Blue Water Hunting and Freediving - Digital Version 1 - Page 181


Aptly called the “ peacock of the sea ,” sailfish are among the ocean ’ s prettiest inhabitants . Photographer Bill Boyce , flying over eastern tropical Pacific waters in a helicopter , describes a sight that could be called a natural wonder of the world . It was evening as he skimmed 30 feet above the surface , tracking huge balls of bait — expertly herded and driven upward by five groups of sailfish just 100 yards away . Above each group of about 20 subsurface sailfish , eight to ten fish circled languidly on the surface , their sails erect , snaking back and forth as they swam .
“ It was a sailing regatta ,” Bill recalls . “ I could see 70 sailfish subgrouped into eight ferris wheels . The golden glow of the sun was stunning , setting on a mercury sea behind the fishs ’ blackspotted blue sails !”
Their majestic multipurpose sail serves these ferocious hunters well . Fully raised , it increases their visual impact fivefold — instantly turning this slender fish into a monster . Groups of sailfish use their size-enhancing sail to corral schools of bait fish . Swimming at multiple depths , they scare and force bait into tight columns .
Videotaping a Costa Rican sailfish , I had a good opportunity to document another use for the sail . The hungry fish , with its sail tucked down into its back , chased a hookless fishing lure .
Approaching the bait , the fish unfurled its sail as it made an incredible 90-degree turn , using its sail as a high-speed brake . Another scene in the video documents the fish striking a lure , slashing its bill sideways . Yet another shows its chameleon-like ability to change color in seconds , from black to iridescent pale blue .
Sailfish are found in both large oceans of the world . Pacific sailfish are larger and more colorful than their Atlantic relatives . Tagging studies show that Caribbean fish range widely , from Florida to Venezuela . In contrast , Australian release studies prove that their fish remain local . Needle-nosed and muscular , this fish has been clocked at speeds of up to 68 miles per hour .
Rarely targeted specifically by bluewater hunters , only a few fish are taken each year . Because of their soft flesh , it ’ s easy to lose a fish not speared with care .
“ These fish are strong fighters , but they do not dive to the bottom , like dogtooth tuna ,” Australian champion Greg Pickering says . “ They pull along just under the surface , where they gradually tire . Provided your gear is set up properly , they can be handled without too much drama . I remember , however , hanging onto my rig for 15 minutes while sharks rose to have a go