The Sail fishing in Islamorada has been wonderful, many days with 6 or better! The fish have been just outside the reef edge, in about 90 to 150 feet of water. There have been lots of sardines and cigar minnows. When the Sails are balling bait, the most productive way to hook up a Sailfish is by belly hooking your baits. The hook is placed right under the peck fins, there is a hard spot which will help hold the bait securely, and any other spot along the belly is much weaker so it can be ripped out much easier.
We catch our bait two ways; the first way is by throwing the cast net. The baits we catch in the nets are usually beat up and handled a lot more, so this makes the baits weaker. The other way is a sabaki rig which is a slow process that will produce very strong baits. These baits are released into the live well by means of a de-hooker, which limit's handling and overstressing the bait. It's very important to keep these baits calm, they are your hook baits, and the others are used for chumming. This is why we carry extra live wells onboard; the baits need to be kept separate. Also we try to only dip one bait at a time; this will keep the baits from freaking out, so to speak.
The difference will now make itself very clear, when that unstressed bait hits the water it will take off and head straight towards the bottom, its natural instinct. This is the most crucial part, because almost every bait that goes down will get a bite. One of the reasons we use light tackle here in the Keys, is that we have many obstacles to overcome. The water can be gin clear so we have to use light line, 10lb to 20lb is standard for our Penn spinners, with a 30lb leader and either a 7/0 or 8/0 circle hook. This makes it easier for the bait to pull the lighter line down with him; if you go any heavier the bait will struggle and become less efficient. Same goes for the hooks we use, they to need to be a light hook not a heavy duty one. Now realize that the bait balls are about mid level in depth so as your bait heads for what it believes to be safety, it finds itself in an unusual situation. All of the sudden there's a bunch of sailfish blocking its way. Unfortunately by the time the bait realizes this IT IS TO LATE!! We have found that when using circle hooks it can help if you let the fish eat a little longer than normal, this will help with a better chance at a hook setting properly. Along with about 3lb to 4lbs of drag and keep the rods tip down. Once we are hooked up the drag can be moved up to 8lb to 10lbs. Sometimes first thing in the morning, before the boats get all stacked up, we get the opportunity to cast to the fish on the surface. The sailfish will have the bait pushed up on the surface and then it makes things all that much easier. Also an easier find since the frigate birds will be hitting the deck. All on board are able to see nature at its finest! Now you can pick a fish out and cast your bait several feet in front of the fish you would like to attempt to catch. In this situation we just lip hook the bait, this helps to keep the bait closer to the surface, it's much harder to swim down with a hook stuck in your face. It's always fun to watch a fish eat your bait.