Sailfish in the Keys

Man I love to catch new species! One of the fish I’d hoped to catch on this Florida Keys adventure was a Sailfish. I’ve read that they are the fastest fish in the ocean, and that equals an amazing fight on light tackle.
Yesterday I drove down to Cudjo Key and met Capt. Justin Rea. We spent the first hour of the day chasing baitfish, him on the bow w/ a throw net, and me behind the wheel of his 24′ Yellowtail Bay Boat. After we filled the bait wells w/ pilchards, we made the run out to the “bench end” west of Key West, where the Wahoo bite was on!
When we arrived, there were thirty other boats already there, and I could see many anglers hooked up on various species (wahoo, bonito, kingfish, blackfin tuna, sailfish, mahi mahi, shark, and barracuda).
We set up on the edge of the drop off, and began throwing the pilchards behind the boat. As soon as they hit the water they instantly raced back together and formed small schools. We began fishing free line style, with live pilchards, and it was only a moment before my first hit.
Justin told me to get ready, because when the fish takes, it’s extremely fast… he wasn’t kidding. I managed to screw up the first two grabs, but hooked the third fish, and the fight…. Holy Cow!
For Montana trout guy, it was unbelievable how hard and fast the Bonita and Kingfish fought! After about two hours, I looked up to see three sailfish dorsals slashing through the small baits schools behind the boat. I was working on getting my first fish on the fly rod, so I began casting a fly to the sails. One of them slashed right past my fly, but didn’t grab it. Then Justin made a perfect toss with a live pilchard, and was hooked up. The sail leapt from the water several times, before throwing the hook. The sails disappeared, and moments later we heard a commotion from the neighboring boat.
They had a double hook up on sails! It was amazing to watch, but I gotta say I was jealous.
Then Justin said, “Another sail is behind our boat!!” My bait was way out there, and Justin had his ready. He tossed right out in front of the sailfish. I began reeling my line in, but I had a sudden preminition to leave it out there. I was glad I did, because the sailfish swung past Justins pilchard, and b-lined straight out from the back of the boat.. right towards my bait.
Suddenly my line came to life, I could feel the bill hitting the pilchard then.. the line began spooling off the reel like only the fastest fish in the world could pull it! Justin saw what was happening and yelled “Hit em!!”
I flipped the bail shut on my 20lb spinning set up and the sail exploded from the cobalt blue water. He was at least 40 yards from where I thought he was. During the 30 minute battle, my back and arms wore out as the sail jumped repeatedly seeming to have no end to his energy reserve.
Just as my heros on TV have described many times, I “bowed to the king” with each jump, giving some slack to the fish so that the line didn’t break.
After finally landing him we took a few photos with him. We then put the boat in gear and gave him ample recovery time. I directed his bill away from the boat and sent him off, and he slowly swam into the depths of deepest blue water you could ever imagine.
The rest of the day was spent catching more Bonita.. and I did eventually hook a Wahoo.. which was an awesome fight… so good that he ended it by crossing the anchor line of the boat 200 yards away from us.
Yet another amazing day of fishing down here in paradise.