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Winter is Sailfishing Season in Miami

Winter is Sailfishing Season in Miami

December 28, 2017

Florida_SailfishOne of the perks of a residence at One River Point is that it puts anglers smack dab in the heart of the some of the best fishing in the world.

One of the most prized quarries among sport fishers is the Atlantic sailfish, with its acrobatic leaps and tireless fight that will make your reel scream as the fish peels off hundreds of yards of line.

The sailfish is known for its blue dorsal sail that normally lies flat, except when hunting. It also has an extended, sharp upper jaw that it uses to hit and stun its prey.

Luckily for One River Point residents, South Florida is known as the sailfish capital of the world because they thrive close to shore in our region. And although sailfish can be caught year-round, winter is the peak season for sailfishing in Miami as cold fronts encourage sailfish to migrate southward.

Whether you launch your own boat from One River Point’s private docks or take advantage of one of many area charter boats, you won’t have to go far offshore to find this prized billfish. Most anglers work the western edges of reefs and ledges in 150 to 300 feet of water, often in sight of land.

The online forums maintained by Florida Sportsman magazine can provide hints about where the fish are biting.

Tips for successfully sailfishing Miami

Sailfish with bait A talented captain can hook sailfish by trolling artificial lures or dead baits, but live bait is the best way to entice your quarry. Goggle-eyes seem to be the sailfish’s favorite treat, but small blue runners, pilchards, sardines, herring, ballyhoo and mullet will also whet their appetite.

Buying bait is easiest, but netting for mullet or catching ballyhoo on pinfish hooks can add to the challenge and increase enjoyment.

Most charter captains pursuing sailfish will use kites to present their bait. This has the advantage of spreading the bait widely and holding it in the ideal position, just beneath the water’s surface. The thrashing of the bait fish will trigger the predator’s killer instinct.

Kites will efficiently catch lots of fish but are not necessary for more casual outings; flat lines baited with any lively fish will grab attention.

Once a sailfish has taken your bait, it is best to let him run with it for a few seconds before reeling in, a maneuver called a dropback. This delay between the bite and setting the hook must be well-timed: too short and you miss the hookup; too long and the fish can swallow the bait and end up with a hook in the gut.

For this reason, circle hooks are the preferred tackle for sailfish. The shape of the hook prevents it from hooking into anything but an exposed surface: the corner of the mouth. If the fish swallows the hook, reeling in will withdraw it from its gut until it catches on the corner of its mouth.

Once hooked, prepare for a strong, long fight as the fish will jump repeatedly in trying to throw the hook. It may even charge back toward the boat, so be prepared to rapidly reel in slack line.

Nearly all sailfishing is done catch-and-release, but if for some reason you want to keep your catch you’ll need a Highly Migratory Species permit and report your landings. Permits are available online at or by calling (888) 872-8862.

Hemingway sailfishSailfish Charters and Tournaments

If this all sounds more intimidating than spin-casting for panfish in your local lake, you might want to avail yourself of the expertise offered aboard the hundreds of area charter boats.

These captains know local waters well and will vastly increase your chances of landing a big one. They also have the expensive and specialized equipment required, including kites and heavy tackle.

On the other hand, if you have your own boat and plenty of confidence, a tournament might be more your speed. There are plenty to choose from beginning in early January.



2018 Tournaments

Jan. 4-8 – 46th Invitational Gold Cup Team Tournament, Palm Beach;

Jan. 10-13 – Silver Sailfish Derby, West Palm Beach;

Jan. 17-21 – Sailfish 400, Miami;

Jan. 22-23 – 29th Annual Al Flutie Over the Hill Rip-Off Sailfish Tournament, Islamorada;

Jan. 24-25 – IFC Sailfish Tournament, Islamorada; 

Jan. 25-27 – 55th Annual Buccaneer Cup Sailfish Release Tournament, Palm Beaches;

Jan. 26-28 – 28th Annual Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament, Islamorada;

Feb. 12-13 – Islamorada Bartenders Sailfish Open

Feb. 21-25 – Sailfish Challenge, Miami

Mar. 7-10 – Jimmy Johnson’s National Billfish Championship, Key Largo;

March 15-17 – Ocean Reef Club’s Sailfish Classic, Key Largo;

April 17-21 – Final Sail, Key West;