Offshore fishing for sailfish

Sailfish are a stunning fish and one of the world’s most highly regarded sportsfish.

They are super fast, can attain speeds of up to 70 km/hr and they grow big, to around 100 kg!

They are spectacular due to the large dorsal fin or “sail” they use to herd bait.


Sailfish with dorsal fin or "sail" erect.

Sailfish with dorsal fin or “sail” erect.

The “sail” is full of blood vessels. By raising it before and after high-speed bursts they can regulate their temperature.

Sailfish, like marlin and swordfish are characterized by a long upper jaw or bill.

The bill is used to swat and kill prey fish.

Sailfish herd bait upwards into a ball and typically feed on the surface.


Sailfish are widespread and can be found in tropical and temperate regions of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific ocean.

Little known fact; they also snuck into the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal.

In Australia, they range from Perth in W.A., all the way around the top end to the northern coast of Victoria.

Where to catch them?

Find the bait, find the sails.

Sailfish prey on offshore herring and pilchard species plus small pelagics like yakkas and yellowtail.

Yakkas area great bait for sailfish

Yakkas area great bait for sailfish


These bait species can be readily caught on reefs and rough ground using a bait jig.

Or catch them in deeper water as they school up in bait balls.

Look for gannets and frigate birds diving or search for the bait balls using your sounder.

Handy hint…

Note I said gannets and frigate birds, not terns and mutton birds.

Smaller birds prey on smaller baitfish that attract smaller tuna species like Bonito.

However it’s the larger predatory birds that feed on the same size bait as sailfish.

So keep an eye out for them diving or hovering.

Observation is key.

Larger birds like gannets and frigates can give away the location of sailfish

Larger birds like gannets and frigates can give away the location of sailfish

Time and tide?

Making tides up to the moons are best for chasing Sailfish.

This is because the tidal run gets a little larger and baitfish tend to aggregate making feeding situations easier to find.

Best tackle

Any light to medium range tackle in either overhead or spin from 4 kg to 15 kg is best.

Anything more than that is overkill, even on bigger fish as they are not dirty fighters.


For trolling dead baits, skipping garfish and swimming mullet rigs are the two most common.

Another method is the use of high-speed pushers.



Live baiting for sailfish.

If you prefer live baiting, use the very baitfish they are feeding on.

Catch them on the bait jigs, then drop them back down among the bait school hooked through the nose and lightly weighted.

Top tip…

Then let your baits drift out of the school where they become easy pickings for the circling sails.

The biggest sail I’ve ever seen…

While we were heavy tackle marlin fishing in the ’80s at Myrmidon Reef Townsville.

We were trolling 20 lb tuna to entice big marlin when a GIANT sailfish had a crack at one of the tuna baits!

After taking the tuna, we momentarily had it hooked with the big 16/0 hooks meant for marlin.

We got one really good jump out of it which gave us a good look at its size before it spat the hooks.

It was the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen and I estimate the fish to be around 80 to 90 kilos.

The sail was so big it looked like a small catamaran haha.

It was the last thing we expected to see fishing baits meant for 1000 lb marlin.

Marlin and sails don’t normally hang together…

Cape Bowling Green off Townsville used to be a sailfish mecca.

Until one-year thousands of juvenile black marlin showed up.

I think they must have interrupted the way sailfish feed.

Sailfish neatly ball the bait to bring it to the surface.

Meanwhile, the more aggressive baby blacks crash tackled through the bait disturbing the balling process.

As a result, the sails moved back to the reef openings away from the migratory blacks.



East coast vs west coast sails and our Dundee NT fishing trip.

On a recent trip to Darwin we visited our friends at Anglers Choice Fishing Safaris.

We love to travel to remote places for fishing and are absolutely in love with Dundee in the Northern Territory.

From our first trip exploring Dundee back in 2018 we have been absolutely hooked.

On this trip we not only scored great weather but also the Dundee Trifecta!

The Dundee trifecta includes a black jew, barra and sail in the one trip.

We had such an amazing trip we had to split it into two videos.

Watch the video of our epic day mackerel and sailfish fishing in Dundee NT.

You can watch Part One (Inshore) here and Part Two (Offshore) below.



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About The Author

Ryan Moody

Ryan Moody started his fishing career on the reef boats before catching bucket list marlin for the likes of champion heavy tackle angler Johnno Johnson, INXS and the King of Sweden. Branching out in the late 80's to guided barramundi fishing, Ryan has made a name for himself as a Big Barramundi specialist and to date has put clients onto over 2000 metre plus barra. That is over 2 kilometres of metre plus barra! With attitudes changing from 'keep all you can' towards catch and release, Ryan has decided to share his extensive knowledge and hopefully inspire people of all ages to get out from behind the computer screen/TV and into the fishing outdoors lifestyle he has spent his life perfecting.

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