How would you like to cast your fly to a fish that may be longer than your fly rod? That’s right, longer than your 9 foot fly rod. If you want an adrenaline rush almost equivalent to landing on an aircraft carrier, you might want to try a Pacific sailfish in flight. You’ll be up close and personal with your opponent, and it’s not as difficult as you might believe. In more than 40 years of flying for the Pacific cruise, I have helped many people catch their first. My first was at Club de Pesca de Panama, now called Tropic Star Lodge, in 1964.
Imagine this scenario: The ocean, glassy calm, as the Pacific often is. The sky, gray and almost threatening, a storm broke out on the horizon. Your crew has rigged three softhead teasers with the belly band from a bonito sewn in. Suddenly, the tip of a bill appears behind the distant bully. You feel it in your gut; a sailfish is checking your teasing.
Your captain or mate sees it first and shouts, “It’s coming, it’s coming!” Or, “SAIL! SAIL!” – “WATCH OUT!
Your David/Goliath adventure is about to begin. In about three seconds, all hell will break loose. Vela will kidnap the bully, but the friend will kidnap him. Two or three times. Now the sail is mad as hell. That’s when he drops that popper three feet behind his tail.
Before we go any further here, let’s check to make sure your devices are configured to handle that dance master:
You’ll be good to go, with a minimum of two 12 or 13 wt. fully assembled rods with fly reels holding a minimum of 350 yards of backing – a 13 wt. Billfish fly line attached to your jig with a loop-to-loop connection. [Form a loop in your backing with a Bimini twist knot, plus a loop in your fly line, by serving a loop with Kevlar thread or tiny opposing nail knots to form the loop]…or just buy a 13 wt. Cortland Billfish line. I designed this line, 65 meters long with a loop at the back. It’s a pretty fast floating line and very visible, except for the last one that you’ll attach to the back of your leader. The last three legs are a clear intermediate mono-core line that will slowly sink.
This fly line, 65 feet long instead of the standard 105 feet, increases the amount of support on your fly reel (your average gist is about 40 feet, rarely, if ever, exceeding 55 feet). It’s important that this fly line floats so you can pick it up if the sailfish misses your fly and cast again. It’s just as important that the last three feet of your fly line sink slowly, because 90 percent of the time you’ll be using an exploding bug.
To do this, point the rod tip into the water in the direction of your fly and strip the line hard to make the hollow head make a big whooshing sound to attract the sailfish as the lure is pulled out of the water. A full floating fly line would bypass the bug coming out of the water instead of creating a big gurgling sound that attracts fish.
Those who have fished with me or know me know how adamant I am about having all your gear in good condition. Everything must be properly rigged with the fly attached before you leave the dock. This is especially true for this type of fishing. There have been many times I’ve had shots at sailfish – even a black marlin – within 20 minutes of leaving the dock.
Now that you’ve attached your support to the fly line, here’s the rest of the rig and knots from the fly line to the hook on your fly.
60 pound test monofilament like my butt rig, attached to 12 or 13 wt. flight line with an improved nail knot. The nail knot is easy, provided you follow these instructions: Take the material you will use for the back of the host and form a loop. With your right hand place the loop over the end of your fly line. Now hold it with your left hand, using a round toothpick or something to stiffen the fly line. With your right hand take the right side of the loop and start wrapping over the top of the fly line and the leader material in the loop. Wind back to the left (away from the bottom and back over itself) approximately seven turns. Hold all this between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, and with the right hand slowly pull the end of the leader sticking out on the right side, until the whole loop is in a straight line to the right. Now all you have to do is grab each edge… and there you have it.
To turn this into an improved nail knot: Before you start tying it, soak the last three inches of your fly line in nail polish remover for about two minutes. Then take a piece of 20-lb. Dacron and tie a few knots at the top over the part you cured in the nail polish remover. Wrap both ends of the Dacron around your fingers and remove the end from the fly line. You are now ready to tie the nail knot over the fly line, leaving 3 inches of the inner core hanging free in front of the nail knot. Pull both ends of the formed nail knot very carefully, but do not tighten it yet. Slide the knot all the way to the end of your fly line, still leaving the free core hanging, and hold it a little longer. Tie a top knot using the core, directly around the butt of the leader where it exits the fly line. Tighten both ends of the nail knot as well as the top knot. Cut off all loose ends and apply two or three coats of Loon Knot-Sense to protect the nail knot as it goes in and out of the tip and guides. I have never had a failure using this link, with hundreds of fish over 100 pounds.
The butt section on my fish rigs is about 2 feet long, including the loop joint at the bottom. Allow at least a portion of the buttock before tying a double surgeon’s loop or perfection loop. This loop should be at least 3-1/2 inches long, to provide enough clearance when passing one of the large fish flies, often with 6/0 hooks, quickly and easily, even when the bite is open and you. trying to get a new 4 foot leader section with the attached fly in action.
Either wire or buy at least a dozen leader sections that have a minimum of 15 inches of class type between joints, with a good connection between the class tip and the shock tippet. This is done by using one of three different nodes that are 100 percent in strength. First tie a Bimini twist creating a double line, before tying the Albright knot or Hufnagel knot, and third is the improved Stu Apte blood knot. The other end of this 4-foot leader should have approximately two feet of double line created by a Bimini bend. This skirt should have a double surgeon’s loop, so you can do the loop-to-loop connection with the loop on your butt.
Poppers and sailfish leaders, pre-rigged and ready (photo: Stu Apte).
I use a simple snap knot three times around when attaching the 100-pound bite tip to the eye of the hook so that all of my bite-to-fly connections are within a quarter inch under the 12 inches allowed. by the IGFA for recognition of the World Record.
My secret to doing this is to place the tip of the bite through the eye of the hook, using a ruler. Measure 10 ½ inches making a small pinch in the plug in the eye of the hook. Bring the end of the tag around three times and go back through the created loop. Lubricate it with a little saliva. This next thing is extremely important: Fold a piece of paper towel approximately three times and then wrap it around the first finger of your right hand. Make as many turns of the 100-lb leader around your finger as you can. Place the first hook, if you are using a tandem rig, on a U-shaped bolt or hook. Hold the tag end 90 degrees to the side as you begin to pull the knot tight. Once the knot is reasonably set, continue to pull with both hands until it is firmly locked. Keeping the tag end to the side prevents it from getting too tight on your leader near the knot.
Now that your rig is rigged up properly, there are a few things to remember when the skipper throttles back and the buddy puts the boosters over the side. Make sure they have a clean bucket that you can put the fly line into to cast. Nothing ruins a good day’s fishing faster than having someone step on your fly line while on the deck, rolling it under their shoes. In some cases once this happens, the bend in your line can be there forever, rendering it useless to fish with.
Strip approximately 45 feet of fly line from your reel to the deck, then drop your fly into the water allowing it to drift back to the end of the fly line. Now you can see how far your max cast will be. This is a good time to extend your fly line as you are stripping it back to the boat and putting it in the bucket. Three things happened. You know how far you can cast, you’ve stretched the twists and curls out of the line, and now you have the fat part of the fly line going through the guides initially above.
Oh yeah, that sailfish we started with? Fuck that jumper!