Usually following warmer currents, Sailfish are highly migratory and can be found throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Offshore, it is extremely abundant in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Florida Panhandle, among South Florida’s Gulf Stream and the Caribbean Sea, cruising around 100 fathoms, and summering around the Bahamas, especially Bimini. Florida’s official state saltwater fish follows favorable water temperatures and wind conditions as far west as Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; even congregating in great numbers around West Africa, warm waters of Cape Bowling Green, Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.
Sailfish feed along reef edges, but more often mid-depth or at the water’s surface. They are capable of deep water descents, sometimes finding a meal along the bottom substrate. Smaller pelagic fishes, like mackerels, tunas, jacks, and needlefish, along with squid and octopus. Spawning occurs year-round in the Eastern Atlantic, but especially during the warmer months. Sailfish prefer to hunt shallower waters near the surface, getting closer to inshore locations around southeast Florida.
Sailfish are dark blue along the top, fading to brownish-blue with vertical dark bars along the sides, with a silvery-white underbelly. They have a long spear-like upper jaw, and are distinguished from the marlin family by a magnificent blue, high first dorsal fin with many dark spots that is like beautiful plumage to amorous anglers. The Sailfish grows quickly – up to five feet in a single year – and averages between five and nine feet long. Females are generally much larger than males, reaching over nine feet in length, and weighing over 200 pounds. As a rule, Indo-Pacific Sailfish are much larger than their Atlantic cousins. The IGFA world record for Sailfish is 221 pounds, caught off Santa Cruz Island, Ecuador.
Sailfish are not so desirable for eating, as they tend to be quite tough; but this in no way lessens the attraction. They are the most commonly encountered, yet smallest, of all billfish. Less important commercially, it is the pure sport involved with catching Sailfish which draws so much attraction. They can be landed – after spectacular battles, frequently fighting standing up –with surprisingly light tackle, such as spinning or fly rods. In this particular case, size does not matter.