FISHING TIP OF THE WEEK: Gear up for Sailfish Season
(Part 1 of 3)
As winter approaches, many fishermen from the northeast flock to south Florida to avoid the coming chill, joining the thousands of us who make this our home year round. As temperatures fall and anglers migrate south, so do large schools of sailfish, which take up temporary residence along Florida reef lines from Ft. Pierce to Key West.
This annual migration puts these magnificent fish within easy reach of thousands of anglers along the coast of the Sunshine State as the fish typically stay within a few miles of shore. While several methods exist for targeting sails, today we’ll focus on terminal tackle for the use of live bait, undoubtedly the most popular method used and a highly effective one to boot.
Fishing with live bait has become a more complex undertaking than in decades past, because the fish now must run a huge gauntlet of baits as they swim beneath the thousands of boats that pursue them each year. As angling pressure has increased, the fish have become more wary, forcing us to elevate our game in order to consistently be successful. For instance, when I first started seriously fishing for sailfish in the 1980s, many skippers used 80-pound nylon monofilament as leader material. These days, fluorocarbon monofilament is considered essential gear, and most of us start with 50-pound, or even 40. And we’ll scale back to 30-pound when the fish get extra finicky. Such light leaders would have been unheard of 30 years ago, but now are commonplace.
Light leaders work because of the near universal use of circle hooks, which hook the fish in the corner of the mouth almost every time, greatly reducing gut-hooking but also nearly eliminating chafing during the fight as the hook is lodged away from the bill and the fish’s mouth. Not only do circle hooks provide a proven conservation benefit, they also simply work better. And in any billfish tournament, non-offest circle hooks are required by federal law.
Depending on the size of your bait, a circle hook between 5/0 and 7/0 should do the trick. The larger the bait, the larger the hook. In our next installment, we will discuss the baits themselves; what species works best where, and how to fish them.
John Brownlee is the host of Anglers Journal Television, and the former editor-in-chief of Marlin and Salt Water Sportsman magazines.