Skip to main content Skip to main content

Best Bait and Presentation for Sailfish

Having the right sailfish baits, and knowing where to fish them, makes all the difference

Best Bait and Presentation for Sailfish

Tournament sailfish season is fast-approaching, when well-prepared crews will be going for releases and points.

It is midnight without any moonlight as Capt. Nick Carullo winds up a sabiki rig of goggle-eyes flipping back and forth. “I like my baits to have a hardy layer so their scales don’t fall off,” he says. “Baits get red marks when they are caught and these marks usually appear a couple of days after it happens. They will either die or just not make the cut for tournament use.” Carullo goes on to explain that unmarred, well-fed bait will win out against marred baits which may have not eaten recently or regularly.

This midnight foray is part of the dedication which wins sailfish tournaments. You will often find yourself in a steep competition as Carullo did with his teammates on day one of the Final Sail tournament, last April in Miami Beach. “Eighty to ninety percent of the fleet was at Triumph Reef on day one based on the pre-fishing. Word travels fast,” said Carullo.


These pileup situations are when bait quality is essential. Carullo scoops out bait individually from the livewell when transferring them to his bait pen at the dock.

“We feed our baits every day, for four weeks or more, even the day before a tournament begins,” said Carullo. It is this time which allows them to build up a hardy outer crust, according to the captain. He says this will allow the bait to retain its scales and thus look and swim more naturally. The baits will also take “out-of-the-water” moments better when steep chop churns up or when Carullo has to pick up and move when a free-jumper is seen.

sailfish lookout
Captain Nick Carullo of Showtime on the lookout


The captain noted the importance of free-jumpers when there are no edges present, no grass edges, wind edges or blue to-green edges. He simply hits “info” on his Garmin to get the tide schedule to see if the blue water will turn emerald green soon from outgoing tide before he makes a move.


A free-jumper often signals the presence of other sailfish since they are pack hunters. “Multiple hookups are key to being able to win a sailfish tournament,” said Carullo. The positioning and crowding can make free-jumpers hard to capitalize on. A little hang around patience after most of the boats had cleared out from Triumph Reef helped Carullo and the Showtime crew capitalize on free-jumpers. And waiting for green inshore waters holding flotsam to push out at the end of slack tide is well worth the patience, according to Carullo.

sailfish tournament sportfishing


Along the South Florida coast, north wind would be a good situation to point your bow into, according to the captain. This way you can set up a kite flying inshore off the port side to catch the outgoing green water. The other kite should be flying off the starboard side, eastward towards the Gulf Stream. This position will send sailfish running into your bait as they travel south. “This spread will work a greater range of the water column and help nail down the presence of sailfish faster than two kites with lines at the same depth,” said Carullo.


Hook your bait through the mouth if you intend to keep on the move to power through wind and current. Otherwise, bridle-rigging them in the back is what Carullo recommends for drifting with the kites. The Showtime team will use 16-pound test on rods fished under kites with helium balloons. Otherwise, 20-pound test is the mainstay line of these competitive anglers, with 30-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Working as a team under Carullo’s guidance topside on the 39 SeaVee, Showtime went on to win both the Final Sail as well as the entire three-leg Quest series in 2019.

See for more info on sailfish tournaments. FS

Published Florida Sportsman Magazine November 2019

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

Preview This Month's Issue

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Florida Sportsman App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Florida Sportsman stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Florida Sportsman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Subscribe Now and Get a Full Year

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now