like a choreographed dance. You could fish a long time and not see anything like that again. Amazing.
Pacific Sailfish are found in tropical waters throughout the Pacific and Indian oceans. They are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, achieving speeds of over 60 miles per hour for short distances. They are fast growing, reaching their large size in just a few years. Pacific Sailfish feed primarily on a variety of different baitfish such as mackerel and sardines. They use their large distinctive dorsal fin to help them herd bait near the surface.
They can be eaten but are usually released if healthy. They top out around 200lbs and anything over 130lbs is a nice fish.
Pacific Sailfish Pound for Pound Fight Rating - 6 out of 10 on the Saltwater Scale
Pacific Sailfish are one of the weakest billfish, and a similar size marlin will pull much harder. However, all billfish put up a great fight. Sailfish usually stay on the surface and jump, which is spectacular to watch, and usually tires them out in relatively short order. However, there is a chance they throw the hook when they jump around, even when you use circle hooks.
Pacific Sailfish Culinary Rating - Medium
I have released most of the Pacific Sailfish I have caught. However, I have eaten two that died during the fight and they were actually pretty good. I tried one of them raw and it was tasty. They have a lot of thick, firm meat.
Pacific Sailfish Tackle
I usually use a medium weight conventional setup. If trolling I use a 50lb setup (a little heavy but something bigger might bite), and if pitching a bait I will use a 30lb setup. This usually allows for a short fight and a healthy release. A Shimano Trinidad 20 or Daiwa Saltiga spinning reel are good choices for pitching baits, while for trolling you could go with an Accurate BX2 30. Click here for tackle recommendations.
Pacific Sailfish Techniques
Sailfish are usually located by trolling. Their distinctive dorsal fin and/or bill can often be seen cutting through the water behind the trolled bait or lure, making for an exciting visual. Boats usually troll a combination of hook baits and teasers. When a fish shows up in the spread, the teaser can be pulled away from it and a bait dropped back right in front of it. Sailfish often take a swat or two with their bill and then charge the bait. You can drop a bait back into their mouth when they charge, let them run for 5-6 seconds, and then set the hook. They often drop the bait multiple times so it can be a little tricky to hook them when they play around with it. Sometimes they just grab it and go which makes things easy. They occasionally grab cast poppers and plugs, but are very hard to keep hooked when that happens.
Pacific Sailfish Lures
Most Sailfish are caught using trolled rubber skirts similar to what are used for Marlin, but smaller. I have had good success using Zukers trolling lures in the 10-12” size. They will also take trolled plugs like Rapalas although they often throw the treble hooks when they jump.
On a couple of occasions I have seen them eat poppers but they are extremely hard to hook this way because of their hard mouths. If you do manage to hook them this way there is a good chance they will jump and throw your popper back at you at a high rate of speed.
Some people like to fish for Sailfish with flies, usually teasing them close to the boat with a teaser and then dropping a fly back instead of a bait.
Pacific Sailfish Baits
Medium bait fish such as Pacific Mackerel or Goggle Eyes can be used successfully for Pacific Sailfish. You can wait until you see one eyeing your trolling lures and then drop a bait back. Alternatively, you can slow troll live baits although you don’t cover as much ground that way so you should be reasonably sure there are some in the area before trying this. You can also try trolling strip baits made of bonito stomach or other fish. These ride on the surface and bounce and wave around, enticing the fish. Use smaller hooks than you would for Marlin, as Sailfish have smaller mouths.
Where to get the big Pacific Sailfish
Guatemala is definitely the place for numbers, with Costa Rica being second. I have heard good things about the fishing in Malaysia for these as well but have no firsthand experience with it. Make sure you find out if the fish are in the area before you go as they are migratory.
Other Pacific Sailfish Resources
The above barely scratches the surface on how to catch Pacific Sailfish. The resources below will provide a wealth of information:
Mexfish has some good species profiles including Sailfish. http://www.mexfish.com/fish/sailf/sailf.htm
These guys can put you on Sailfish in Mexico: www.rancholeonero.com
These guys can put you on them in Quepos, Costa Rica: http://www.queposfishadventure.com/. Check out the video below for some footage of a trip with them: