Sailfish, photo by Ed KunzeThere is no mystery to it. It is only taking light line fishing to the next level.

In a previous Another Day In Paradise, I had written about the many different ways to catch a sailfish, so you not just end up being a winch after one of the crew sets the hook. The various options for catching a sailfish involve the angler actually setting the hook, getting the thrill of that first run, and having a much better on the water experience. It reminds me of three days of fishing a few years ago, when I was booked to guide two men from the Dallas area. Rich and Tom, having never caught a sailfish, wanted the best three days on the water as possible, so they left the fishing methods up to me.

I set us up with Captain Margarito on the Gaby. The Gaby charters for 100 dollars less per day than the larger cruisers, and there is plenty of room for four people, a deck hand, and the captain. The fishing that week in January had just been outstanding. And, Captain Margarito can find the fish. That first day, using conventional gear, we tagged and released nine sailfish. We started out using 60-pound gear, with the deck hand and I setting the hook, and then passing the rod off to the client. By the fifth fish, and still using the 60-pound gear, Rich and Tom were setting their own hooks. They did not think it was possible to have so much fun.

The next morning, when they showed up at the pier, they saw I had light line outfits in my hand. Tom got a good laugh out of me when he asked me if we were going to use them for catching bait. When I told them these were for the sailfish, they honestly could not believe it. We started out trolling the Gaby’s two 30-pound outfits, and my 15 and 20-pound rigs. Rich and Tom set their own hooks and, after tagging and releasing four sailfish, declared light line fishing was even more fun. Then we went to the bait and switch method. After four more sails, we got another declaration of the most fun and best method.


The following morning, meeting me at the pier again, they were delighted to see a couple of light line rigs in my hand again. Rich made a comment about how he had been nervous all night that I may bring fly fishing outfits today. Little did he know I had arrived earlier and I already made a trip to the Gaby, to drop off my fly gear. When Rich saw the fly rods on the boat, he was almost pleading with me. Neither one had never even held a fly rod of any kind in his hands in all of his fishing life. But, fly fishing for sailfish, using a 14-weight rod, is not as you have seen in photographs of people casting a fly to rising trout. It is not about finesse: delicately laying a lighter than a leaf fly at a point some 80 feet away. The “cast” is just the effort it takes to get an 8 to 12 inch long wrapping of a few feathers, some tinsel and maybe a little dyed deer hair only 15 to 20 feet from the boat.

There is no mystery to it. It is only taking light line fishing to the next level. Fly fishing is basically bait and switch fishing, only you are using an artificial, and not a real bait. You do not hook as many fish fly fishing as you would with conventional gear, but that is the nature of the beast. An artificial fly just simply does not look, nor taste like the real thing. The fly line has about 32 pounds of strength, so unless you use a leader of 20 pounds or less, you can realistically say you are fishing with 30-pound gear. While explaining all of this to Rich, a sailfish hit the hookless teaser bait on the outrigger. I was able to tease the sailfish to within 15-feet of the transom, before I popped the teaser lure out of the water and into the boat. The sailfish, looking for the easy morsel it was pursuing, which had inexplicitly escaped, saw the fly. Lit up in iridescent blues, its entire head, shoulders, and sail actually came partially out of the water to pounce on the fly. A hard left hand strip on the fly line set the hook, and all Rich could then do was to hang on and watch.

And there was plenty to watch. A sailfish caught on fly gear, with very little drag to hinder its runs, is awesome to watch. The fish peeled off 100 yards of line in less than six seconds. It then proceeded to leap vertically several times, before it went into a horizontal spinning frenzy. By now there was 400 yards of line off the reel, but this is not a problem, because a decent big game fly reel holds about 650 yards of braided line backing. Rich was yelling at Tom to get the camera, and I explained how the sailfish, when it tires out a bit and gets back to within 60 feet of the boat, will start its aerial display all over again. And it did.

After some great photos and the tag and release, Rich sat down in the fighting chair. He was absolutely dazed. He had never imagined fishing could be so exciting. To just be able to see the lit up fish come partially out of the water, only 15 feet away, to grab the fly, combined with the spectacular aerobatics and 400 yards of line peeled off, was just too much of an experience for Rich to comprehend.

Rich and Tom apparently think the fly fishing method is by far the best way to catch a sailfish, because they have booked with me every year since. If the fishing is a little slow, they use the light gear, but when the sailfish are abundant, and they have a chance at getting several shots, out come the fly rods.