The late-winter end of sailfish season in southeastern Florida had long since passed as billfish tournament veteran Grayson Kyte and I ventured through St. Lucie Inlet in Stuart, Florida, in my 23-foot Bay Ranger—hardly the type of boat that conjures images of extraordinary offshore action. Near the beach, I threw a 12-foot cast net over a school of threadfin herring and filled the livewells. Shortly thereafter, 5 miles offshore, in about 70 feet of water, we hastily rigged and pitched four baits—realizing instantly that we had dropped into a sailfish feeding frenzy. By day’s end, we’d released six sailfish in all—two of which we first spotted lazing on the surface—and put a couple of mahi in the box for dinner. It was an extraordinary day by any angler’s standards.
Fifteen or more years ago, such days were unheard of. No one targeted sails out of such small boats using such rudimentary tactics, and certainly no one consistently caught sailfish off Florida in the summer.
Whether El Niño or global warming has influenced the sailfish migration is not clear. What is known is that a new ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) sailfish assessment supports the claims of abundance echoed by veteran captains along the southeastern coast. Fisheries biologists have also learned that sailfish aren’t nearly the longitudinal migrators they were once thought to be—their south-to-north travel patterns seem to fluctuate. Wherever they roam, from Key West to canyons off New Jersey, they seek out a narrow range of food-rich warm water, between about 73 and 82 degrees. Here’s a general guide for when, where, and how you can find them—in their new hotspots.
SOUTHEASTERN FLORIDA AND THE FLORIDA KEYS: PRIMTIME – NOVEMBER THROUGH MARCH
Along the southeastern coast of the Florida Peninsula, and in the Keys, sailfish are…