Fly-fishing for billfish is definitely a think-outside-of-the-box situation for most fly anglers. Still, there is a growing group of fly fisherman who embrace the challenge.
Put Me In, Coach
Successful bill fishing is a team sport. That team generally includes a captain, two mates, and the angler(s). Like with any team, everyone has a position. The captain handles the boat and decides where to look for fish, while the mates rig teasers, keep them in the proper position in the water, and tease the billfish into fly-casting range. The anglers’ job is to precisely deliver the fly and hook the fish—and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Believe it or not, fighting and landing the fish are the easy parts.
Rigging fly lines, flies, rods, reels, and properly setting the drag have evolved over the years, making landing a billfish on the fly much quicker and easier. In the past anglers would use 80-foot long floating billfish line, or an 80-footer cut down to 60 feet. The problem with this setup was when they hooked a really hot fish the large diameter of the line would cause big bellies in the line. This often would create enough drag to part the 20-pound tippet.
As anglers caught and released increasing numbers of sailfish—but continued to lose many bigger fish, such as blue and striped marlin—they began to try out different fly line configurations. Over the years, anglers like Captain Jake Jordan came up with a very effective fly line system that is now the standard in Guatemala—one of the hottest spots in the world for billfish on fly.
All connections are made with Dacron loops that are whipped to both the fly line and the mono. The butt section is eight feet long and made of 60- to 80-pound mono. It has a Dacron loop on the back end that connects to the loop on the shooting head, and a loop on the forward end that connects loop-to-loop with the tippet. The tippet is 20-pound test with a Bimini twist on each end and 12 inches of 80-pound shock. This produces a knotless system that can go in and out of the rod guides at an alarming speed without hanging up on the guides.
The most important thing to look for in a billfish fly reel is the drag—and large-arbor reels are preferred. Consider reels such as Sage’s 8000 Series, Tibor’s Pacific, Gulfstream, Billy Pate Bluefin, or Mako’s 9600 and 9700 series reels. Drags are set to 5.5 to six pounds for sailfish. This amount of pressure will keep the sailfish jumping and provide the angler and crew the stunning visuals a pirouetting sailfish can deliver. Blue marlin are not encountered as much as the sails and drags must be backed off to around two to three pounds just to survive the first blistering run. The drag is slowly dialed up as the fish tires out during the fight.
Pink and white Cam Siglar Big Game Tube Flies are pretty much the standard fly. These are rigged with twin Gamakatsu 5/0 Octopus hooks. Other colors of flies work well but generally produce no better than the pink and white. Sailfish are tempted up to the stern of the boat with teasers. When one is within firing range the teaser is removed from the water while the fly angler simultaneously casts the tube fly in its place. If you’re lucky, the sailfish will attack the fly. Fish on!
Brian used the mentioned the following RIO products to catch billfish on a fly...