Capt. Randy Towe: Catching Sailfish In The Key

FOX Sports Florida Outdoors 1Reported 1st by FOX Sports Florida Outdoors: By mid to late April the main body of the Atlantic sailfish stock is somewhere off the Lower Keys, and likely around Key West. April is historically the best month to fish sailfish in Key West. The fishing is done two ways: either sight casting to tailing fish in the powdery blue water along a color change, or fishing live baits from a key along the rips, edges and color changes or around the Tailing Buoy or Cosgrove Light, kind of to the west of Key West. Because of the curvature of the Keys, an easterly wind is what you want. In the Lower Keys the current goes to the east, where in the Upper Keys the current goes northeast, and that little bit of curve on a northeast or easterly wind will allow the current to go straight into the wind and the fish will get up on the surface. 

The Gulf Stream comes in very close to Key West that time of the year. What happens when the Gulf Stream pushed in close it that the deep blue water of the Stream creates a color change where it meets the pea green water coming out of the bay. In between the blue and green water is a light blue powder colored water that the sailfish seem to love. They’ll get up on the surface and slide along slowly, almost in a state of euphoria, just cruising along. 

You can spot the fish from the tower, move up in front of or alongside them and throw a pitch bait their way and get the bite. There will be cobia, dolphin and wahoo mixed in, and it’s a really cool experience. For sight casting, you’ll want a large pilchard or smaller threadfin. You want something that’s 5 or 6 inches long that the fish can easily catch and swallow. Even the big threadfins are too big, it’s like throwing a Frisbee at them. 

When you throw a bait at a tailing fish, it’ll either eat it right away or just keep going. If the bait is too big or too difficult to catch, they’ll just deny it and keep on trucking. They typically won’t fee into the current when they’re tailing. 

Twelve to 20 pound spinning tackle is what we use most, and a lot of people think a 12 pound rod is too light, but it seems like the fish fight harder the more you put the heat to them, so it’s actually easier to catch them with 12 pound gear. They usually don’t want to get out of their rhythm and course, so they don’t take you offshore or deep. 

I like light stuff, usually 40 pound leader and sometimes 30 pound, so that I get more bites. I use only circle hooks, and I like the VMC circle hooks in 5/0 or 6/0 for my pitch baits and 7/0 for kite fishing. The circle hook gets the fish in the corner of the mouth, so you really don’t need a heavy leader. 

If you’re kite fishing, a live goggle-eye is the favorite bait, but the sailfish can’t catch it unless it’s tethered to the kite, so they don’t work well as pitch baits. Threadfins, pilchards and cigar minnows also work well, and again the mid-sized baits are the best. The average sailfish is around 30 pounds, so they really don’t want those big baits.


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