Istiophorus Platypterus a.k.a. Layaran, Mersuji, Indo-Pacific Sailfish.
The aerial acrobat of the sea! It jumps, it tailwalks, it body flops, it does everything to entertain the angler. I've seen the sea full of these energetic fish! A couple would jump to the north 500 metres away, 2 minutes later a few would jump to the east, then to the west, to south, to the north again! When you're happily bottom fishing one will come by and irritate you by happily doing a tailwalk for 50 metres just a few metres in front of you! Very entertaining indeed!
The time to target for the pelagic and migratory sailfish on the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia is during the NE monsoon. With its magnificent broad and tall sail, and the brilliant indigo bars on its body, it is a fine looking fish! Whether drifting out live bait or trolling, they all work. The experts say the hook up rate on bibbed lures is poor, but I must say, I've seen quite a few successful hook ups on rapala magnums and storm big macs, although the hook up rate on skirts is far better.
Nonetheless nothing beats the thrill of using surface skirted lures! Watch your lures, and when you suddenly see the tail fin pop up behind it, weaving back and forth, your heart will start pounding, "take it, take it" you say to yourself. Then the fin disappears and the ratchet screams! You know that if the hook remains firmly set, you're in for a aerial display. But if the fin disappears and the reel stays silent, you hope another sailfish will appear and stalk the lure.
When live baiting near the surface with a balloon rig, you will see the live bait suddenly dragging the balloon fast, trying to escape! Then a fin appears and starts to circle the balloon, you'll know that you'll be in for a tussle with a sailfish!
You never know what a fish might eat! Imagine, my friend hooked up a sailfish with a dead prawn as bait, on the seabed, a hundred feet deep! (This is an exception!) However it got away, it cut his line on the keel of the boat as it jumped on the other side of the boat. Following its "release", it commenced to tail walk past the boat 3 consecutive times, probably to scorn the disappointed friend!
The sailfish has no sharp cutting teeth, but the mouth and bill is very coarse. The sand paper like surface is capable of fraying through light mono. So the use of heavy leaders above 100lbs is recommended. However, unless billfish are the only target, the use of wire is essential, as bite offs due to sharp toothed predators is ever present in our waters.
Although it has a very high top speed the small sailfish is not a very strong fighter. The smaller sailfish tend to give up easily and quickly. The jumping quickly tires them out. Generally only sailfish above 30 kilos give a tough fight. These larger sailfish have the stamina to battle it out with the angler for sometime.
When going for sailfish ensure the reel used has sufficient line capacity. One friend, new to offshore trolling brought a small multiplier for trolling. It probably had about 200 meters of 20lb line on it. When he hooked up the sailfish on the troll, we were rewarded with the normal spectacular jumps!
Then it decided to head off to the horizon, with his line disappearing off his spool at a remarkable rate. He decided to thumb the spool, bad mistake! Lesson one, he burnt his thumb. Lesson two, the line snapped. Let the drag do the work. As a matter of fact, as the spool empties, the drag increases. Just plain basic physics. Spool diameter decreases the drag from the reel increases! Unfortunately for him his fishing sifu (wasn't me) of the trip forgot to inform him of these basic "rules"!
Another time when I hooked up a 80lb sailfish, it went for a short deep run, then it decided to take off at a blistering rate! It took out 300 meters of line in about 30 seconds! How do I know that? Well the first 150 yards of line spooled on my reel was 30lb spiderwire, then the rest was 25lb mono. When I saw the spiderwire disappearing off the reel I knew it was going to be a long run. When it did finally stop running, it rested a while, before jumping in the far, far distance. It certainly is a strange feeling seeing the fish jump so far away, knowing it is connected to your rod and reel!
Like all billfish, we should practise catch and release. This billfish has very little food value, due to its bony flesh. Every time I see a picture of a beautiful billfish hung up dead, in Rod & Line, I feel disgusted. As most of the anglers who kill these sailfish, do so not for the meat but because it is a "trophy". The few that do keep it for meat actually are well aware that it is not good eating. What a waste of a sportfish.
To release the sailfish, just unhook it if it is hooked with an artificial. If it has taken bait and the hook is too deep in to unhook, just cut off the hook as close to the mouth as possible. Surprisingly even badly internally hooked fish or fish bleeding from the gills have been found to have a good survival rate, as these fish have been tagged and recaptured alive later!
Recently in the Rod and Line magazine I have noticed anglers submitting pictures of killed billfish and claiming the bill fish is half dead, thus they keep it instead of releasing it. Naturally it would be exhausted and limp after a long fight; if not it would not be able to be brought to the boat and landed. Imagine the athletes who fully exert themselves after a gruelling race. They are exhausted and can hardly move! Maybe you can call them "half-dead" too, but give them some time to gather their breath and the athlete will be fine. The same goes for these large gamefish, the half dead billfish can be revived! Only in areas where there are large sharks will the chances of a tired billfish holding its own after release be suspect. However as an angler once put it this way, a billfish in the boat has no chance of surviving. It is dead, period. A billfish released still has a chance!
Revive the fish by holding the bill with gloves (the bill is very rough, like coarse sandpaper), have the boat idle forward and keep the mouth of the sailfish in the water. The water flow through the mouth will flow out through the gills, resuscitating it. It may take more than a minute for the resuscitation to take effect. When the sailfish starts to swim on its own it can be released to swim on its own, to fight another day.