How to Catch Sailfish: Your Ultimate Guide to Sailfish Fishing

Jan 9th 2023

How to Catch Sailfish: Your Ultimate Guide to Sailfish Fishing

Catching sailfish is an incredible achievement for any offshore angler. Sailfish like marlin and swordfish are highly prized trophies worth their weight in bragging rights, but landing one is no easy feat. There are many different ways to target sailfish, and the best method depends on who you ask. There’s no wrong or right way to catch a sailfish, but there are some established techniques that can improve your odds of bringing one to the boat.

  1. Troll With Bait and Dredges
  2. Try the Bait and Switch Method
  3. Use Kite Fishing Techniques
  4. Know the Pros and Cons of Each Approach
  5. Use Tournament-Grade Equipment

Incorporate these five tips and techniques into your strategy next time you’re sailfish fishing, but don’t be afraid to make adjustments on the fly.

1. Troll With Bait and Dredges

Trolling with bait and dredges is one of the most popular ways to target sailfish. Sailfish are very picky eaters, and they tend to shy away from rigs with a lot of lures. It’s best to use a simple skirt or even go with a naked setup. Using a dredge (or multiple dredges) allows you to entice sailfish without using gaudy lures. They’ll easily come close to the boat and take the bait as long as there’s enough attraction — when it comes to sailfish fishing, the more attraction, the better.

Many sailfish anglers use circle cooks with naked ballyhoo. Take the time to learn about ballyhoo rigging to improve your action and reduce wasted bait. Depending on the conditions, it’s usually best to pull your bait at around 4-7 knots. As you become more experienced in how to catch sailfish, you’ll find your boat’s sweet spot.

Using the right bait will get sailfish interested, but you need to know how to get them eating. Once they strike, you must let them take the bait all the way in. You can encourage them to eat well by releasing the drag and allowing them to feast.

2. Try the Bait and Switch Method

A fishing reel overlooking the ocean

This sailfish fishing method is quite similar to the technique above, but you put more teasers and dredges behind the boat and tease the sailfish to come near the boat. When you see a curious sailfish, you pitch a bait (naked ballyhoo is a great choice) and let the fish take off with it. Often, you’ll see (and catch) a lot of fish with this technique. Your boat’s speed should be faster, and you’ll need to have plenty of bait on hand and ready to be deployed as needed.

3. Use Kite Fishing Techniques

Using a kite is another popular sailfish fishing technique in many areas. You’ll want to free-float your boat — no motors or anchors. As you deploy the kite, attach 1-3 release clips to the kite line. Each clip should contain live bait on a circle hook, typically a lighter tackle than you would use while trolling.

As far as what live bait to use, whatever the local baitfish can be caught with should work fine as you experiment with how to catch sailfish. Some popular choices are goggle eyes, mullet, Spanish sardines, menhaden, flying fish, and blue runners.

The kite’s purpose is to keep your bait on the water’s surface, even skipping out slightly from time to time. Many sailfish fishing boats place another bait or two slightly below the surface close to the boat with a lightweight sinker. You could also deploy strip dredges from outriggers to entice sailfish closer to the boat. Sailfish travel together, so once you find the fish, stay in that area. There will be more.

4. Know the Pros and Cons of Each Approach

Trolling Pros:

  • Cover a significant amount of territory in a shorter period of time.
  • Catch different species multiple times.

Trolling Cons:

  • Requires a lot of fuel.
  • More rigging is required if you troll baits for extended periods of time.

Bait and Switch Pros:

  • Seeing the fish makes sailfish fishing more exciting.
  • Excellent hook-up ratio.
  • Covers a large area.

Bait and Switch Cons:

  • Requires a lot of fuel.
  • You have to be vigilant and ready to move fast when fish strike.

Kite Fishing Pros:

  • Requires less fuel.
  • Quiet, stationary boat provides a more relaxing experience.
  • Fun action on lightweight tackle.

Kite Fishing Cons:

  • You have to buy or catch live bait.
  • You must have windy conditions.
  • You need to know where to locate fish.

5. Use Tournament-Grade Equipment

A group of fishermen on a boat

Knowing how to catch sailfish is only half the battle. When you’re targeting huge, powerful game fish, you must have top-of-the-line gear. Fish Razr is the ultimate source for a wide variety of sailfish fishing equipment and tackle that’s used and trusted by professionals and champions worldwide. From marlin lures to dredge bars, we have everything you need to land that legendary, once-in-a-lifetime whopper.

Check Our Blog for More Offshore Angling Tips

We hope this guide is helpful next time you’re targeting sailfish. These tips and techniques will go a long way in increasing your chances, but remember that landing sailfish is a bucket list achievement, so don’t stress if you don’t come home with a packed cooler. Check our saltwater fishing blog for more expert guidance on all things offshore angling and shop tournament-grade tackle for your next sailfish fishing adventure.

About Author

Les Orr is a co-owner of Fish Razr and a native of the Gulf Coast of Texas. He grew up fishing the inshore waters of the Galveston Bay system and occasionally offshore. He moved to South Carolina for a job opportunity in 1994, and his love of the offshore grew in the Charleston area. He currently lives and works in Mt. Pleasant, SC, with a wife and two young kids, 12 and 13 years old. His son is becoming quite the angler and loves going offshore to catch dolphin, tuna, wahoo, and the occasional marlin or sailfish.