AKA: Sails

Description: Sailfish are dark-blue along the upper half of the body fading to brownish-blue on the sides to silver-white on the belly. The upper jaw is elongated, looking like a spear. The first dorsal fin is high and sail-like, blue-black and covered with small black spots. All related billfishes have a high dorsal fin as juveniles, but only the sailfish retains the high fin throughout life. On the sides are 15 to 20 vertical bars consisting of several small blue spots.

Size: Sailfish grow to 11 feet and 110 pounds.

Sometimes confused with: white marlin, juvenile blue marlin

Habitat: Sailfish are found offshore throughout the western Atlantic from the Gulf of Maine to Brazil, including the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Sailfish are generally found nearer to shore than marlins and swordfish in water depths ranging from 120 to 300 feet and temperatures from 77 degrees to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Eating habits: Sailfish feed primarily during daylight hours on fishes and squids. Favorite foods are tunas, mackerels, halfbeaks, jacks, needlefish, herring and other surface-swimming species. Pods of sailfish encircle schools of fish, using their high fins to form a confining wall. One by one, the sailfish dart in to feed then return to the outer circle to wait their next turn.

Life cycle: Sailfish can live as long as 10 years. Spawning occurs throughout much of the western Atlantic during the warmer months. A major spawning area is along the lower east coast of Florida.

Fishing tips: Sport fishermen land sailfish off North Carolina from May through October. They troll artificial and natural baits like mullet, Spanish mackerel, bonito and ballyhoo.

N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament

Award for live release of fish of any size.

Apply for a release citation online


Persons engaged in recreational fishing in North Carolina coastal waters are required to possess a Coastal Recreational Fishing License in accordance with G.S. 113-174.2.

Current Proclamations

Recreational Size and Bag Limits

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