Sailfishing the Florida Keys

How and When to Catch Sailfish in the Florida Keys

Few types of fishing have more allure than sailfishing in the Florida Keys. Sailfish are the fastest fish in the ocean with the ability to scream drag and get any angler’s adrenaline pumping. Although sailfish are found across the world, one of the best places to target them is right here in the US, in the Florida Keys. However, to target them successfully, there are some things you must first know.

When to Catch Sailfish

There are certain times of year when conditions align perfectly to fish for sailfish. The most experienced anglers in the Florida Keys know when they wake up and find a wind out of the east to northeast at medium speed, just before a full moon, that the bite will be insane. It is time to go sailfishing. 

Sailfish are migratory, and if an angler can catch them just right on their migration they are in for an incredible day of fishing. Though sailfish can be caught year round, the best time to specifically target them is generally from November to April. 

What Rod to Use for Sailfish

One of the most important pieces of equipment an angler uses is undoubtedly their rod. For offshore fishing traditionally there are three types of rods. 

  1. Trolling Rods 
  2. Rods with Lighter Tips for Casting Baits 
  3. Rods in Between for Jigging Heavy Structure 

Between all those rods, there is one specific rod that is multipurpose and covers all those bases. The TFO SeaHunter Series  rod was designed with the versatility needed for all types of offshore fishing and is one of the best offshore rods available. There are four different models to choose from with different power and line rating to choose from to span the various offshore applications.

The tip is light enough for castability with bait while having a powerful butt that can move big fish. 

One of the things lacking in some offshore rods is an incorrect butt length for fighting a big fish where an anglers hands are too far away from their body, resulting in lost fish and unnecessary strain. However, the TFO Seahunter Series is field tested with this kind of detail in mind. 

From the proper butt length to the Fuji guides, and heavy-duty reel seat, it remains the best choice when offshore fishing—especially for sailfish!

How to Catch Sailfish

One of the first things to do when sailfishing the Florida Keys is to locate and approach a reef slowly. Keep your eyes on the water and watch. Observe the conditions that are before you. Is the water color cloudy or blue? Which direction is the wind blowing? Paying attention to the water is a key trait in being successful for sailfish. 

These reefs are located in about 30 feet to 50 feet of water. At the edge of the reef, there is a sharp drop off into deeper water of usually right around 150 feet. This edge is key. 

The edge is typically a couple yards in length where all the sediment and dirty water from shore is swept off the reef and into the open ocean. If the color of the edge turns from cloudy to a purple-blue in a short distance, the current is pushing into the reef creating a very distinct line to fish. 

An angler can choose either side to fish first depending on where they believe the fish are. So take your pick.

Team Work Catches Sailfish

Fishing for sailfish in the Florida Keys is a team sport. Each person has a specific job to help catch and land a sailfish. You need someone running flat lines, someone watching them for a bite, another guy running the boat and possibly another guy running the kite.

Kite Fishing

Kite fishing is a unique and important technique for sailfish—and not to mention extremely effective. A drop line hangs off a kite that flies downwind to get multiple lines away from the boat. When a fish takes the bait, a clip is released and the rod is freed from the kite. The fight is now on! 

Though kite fishing is important it is also a tricky technique that requires some skill. As the kite surges with the wind, the baits are pulled in and out of the water. The zone you want these baits at is right on the surface. 

Flat Lines

At the same time, to target sailfish, run flatlines out behind the boat with live bait. Keep in mind the sailfish are swimming into a heavy current which happens to be on the side of the boat that you run flatlines. 

Somedays the conditions are perfect. Your setup is right on target with the wind blowing the boat straight down the reef and in the zone. More often than not, kite fishing is the most productive way to catch sailfish, but some days the fish are traveling just right and hit the flatlines first. 

Nonetheless, sailfishing is a team sport where the most successful anglers are the ones that work together.

Expect the Unexpected

Sailfish are tricky fish to catch and conditions must be just right to catch them. The beauty in this, however, is that on these perfect condition days, there are many other fish who are also taking advantage and feeding aggressively. 

The water teems with life on these days with baitfish and predators, so don’t be surprised if you catch more than you bargained for. From sharks to bonitas, to tuna there are not many dull moments when fishing offshore. 

When you do hook into a sailfish, hold on. These acrobatic fish clear heights out of the water on massive runs that screams drag out of your reel. Occasionally, a fish will choose to go deep and the length of fight that follows will be one not easily forgotten. 

Sailfishing in the Florida Keys is not only challenging but equally rewarding. Few other fish can pull drag out of a reel faster or come close to the acrobatic show of the sailfish.  The fastest fish in the ocean does more than just get your heart pumping, it creates bonds through teamwork and makes a memorable catch that will last a lifetime.