Eye of the Guide

Saltwater Chronicles - part 23

Tom Travis - July 6, 2015

Sysadmin Note
Part 22 can be found here

Saltwater Gamefish of Florida

In this installment we will cover one of the most exciting classes of gamefish found in the ocean and that is the Billfish. We will cover the Swordfish, Sailfish, Blue Marlin and White Marlin.

These are true deep water fish and the angler will need a suitable boat, a friend with a suitable boat or a guide to pursue these species. Furthermore with the exception of the Atlantic Sailfish and the White Marlin these species are classed as extreme big game fly fishing due to their size, strength and speed.


Swordfish [Xiphias gladius] they are also called Broadbills, this fish is found in the deep water oceans off the coast of Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico. Swordfish are solitary or swim in loose aggregations and are a highly migratory and predatory fish.

Swordfish can be reached by fourteen feet in length and weigh 1,400 pounds; they prefer to hang in areas of the ocean where the currents meet. The average Swordfish caught on a fly will run from 50 to 125 lbs. They prefer water temperatures between 62 and 72 degrees but can tolerate 41 to 81 degrees and have a lifespan of 10 years.

They are normally seen on the surface but can dive to 2,100 feet and are known for their strong fight and occasional jumps. These are extremely fast fish and can reach speeds of fifty miles per hour. The spawning takes place from March to July and off the coast of Florida is one of the spawning grounds.

They feed on rockfish, barracuda, squid, herring, mackerel, bluefish, and many others and they slash and slice with their bills to disable their larger prey and swallow the smaller prey whole.

Bait anglers chum and fish at night and find this method most productive however smaller Swordfish are taken during the hours of daylight. Fly fishing for Swordfish is classed as extreme fly fishing where 12 to 14 weight rods are used and reels capable of handling 350 yards of backing plus the fly line. Most of the current information on fly fishing for Swordfish is found on the inter-net.

Atlantic Sailfish

Atlantic Sailfish [Istiophorus platypterus] also called Billfish, Spindle Beak or Bayonet Fish. They are another worldwide species that migrates following the bait. The Atlantic Sailfish was adopted as the official state saltwater fish of Florida in 1975.

These fish are found both offshore and at times in near-shore waters along the Florida Coast Line. They are often called solitary fish but there is evidence that they will form loose groups to feed and migrate. This fish has little value as table fare and most are now caught and released but they are very popular as a sporting gamefish.

They prefer water temperatures of 70 to 83 degree water and are generally found swimming near the surface in search of prey. They can reach 128 pounds and 124 inches and lives up to 16 years.

In the waters of Florida the average catch is between 49 to 83 inches are the most common. The spawning occurs during the summer months and they grow very quickly and can reach 40 inches in their first year.

They feed on squids, octopus, halfbeaks, needlefish, and mackerels, along with tuna, jacks, mullet, ballyhoo and other baitfish. Sailfish are very fast and can reach sixty plus miles per hour and at times will use their dorsal fin to help herd baitfish.

They are the easiest of the Billfish for the angler to target as ten weight rods are capable of handling them and they are also found near shore.

Blue Marlin

Blue Marlin [Makaira nigricans] this is another blue water fish found in the open ocean off the coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico and are well known for their speed, power and their aerial displays. The swim above the thermocline near the surface and are the largest of the billfish and can reach 1550 pounds and 15 feet in length.

However the normal catch will run from 100 to 350 pounds. The current All Tackle Florida record is 1046 pound and was taken off Panama City and the fight lasted for five hours; remember this if you are going to target Blue Marlin.

The bill is used to slash strike and stun their prey which includes mackerels, dolphin, squid, jacks, mullet and a host of other fish. Popular live baits include bonito, barracuda, ballyhoo and small dolphin. They are primarily day light feeders and can live up to 28 years. The spawning occurs from May to September in the waters near Cuba.

Fly fishing for Blue Marlin will involve the use of trolled teasers to attract them to the surface so the fly angler can get a cast to them. This is not a fish that you causally pursue and you must plan and carefully prepare for before engaging in this activity.

White Marlin

White Marlin [Tetrapturus albidus] this is another blue water fish that is found off all of the Florida coasts. The White Marlin is the most aerial of all the Marlin and is also one of the smallest reaching 200 pounds and 7 feet in length at the tops. However they average between 40 to 70 pounds and have a life span of thirty years.

They spawn during the early months of summer and there is little known of the spawning cycle or the young White Marlin. They can be seen as individuals but can also form loose groups and can found weed lines, drop offs, upwelling's and shoals.

Like all Billfish the White Marlin is very fast and an aggressive feeder that feeds on squid, flying fish, blue runners, bonito, herring and many other baitfish and they are day light feeders.

There is a great deal of information on Fly Fishing for Billfish available on the inter-net however for those who would like a recommendation on a good book on this subject, then get a copy of Bluewater Fly Fishing, by Trey Combs published in 1995 or Billfish on a Fly, by Jack Samson published in 1995. Also check out the patterns listed in Pop Fleyes by Bob Popovics published in2001 or Innovative Saltwater Flies by Bob Veverka published in 1999. Another excellent digest of patterns is Flies for Saltwater by Dick Stewart and Farrow Allen published in 1992, all of these volumes contain excellent and effective patterns for chasing the Billfish.

I will share a couple of patterns that I have produced for others that have proven to be effective on Atlantic Sailfish. I have not chased the Billfish as my idea of a safe deep ocean boat is something like the U.S.S. Ronald Regan and I have yet to encounter an Atlantic Sailfish in the waters I generally fish.

Flash Blue Backed Sailfish Bait

Green & White Sailfish Special

These patterns can also be fished with a popper head.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

Sysadmin Note
Part 24 can be found here


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