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Florida Fishing - Species



57" minimum size limit; no closed season; one per person per day limit

General Information

Sailfish are related to blue and white marlins, but are easily distinguished by their the distinctive long and high dorsal fin. A species of the open water, sailfish are either solitary or travel in small schools. This fish has a large territory compared to marlin and is the only species that regularly moves into water in the 30-50 feet deep range. It's appetite ranges from small baitfish to medium sized blue runners. Little is known about its life history.


Sailfish are year round residents in the Florida Keys. They migrate northward along the Atlantic coast in the spring and return in the fall. Some sailfish also migrate north in the Gulf of Mexico and a summer fishery exists off the panhandle coast. These fish travel well off shore and are only occasional catches for anglers along the central and southwest coasts. Usually taken by anglers in boats, this species is a regular but rare catch from the Lake Worth pier along the Atlantic coast and several ocean piers in the panhandle.

Tackle and Techniques

Sailfish lack the stamina of their marlin cousins. What they lack in long hard runs is more than made up by the fish's aerobatic maneuvers. Thus, you can use boat tackle spooled with line in the 20-50 pound range and employing a 6-8 foot leader of 40 to 80 pound test line.

Trolling in the Atlantic along the line marking the edge of the Gulf Stream is the place to look for sailfish. Finding the depth at which the fish are cruising changes can be frustrating. There preferred haunts often change daily. Veteran anglers are always listening to the radio for the day's chatter on when and where other anglers find sailfish.

A slow troll using live or dead bait or drift fishing with either choice works well when fish move into the shallower waters looking for a meal. For a true challenge try battling a sailfish with medium weight spinning tackle. You will need at least 200 yards of line on the spool or the fish's first run will strip the spool in a matter of seconds. Fly rodders must use 12 weight rigs if they want a reasonable chance of landing a fish. .


Sailfish have a wide ranging appetite when it comes to fish. Live pinfish, blue runners, mullet, goggle eyes and ballyhoo will attract a sailfish's attention. A rigged dead fish or large piece of cut bait also works. Bluewater trolling lures also work well. They can be trolled faster and therefore can cover more ground.

Secrets to Success

* There is much to learn about bill-fishing. It is not something to try alone if you've never done it before. Take along an experienced friend of hire a charter boat for a few trips and learn from the captain. This type of open water fishing takes skill in everything from rigging the bait or lure, to handling the fish when you get it along side of the boat, a potentially dangerous time for anyone handling the fish.

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