Sailfish are the ultimate trophy fish as they are abundant, display huge leaps and tail walks when hooked, and they tire quickly so they can be caught on light tackle. Like most billfish, their top jaw is roughly twice as long as their bottom jaw. Highly migratory, it is believed that sailfish will travel up to 200,000 miles throughout the course of their lives. Most fish in the wild live 4-5 years, but they can live as many as 16 years. When they aren’t feeding, sailfish are often seen swimming lazily at the surface, which often times is a sign of breeding. The female will swim slowly with her dorsal fin above the surface to attract males, and once joined, she can release over 4,000,000 eggs in a single spawn. All sailfish in Central America are catch and release.
Indo-Pacific Sailfish vs. Atlantic Sailfish
Sailfish in Central America are found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, and while very similar, they are different subspecies. The Indo-Pacific Sailfish are larger in size as they can grow to 134 inches and typically weight between 80-120 lbs. Atlantic Sailfish grow to about 124 inches and tend to be in the 60-100 lb range. Pacific Sailfish also tend to showcase a dark blue/purple tone while Atlantic Sailfish are a brighter blue.
What do Sailfish Eat?
Similar to marlin, sailfish feed on smaller pelagic species like bonito, ballyhoo, flying fish, squid, mackerel and small dorado. The giant dorsal fin that they can expand and retract serves as the namesake and most identifiable feature of this popular game fish. When feeding, sailfish will expand their dorsal fins like giant sails to appear larger and frighten the baitfish into tighter schools near the surface which makes for easier hunting. When sailfish hunt they use incredible bursts of speed to whack their prey with their bills, which stuns or kills them so they can eat at leisure. They have been clocked at speeds over 65 mph!
How to Catch Sailfish in Central America
Whether you are new to offshore sport fishing or a seasoned tournament angler, catching sailfish in Central America is something that never gets old. The warm Pacific waters off the coasts of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama offer some of the most productive sailfishing in the entire world. Double and triple hookups happen regularly, as they typically live in small groups of 2-6 individuals and have been seen hunting in coordinated efforts. In Costa Rica and Guatemala, boats finishing with 10, 20 even 30 or more bites per day is common during the peak season.
In Costa Rica and Guatemala, where the biggest sailfish numbers are caught year after year, the majority of offshore fishing boats will fish the same way. The set up of the spread can vary from boat to boat, but most captains will put out a bridge teaser on each side of the boat, which is usually a daisy chain of pink squid or flying fish. There is oftentimes a long teaser on each side as well, which is a hookless plastic squid of varying size and color patterns. Then two or three rods are baited with frozen ballyhoo rigged with circle hooks and are placed on the outrigger, near the teaser, and a flat line just off the stern. Once a sailfish (or marlin) comes into the spread or takes one of the long baits, give the fish 5-7 second to properly swallow the ballyhoo before you gradually set the drag and begin to reel. As the circle hook exits the fish’s mouth, it will hook into the meaty portion of the jaw. You do not need to set a circle hook with a hard hook set, the circle hooks will do the work when fished properly.
Fly fishing for sailfish in Central America is one of the best places in the world to give it a shot. In places like Costa Rica and Guatemala, you can get multiple chances a day to present your fly to agitated fish when skilled mates tease the fish right to the back of the boat in calm, clear waters. A 12-14 wt rod, large arbor saltwater reel, and a leader consisting of 8 ft -10 ft of 80 lb butt section, a class tippet of 16 lbs – 20 lbs, and a short 80 lb – 100 lb shock tippet should be what you need to make it happen.
What is the World Record for Sailfish?
The IGFA all tackle record for Pacific sailfish is a whopping 221 lbs. This was caught near Santa Cruz Island in Ecuador back in 1947. Several line class world records were set right here in Costa Rica and Panama. For the fly anglers out there, literally 100% of all IGFA tippet class world records were set in Costa Rica or Panama.
The all tackle record for Atlantic sailfish was caught off the coast of Angola in 2014 and weighed 142 lbs 6 oz.
Where to Fish For Sailfish in Central America
Sailfish are found in tropical waters across the entire globe. They are a migratory and pelagic fish so they are most commonly found in deep water but tend to stay above the thermocline. While sailfish can be caught in the Atlantic Ocean, the true meccas of fishing for sailfish in Central America are the Pacific Coasts of Costa Rica and Guatemala. Blessed with clear warm waters, plentiful baitfish, and the right underwater geography we catch sailfish every month of the year. In the peak season, which is November through April, boats can report raising as many as 30-50 fish in a day!