The scientific name of the Indo-Pacific sailfish is Istiophorus platypterus. The scientific name is said to literally mean ‘flat-winged sail bearer’.
Fastest Fish In The Ocean
Sometime ago someone apparently recorded the burst speed of sailfish clocking speeds of 110 km/h (68 mph). That’s like 100 meters in 5 seconds! Hence the claim of sailfish being among the fastest fish in the ocean. Or anywhere with water. Although more conservative speeds of 40km/h to 55km/h are more commonly accepted.
What Is A Big Sailfish?
Sailfish grows quickly in the first year reaching 1.2-1.5 metres (4-5 feet) in length.
Any sailfish caught that are 30kg or more are decent sized and those 40kg or more can be considered a big sailfish.
The claimed maximum size and weight of a sailfish are 340cm (11 feet) and 100kg (220 pounds). It is rare to see sailfish more than 3 metres (9 feet) and above 90kg (200 pounds).
Sailfish caught in Kuala Rompin commonly weigh around 20kg and measures around 120cm to 180cm (4 to 6 feet) in length.
A 10 year old fish is considered very matured and the oldest recorded is 13 years old.
The Indo-Pacific sailfish generally feed on the surface or at mid-depths takes a variety of food items, including fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, but its most common source of prey is schooling fishes, such as sardines, anchovies and mackerel.
I have personally witnessed sailfish regurgitate out the above fish species during a fight.
When feeding upon schooling fish, the Indo-Pacific sailfish herds the shoal into a dense group called a ‘bait ball’ before swimming through and making slashing movements with their bill. The resulting impact with the sailfish’s bill kills or stuns large number of fish, which are then picked off as they sink through the water column.
The Indo-Pacific sailfish’s reproductive behaviour involves the male and female swimming in pairs, or several males chasing a single female, prior to spawning taking place. The female produces huge numbers of eggs, which hatch into tiny larvae, and develop the sail-like dorsal fin and elongated bill when only five centimetres long.
Best Light-Medium Tackle Saltwater Sport Fish in The World
10 reasons the sailfish may just be the best sport fish to catch:
- They are not small, but not overly huge either which translates to fight time not lasting too long
- Powerful (very) fast long runs
- Makes spectacular jumps
- Grows quickly
- Spawns year-round
- Often hunt in packs
- Found along inshore coastal waters
- Can be targeted with lures and fly fishing besides live-baiting
- Do not require huge heavy fishing gear
- They look incredible
They can display spectacular coloration when feeding or ‘excited’ which is termed as ‘lit-up’. Their colours can also be dark brown/bronze-black. Sailfish can change their colours almost instantly – a change controlled by their nervous system. The sailfish can rapidly turn its body light blue with yellowish stripes when excited, confusing its prey and making capture easier, while signalling its intentions to fellow sailfish.
What Is The Sail-like Dorsal Fin Used For?
The sailfish uses its sail for various purposes. I have observed many sailfish and the sail is folded down when swimming fast and erected when hunting or herding bait fish.
Visually, the large dorsal fin also makes the sailfish appear much bigger than they are, often leading to over-estimation of their size in terms of weight by anglers/
I have also observed sailfish making almost instantaneous stop when they suddenly erect its sail suggesting that it helps them manoeuvre much better in the water.
Although I personally doubt this, it is theorised that the sail-like dorsal fin may also serve the purpose of a cooling and heating system due to a large number of blood vessels found in the sail and because of “sail-raising” behaviour exhibited by the sailfish at or near the surface waters after or before high-speed bursts.
Threats To The Rompin Sailfish
Although not targeted as food fish, every year hundreds of tons of sailfish gets caught in commercial fishing nets as bycatch resulting in huge amount of loss to the sport fishing industry that contributes to the tourism economy of Malaysia.
Many dead sailfish are dumped back into the ocean and those brought back to shore are sold for peanuts as feeds and to make crackers when every single fish can possibly contribute tens of thousand of dollars to the local economy.
Bad Handling By Anglers and Charter Boat Operators
We strongly encourage anglers to NOT bring the fish into the boat for photographs. We have observed sailfish being kept in some boats for 2 to 5 minutes, at times longer for anglers to pose for their photographs before the fish are put back into the water. These fish are probably as good as dead, even if they look like they swam off after release.
If for some reasons a fish is to be taken out for a photograph, we suggest that the fish be first revived and swam at boat side with the boat in gear. This may help the exhausted fish to recover a little, get the angler and camera ready to shoot, take the fish out quickly and back in the water in less than 5 seconds. Revive the fish again until absolutely certain they are kicking and swim away.
If you have any questions about Rompin sailfish fishing, write to us and we will be happy to help you.
Find out more about conservation of the Indo-Pacific sailfish and other billfish species:
Pepperell, J. 2010. Fishes of the Open Ocean. A natural history & illustrated guide. University of NSW Press. Pp. 266.
Nakamura, I. (1985) FAO species catalogue.
Vol. 5. Billfishes of the world.
An annotated and illustrated catalogue of marlins, sailfishes, spearfishes and swordfishes known to date. FAO Fisheries Synopsis, 125: 1 – 65.
FishBase (September, 2009)
Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
Australian Museum – Sailfish, Istiophorus platypterus (Shaw & Nodder, 1792)
The Billfish Foundation (September, 2009)