Going After Sailfish in Florida

    Get a hook into this offshore denizen, found off Florida's coasts.


    By Peter Miller

    Known for their incredible jumps and the color changes they undergo when excited, sailfish are highly prized gamefish. 
     
    They're easily recognizable by their long dorsal fin, known as a sail, and their elongated bill. Among sport fisheren, sailfish often are described as billfish.
     
    Atlantic sailfish are found in the warm waters of the Atlantic and the Caribbean seas and are closely related to the marlin. An offshore fish, sailfish are found throughout Florida but most often associated with waters near the Gulf Stream.

    This rapid-growing species reaches four to five feet in a single year and swims at speeds up to 50 knots. Known to feed at the surface or mid-depths, the largest sailfish caught in Florida was 116 pounds. Average size is six feet, with weights around 60 pounds for Atlantic sailfish. Common foods include smaller pelagic fish, which they hunt in schools, as well as squid and octopus.

    A sailfish will often hunt prey by attacking first with its bill then circling back to swallow the meal. Some experienced anglers will drop trolled bait back after a strike and free-spool the line in hopes of making the bait appear stunned. Though ballyhoo is a popular bait, artificial bait has proven effective with sails as well.

    When hooked, sailfish put on an amazing acrobatic display, complete with dives and leaps. A large fish can take hours to land. Though their population is considered stable, and they are not widely eaten, care should be taken to revive an exhausted fish boatside before release. Conservation and good fishing go hand in hand.

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