Sailfish and Marlin are two strikingly similar-looking fish, if you exclude the sailfin that is. They both have similar colorations, similar looks, and similar long, pointy noses. Both also belong to the Billfish family.
Marlin and Sailfish are extraordinarily difficult to catch and are caught more often for the sport than they are for their meat, which is only a delicacy in some rare markets. In fact, Sailfish and Marlin are the pinnacles of the sport.
Thanks to their similarities, first-time anglers may have some difficulties differentiating between the two. However, hook either one of them, and you’re in for a heck of a fight.
Sailfish vs Marlin
Which is Faster
Sailfish are smaller than Marlins and weigh less, both of which give them an advantage in terms of raw speed through the water. A sailfish can swim between 68 and 70mph, while a Marlin can swim up to 50mph.
There are exceptions to the rule, especially since there is more than one species of Marlin and more than one species of sailfish as well. But the sailfish reigns supreme as the faster of the two. Sailfish are one of the fastest (if not the fastest) fish in the sea.
The Black Marlin comes in at number two, with speeds recorded between 30 and 50mph. No matter what species of Sailfish or Marlin you go with, they are all huge, powerful, fast fish in the water, which makes them incredible predators, especially for the likes of Bonita.
Where to Find them
Sailfish are far easier to find than Marlin. That’s because they spend almost all their time in the upper portion of the water column. Sailfish enjoy spending time near the surface, anywhere between just below the surface and 60’ down.
Sailfish don’t stay there all the time, however. There are known instances where sailfish were tagged and tracked as deep as 1,500’. But that’s an exception rather than the rule. Sailfish generally stick to warmer waters, so it makes sense for them to stay close to the surface, where the water is warmer.
For the most part, Sailfish spawn in the spring, but they’re known to spawn throughout the summer months.
Anglers have a rule known as the “110 Fathom Curve,” which applies to Marlin. Marlin are known for going much deeper than Sailfish generally do. The 110 Fathom Curve is a reference to a depth of up to 600’.
Since Marlin tend to prefer depths up to 300’, they remain in the upper half of 100 fathoms. Anglers use that terminology to target Marlin right around that depth and maybe a little more shallow at times.
Marlin are less reserved about going deeper, and trackers frequently catch them swimming down to half a mile. For the most part, Marlin aren’t very different from sailfish, preferring a shallower water column.
Best way to Catch Them
Live bait, kite fishing is the name of the game for Sailfish. Since Sailfish spend the vast majority of their time near the surface, kite fishing keeps the bait near the surface and allows anglers to spread their baits out over a larger area.
Anglers have an enormously complex number of ways to go about it, using everything from split-shot and sea anchors, to port and starboard kites with mullet or goggle-eye baits. The kites have to be monitored constantly, and when one rises, the angler has to take action.
Anglers can mix things up with multiple rigs, including a couple of kite setups to port and starboard as well as weighted baits at multiple levels of the surface water column. It’s all about covering as much area as possible with multiple baits in the water.
Marlin, no matter which type you’re going after, chase warmer waters, and the best way to catch them is by trolling. Like with Sailfish, the more hooks in the water, the better. Artificial lures work well when you’re way offshore and trolling at high speeds, including Pakula Lumo Sprockets, Marlin Mafic Ruckus, and Black Barts 1656.
Slow trolling means it’s time for the live baits, and Blue Marlins love Tuna. They’ll also go for Spanish Mackerel (if you can spare that delicious fish for a bit of trolling) and squid.
How do they Hunt
Sailfish are kind of like Orca. They hunt in groups and use group strategy. Sailfish group up and surround schools of smaller fish. They don’t coordinate or communicate their attacks, however. At some point, a sailfish will break from the circle, swim through the massive school, reach the other side, and resume circling.
Marlin are loners when it comes to the hunt. They chase down their prey, most of which is smaller and slower than the Marlin, and stun them or slice them open with their gigantic bills. No, the long bill on a Marlin is not a decorative item but a useful weapon of war and savagery under the waves.
Can you Eat Them
That’s like asking if you can eat shoe leather. Of course, you can. The problem is, you’re not going to get much enjoyment out of the meal. Large fish are often not very tasty, and Marlin or Sailfish qualify as really big fish.
Some places consider them a delicacy. To make the meat taste somewhat decent, they probably have to go through some serious prep work. If you caught a very young Marlin or Sailfish, it might be a little tastier.
For the most part, however, these fish are caught for sport and released back into the ocean. They’re simply not very good in terms of food.
Sailfish and Marlin are two incredible fighters and are a lot of fun for any angler to catch (or at least try to catch). Neither fish is one you want to serve on a dinner plate, but if you have the opportunity to snap a selfie, by all means.
Despite their similarities, Marlin and Sailfish are drastically different. They have different speeds, hunting habits, eating habits, spawning habits, and where they spend the vast majority of their time.
They are both predators, and fishing for either requires an entirely different setup and expectation. However, if you manage to hook and haul in one of them, it will be the memory of a lifetime.
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