A Step-by-Step Guide for Landing a Sailfish on the Fly

A Step-by-Step Guide for Landing a Sailfish on the Fly

Originally published by Alphonse Fishing Company

By Bertrand Lablache

Over the years many methods have been hatched up to catch the Indo-Pacific Sailfish on fly fishing tackle. As a skipper, I find that taking a back to basics route is by far the best way to target, hook and land a Sailfish. Here’s a step-by-step guide covering everything from the tackle and techniques to the handling procedures.

Before heading out to the water, your fishing tackle will be the first thing you will have to make sure you have right. A 12 weight rod and large arbor reel is by far the best set up to use. It is light enough to have the best fun, but sturdy enough to ensure you reel in the fish properly without causing any unnecessary fatigue or strain.



A Sailfish will run a long way, so make sure you have plenty of backing on your reel, 300 meters of 80lb braid should be enough. When it comes to fly lines, the line you will have on your 12 weight rod for a Giant Tevally or Tarpon will work well. Add on some 130 pound test leader and that’s your tackle almost complete. Most fishing operations that target Sailfish on fly will have a host of homemade flies that have been tried and tested. However, this shouldn’t discourage you from trying that fly that’s been sitting in your box for two years waiting for the trip, but ideally the hook should be a tandem 8/0.

Tackle is only half the fun, with these fish being sometimes extremely fussy on how and what they eat, actually getting the fish to eat the fly with more commitment than they show up with is the challenge.



When teasing for sailfish on fly you will need some hook-less lures that are most commonly called teasers. I myself like to use 400 pound test wire that has a medium sized loop crimped in at the bottom and a normal loop at the top for attaching to either your bridge reels or your normal conventional rod and reel setup. If crimping isn’t for you, then some 150 pound test leader with a medium sized perfection loop at the bottom and normal sized one at the top will also do the trick.

These teasers will work quite well by themselves, but they will work even better if you place a piece of strip bait through the loop of the bottom end so it sits inside the lure. This should be tied down lightly with some copper wire.

The number of teasers is the subject that has been debated over many a drink. I find that not overdoing it is sometimes the best way to go with these fish. So one teaser per crew member rule works best. That way, if one or more fish are raised, you do not have a teaser unattended, which could mean the difference between a double up or a teaser getting tangled as your fish takes off.


Getting the fly rod ready

Once on the boat, you will have to get your fly rod ready for the fight it’s about to go through. Place your fly in the water and strip out line so your fly sits just behind the teaser closest to the boat. Now strip in your line, making sure it’s not caught or tangled around anything. Place your fly on the side of the boat and the rod in a position so it is out of the way, but at the same time easily accessible.

Drag is an important factor in how well your venture goes as it will dictate whether the fish stays on or not. Setting your drag is simple. The method I’ve found works the best is setting your drag so that you can pull out line but with minimal strength needed, then turn it up one and a half full turns. This will give you the best fight but also stop you from fighting a fish for three hours.


Fish at the teaser

The fish will, nine times out of 10, follow the teaser right up to the boat and stick around once all teasers have been pulled out the water.

This will be the time for you to drop the fly in the water and let your line out, holding your line at the first guide from the reel. Make one large strip past your body, making sure not to let go of the line and then follow it back to that first guide. The reason for this is most of the time the fish will try to grab the fly at the exact moment you let go of the line and that’s when the scrambling happens and we’re left without rods in our hands.

You will see the fish move to your fly after a couple of powerful strips, regardless of how much you want to try and set the hook at that point, please fight the urge. The fish, once it has fully committed, will grab your fly and turn on its side. This is the time for the set. With your hand still on the line at the first guide (I told you this would come in handy), make a sturdy set. Do not hold back – these fish have quite hard mouths and setting the hook is usually where the fish is lost.

Once hooked up, it’s important to remember not to lift your rod, regardless of how hard that fish is fighting. When fighting the fish, I find moving your rod from side to side to gain some line is the easiest way to go about it. Not only will this reduce the chance of pulling the hook, but the tugging itself will prompt the fish into some majestic jumps and, make no mistake, they are photogenic fish.



Fish Handling

The fight will typically last 30 to 40 minutes, but the fish will eventually tire. The lactic acid build up that the fish suffers during the fight means that it is important to swim the fish for several minutes in order to revive it properly before it is released. Once the Sailfish swims away again and your adrenaline has stopped pumping, you can stop and reflect on your achievement.

Columbia Fishing