Sci: Istiophorous platypetrus

Common Names: The Indo-Pacific sailfish is also known as the "sail", "spear-chucker" or "spearfish", although the two latter names may cause confusion with the related, but rare, short-billed spearfish (Tetapturus angustirostris).

Description: The sailfish is a long but lightly-built pelagic gamefish, characterised by having a top jaw which extends into a long, slender bill or spear, and an extremely high and ornate dorsal fin. Colouration is usually electric blue to blue-green, darker on the back and overlaid with broken vertical bars and dashes of lavender or powder-blue. Some fish have a golden or coppery flush to the gill covers and flanks when alive, especially if stressed or tired. The sail-like dorsal fin is dark, steely-blue with many blue/black or purple spots and broken dashes.

Size: Sailfish grow to almost 4 m in length and weights of as much as 100 kg, but are more common at half that length, and weights of 15 to 45 kg. The biggest sailfish found in our waters have come from Queensland's Whitsunday Islands, and the waters around Lord Howe Islands, off the north coast of New South Wales. Distribution: Indo-Pacific sailfish are found throughout the tropical and sub-tropical areas of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. A very closely related fish occurs in the Atlantic, where it is usually smaller in size. Sailfish are surface and mid-water wanderers, preferring to hunt in warm currents and upwellings over inshore grounds and out toward the edge of the continental shelf.

Fishing Techniques: Sailfish caught by anglers in Australia are mainly taken on trolled, rigged baits of garfish or mullet, pulled behind a boat travelling at 4 to 8 knots, or small to medium live baits drifted or cast close to feeding "pods" of sails or bait fish schools. They will readily strike fast-trolled lures such as jet-heads and straight-running skirted heads pulled at 8 to 15 knots. However, many strikes on these strikes fail to result in hook-ups, because of the sail's long bill and hard mouth. In northern Western Australia, a growing number of sailfish are being taken on live baits from the ocean rocks. In the same area, adventurous fly rodders also target these fish on saltwater fly tackle after "teasing" them to the surface with hookless baits or lures trolled behind a boat.

Eating Qualities: The sailfish is quite palatable, despite its dark, somewhat sinewy flesh, which is ideally suited to being smoked. In Australia, the vast majority of sailfish taken on rod and reel are tagged and released. They are pursued primarily for the superb sport they provide on light tackle.


By Steve Starling