Home > Billfish > 6 Best Live Baits for Catching Sailfish

6 Best Live Baits for Catching Sailfish

Land the big one and return home with a whopper of a fish tale by using the best sailfish bait on this list.

Most experienced sailfish anglers already know what type of bait has worked for them in the past. However, if you haven’t experienced much luck lately, you may want to mix things up with some different sailfish bait. 

Sailfish on Bait Ball

Best Baits for Sailfish

Before you take on the challenge of scoring a sailfish or two, equip yourself with some insight into the fierce marine predator. 

Experts recognize the sailfish as the fastest fish in the world. These fish travel at a speed of 68 miles per hour. Scientifically known as Istiophorus, the sailfish’s striking dorsal fins make them stand out among the diverse marine creatures. 

The fish weigh about up to 220 pounds and grow up to 8 feet. Sailfish usually swim near the ocean’s surface. They flourish in tropical and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. 


Goggle Eye

goggle eye scad

Locals call these prey fish by several names, including big-eyed scad, purse-eyed scad, or goggler. Their big eyes, silvery-white white body with hues of blue and green make up some of their most prominent physical traits. 

The nocturnal fish thrive in warm waters in schools, preying on small fish, crustaceans, and zooplankton. I’d suggest you gear up at night for goggle-fishing, as they swim to deeper waters during the day.

The popular prized bait can cost up to $15 during tournaments. So try fishing them yourself with white-colored lures or large cast nets. For sailfish baiting, you can use live bait or whole frozen baitfish. Just make sure you bridle the fish at the back or frontal area of the dorsal fin or above the eye.           



ballyhoo Bait fish swimming in the blue waters of the Caribbean Ocean

Sailfish love a good chase when hunting for prey. Ballyhoo makes a series of skipping motions, attracting predatory sailfish. The halfbeak fish’s silvery exterior makes it desirable for fishers while choosing their bait.

Ballyhoo flourishes off the coasts of Florida, Massachusetts, and the Caribbean. You can easily catch scores of schooling Ballyhoo using chum, cast nets, long shank hooks, and Sabiki rigs. 

On my sailfish trip to the Florida Keys, I found using live ballyhoo bait advantageous because they swim near the surface. I mostly rig my live bait by bridling through the nose or the back. You can buy cut bait or pre-rigged ballyhoo from nearby stores. However, like goggle-eye, these halfbeak species are expensive.


Threadfin Herring


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Into the Blue (@intothebluetv)


Sailfish sometimes prefer small prey; so, I sometimes use threadfin herrings, which serve as one of my favorite types of small bait. The temperature-sensitive fish live in the southeastern rivers and bays of the United States. You can distinguish them by their golden fins and bluish, silver exteriors.  

While the fish serves as an ideal bait for fishing, many recreational anglers use live and dead threadfin to lure sailfish. In my opinion, live ones work best in attracting hungry predators. 

You can catch your limit of baitfish after sunset when they surface to feed on phytoplankton. An old trick I apply involves putting out bright lights to attract them. When rigging a live threadfin herring, you can hook the nose, dorsal fins, and breast. 




View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Shimano North America Fishing (@fish_shimano_north_america)


Pilchards are a small 4-inch fish with big eyes. The little fish traveling in schools catches predators’ attention through their shiny silvery bodies. They like staying close to the shores of the Atlantic ocean, the Caribbean sea, and the Mediterranean.  You can catch them using chums, cast nets, and Sabiki rigs.

I like using pilchard for live bait as they fit well in various fishing methods either straight from your rod or hung below a kite. Also, expert anglers use diagonally cut pilchard chunks for chumming. This practice often attracts several sailfish. 

When I use uncut pilchard bait, a circle hook works best. Sliding the hook through the baitfish either near the tailfin, belly, or eye which secures the attacking sailfish better when they bite.    


Cigar Minnows

Cigar minnows dead fish bait

Also known as cigarfish and hardtails, these fish grow up to 8 inches in size. Cigar minnows look like cigars, with a horizontal greenish tint lined through their bodies. They swim in the Atlantic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Based on my experience, these little minnows serve as excellent bait for luring sailfish. They match with Pilchards in size, so you can apply similar strategies while fishing for them. I encountered a good catch of these hardtails in the grass flats of South Florida.

Recreational anglers can buy them from the neighborhood bait shops. They don’t cost much in comparison to google eye and ballyhoo. Frozen cigarfish work just as well as chunks of fish and fresh bait. For live bait, pinning their nose in the cartilage works well. 


Blue Runners


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Miguel Fishing (@miguel_fishing)


Also known as bluestripe jack, you can catch this versatile sailfish bait without much effort. These species grow up to 2.3 feet and weigh about 11 pounds. They swim in the Atlantic ocean, close to the shores, and follow a carnivorous diet. 

Catching blue runners requires effort as they swim with speed and strength. However, the shiny baitfish makes it to this list due to its abundance and affordability. I’d suggest small blue runners as bait for when you go sailfishing using slow trolling or kite fishing methods. 

I find using live bait more effective. An expert angler can manage well with a single hook near the dorsal fin for kite fishing. However, you can try a wire stinger rig through the nostril while slow trolling.      


Final Thoughts

You might own top-quality fishing gear, but do you have the best sailfish bait? If you want the big catch, lure in your prized game using our bait suggestions. 

People don’t particularly enjoy eating sailfish’s tough meat. However, the game fish’s superior strength and speed attract trophy anglers. I find sailfishing most thrilling as they put up a tough fight once hooked. Sometimes it takes hours before they finally submit. 

Some popular sailfishing locations include:

  • South Florida and the Florida Keys
  • Panama
  • Costa Rica
  • Mexico

I like diversifying my stash of sailfish lures. Depending on your preference, choose one or two based on your gear and the technique you intend to use. Whether you have some recreational fishing or an upcoming tournament planned, toss your best bait into the water!

Add comment