Chasing Sails!

My First Sailfish from Rompin with Capt Ah Ping

Sailfish are found on most anglers bucket list. These beautiful speedsters are considered a trophy catch given their sizzling runs and scintillating acrobatic tail-walking displays. They are a protected species in the state of Pahang in Malaysia, where the annual Royal Pahang Billfish International Challenge is held. The participants of this competition must strictly adhere to the rules of conduct based on international standards set by the Billfish Foundation and The International Game Fish Association (IGFA). “Catch and Release” is compulsory. Once the fish is landed, it is unhooked, photographed and released quickly with as minimal stress as possible. In some instances, the fish is revived by slow trolling to increase the intake of oxygen and is released when it is strong enough to swim off on its own.

Although Sailfish can be caught throughout the year (Except during the northeast monsoon which occurs from mid-November to mid-march), the ideal time to fish for them is from August to September, when they are found in abundance. The easiest way to catch them is to use live bait which is always plentiful in these waters.

For live baiting, you will require tackle in the medium range. As a general guide you can use a spinning rod in the PE3-4 range paired with a 5000 or 6000 (Shimano Size) reel loaded with 30lb braid. You will also need 50-60lb rated fluorocarbon leader and Circle hooks (5/0 Owner Size). A moderate drag setting will suffice. This will allow you to subdue the sailfish quickly, without taking the fun out of the process. Avoid using light tackle, as this will exhaust the fish and the chances of its survival upon release are very low. The slime that the Sailfish secretes can cause irritation to your skin, so bring a towel to place on your lap before you take a photo. Also rinse with fresh water if you come into contact with the slime.

A Juvenile Marlin Caught off Tioman Island

Another Sailfish in April in Pekan with Ah Boy

The presence of birds is usually a good sign when hunting for Sailfish. They follow the trail of Sailfish feeding on bait fish in hopes of picking up scraps. Usually, the Skipper will set up two rods at the back of the boat. One is further away and has a balloon as an indicator. The balloon is also used to control the depth at which the bait is presented at. The second rod is nearer, and the bait fish is allowed to swim down to try and entice a bite from the middle of the water column.

Sailfish will use their bills to slash at the bait in order to stun their prey. Striking at first contact might spook the Sailfish so be patient. Once the fish has taken the bait, the Skipper will usually set the hook before passing it on to the angler. (This is to ensure a proper hook set using circle hooks) You will see a lot of jumps upon hook up, especially from smaller specimens. The larger ones will have no problem taking up to 100 meters on the first run. Keep your rod tip down when they jump and reel in the slack. It is important to maintain tension throughout the duration of the fight. Once the fish tires, it is just a matter of reeling it in.

Get a friend to stand by with a camera before the Skipper brings the fish on board. The best area for a photo is at the back of the boat. Sit with a towel across your lap. When the Skipper places the fish on your lap, hold the front of the dorsal fin as that allows the sail to remain open for the photo. Your other hand should be closer to the back of the sail to stabilize the fish should it move. Snap a picture and you are done. Congratulations, you have landed your first Sailfish.

Although Sailfish are easy to catch on bait, it is a little bit harder to land them on lures. I have hooked several up on stick baits, poppers or minnows but never had the good fortune to land one. The lures dislodge after a couple of aerial head shakes. This is due to their incredibly bony bills, which make setting the hook a challenge whether you are using treble hooks, single hooks, baker rigs or a combination of these. Well, it just means i have to keep trying. After all, "fishing is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable". I can't remember who said that. (Google it if you must know)

Reviving and Releasing My Marlin

While you are waiting for the next fish to bite, you might want to try jigging for some squid. The season for squid begins in August slows down around October. I will cover squid fishing in the next post. Until then, stay safe and happy fishing!

Summary of Tackle for Live Baiting

Rod: PE3-4
Reel: 5000-6000 (Shimano Size)
Line: 30lb Braided line
Leader: 50-60lb Fluorocarbon leader
Hook: 5/0 Circle Hook (Owner Size)
Swivel: Barrel with coastal lock (1/0 or 2/0)
Sabiki: Size 6 -8 (For catching live bait)
Sinker: Size 2-4
Optional: Balloons (Bite Indicator)
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