Billfish: How to Catch Sailfish, Swordfish, & Marlin

Updated on July 19, 2022

Fishing for Billfish

Billfish are some of the most sought after trophy fish for anglers around the world. Their size, strength, and elusive behavior will test the skills, endurance, and mind of any angler. These fish weigh hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds and are better measured in feet than inches. These behemoth predators require the heaviest of tackle and are often considered the ultimate sportfish.

What Are Billfish

Billfish is the general name used to describe pelagic species that have a distinct spear-shaped bill attached to their upper jaw. These fish include sailfish, swordfish, marlin, and spearfish which can be found in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. These predatory fish are typically found miles offshore near the 100 fathom curve, continental shelf, or Gulf Stream Current. The extended distances and deeper water that comes with targeting these fish requires specialized techniques to catch them. Here are the most common approaches used to target billfish.

Marlin Fishing Charters

Trolling For Billfish

When setting up for offshore trolling, plugs, spoons, and various baitfish are some of the most popular choices. Plugs have large, solid heads generally made of plastic with a line pass-through drilled through the middle. The back of the plug has a skirt made of colored soft plastic and reflective strands, making iit resemble a squid or baitfish while also concealing the hook.

Trolling bait like ballyhoo or needlefish requires a wire leader with two hooks spaced six to ten inches apart. The first hook goes through the head point down. The second is pushed completely through the middle of the bait then hooked point up through the fish near the anal fin before being twisted point down and secured back into the body. This setup allows the bait to have a natural appearance and swimming action.

Drifting & Kite Fishing for Sailfish

Drifting is a popular method for targeting a long list of pelagic species and is a fairly simple technique. Drifting is done with baited lines set at varying distances from the boat and can range in depth. The spread of bait lines is pulled through the water as the boat is pushed around by wind and currents. This technique is a great way to target swordfish in the mornings and evenings when they rise up from the depths to hunt closer to the surface.

Kite fishing is done using a specially made kite to spread out baited lines and cover a larger area while drifting or trolling. The kite is flown off the back of the boat and tied off at the desired distance where baited lines are then clipped onto the kite line. As the fishing line is let out the clip slides up the kite line pulling the bait further from the boat while keeping it near the surface. This style of fishing is effective for catching mahi mahi, tuna, mackerel, sailfish, and many other pelagic species.

Bottom Fishing or Deep Dropping for Swordfish

Bottom fishing is a popular way to target deep dwelling fish like red snapper, but targeting swordfish sometimes requires setups that can run deeper. Deep dropping is the extreme version of bottom fishing, using reels with 1,000 yards or more of line on the spool. The weights used in deep dropping are huge to make sure the bait can get down to the desired depth without being carried away by the current.

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