After a hot start, the winter sailfishing season has slowed dramatically. With the arrival of spring, Florida anglers are hopeful that sailfish will start biting like they were.
Record-setting sailfish tournament catches were the norm in early January, highlighted by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club’s Silver Sailfish Derby.
The tournament’s 46-boat fleet caught and released a three-day total of 1,174 sailfish, an average of more than 25 fish per boat. That included a one-day record of 659 sailfish on the Derby’s first day.
Team Hard Way Doing It All won the Jupiter Billfish Tournament the week after the Derby with a two-day total of 39 sailfish. Since then, fishing has gotten tougher.
Hard Way won the Sailfish Open in Palm Beach in early February with eight releases in two days and the two-day Jimmy Johnson National Billfish Championship two weeks ago in Key Largo with nine sailfish.
No one knows why the sailfish bite has been so spotty, but being prepared when the fish show up is essential.
When Capt. John Louie Dudas takes a novice sailfish angler on Wound Up, he goes over how to use the fishing reel before the 57-foot Spencer leaves the dock. By pulling line off the reel, you can instruct the angler on how much thumb pressure to apply. Too much pressure with a sailfish on can break the line.
Dudas, who shared his sailfishing tactics along with Capt. Jimmy David at the Billfish Expo last month at the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame Museum in Dania Beach, also instructs his anglers to keep their baits at the surface when a sailfish shows up in the kite spread.
“If you let the bait sink, a sailfish can get wrapped up in the leader,” Dudas said.
That also allows his anglers to feel what it’s like when a sailfish eats a bait, so when they get another bite, they’ll know exactly what to do. If you start reeling too soon, you can take the bait – and the hook – away from the sailfish.
When a sailfish does eat a bait on a circle hook, make sure the fish is swimming away from you before you reel.
“You want some type of angle,” Dudas said, “so if the fish is coming to you, don’t reel.”
Sailfish often travel in groups, so when an angler gets a bite, Dudas has his other anglers keep their baits in the water.
“After you hook that first fish, more fish come up,” Dudas said. “They’re like dolphin.”
David, whose charter boat LH runs out of Key Biscayne, Fla., said his favorite kite bait is a threadfin herring and a goggle-eye is his No. 2 choice.
He matches the hook size to the size of the bait. Dudas said he likes a free-swinging hook, so he uses a loop knot or crimps the leader to the hook.
On charters, David attaches the hook to 6-10 inches of No. 5 wire tied to a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader because that allows his anglers to also catch kingfish and wahoos.