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Sailfish and swordfish are two of the highest canine of the big-game fishing world.  These are a number of the quickest, greatest, and hardest-fighting saltwater species that may be caught with a rod and reel. And whereas each fish needs to be on each severe angler’s bucket checklist, there are some issues to think about when evaluating sailfish vs. swordfish.

Whereas the 2 billfish species do have rather a lot in widespread, sailfish and swordfish additionally differ from each other in a number of methods. Apart from their bodily attributes, they like totally different water varieties. In addition they have their very own migration habits and distinctive combating types. From an angling perspective, which means every species calls for various methods.

On this article, we take a look at sailfish and swordfish via the next lenses:

Their bodily look, together with their form, dimension, and important attributes

Their distribution on the planet’s oceans and the habitats they like

Their conduct and searching types

Find out how to catch them

Harvesting and cooking vs. catching and releasing


Sailfish (pictured left) vs swordfish (pictured proper). Duane Raver, Jr. (Deleware DNREC) / NOAA Fisheries

Sailfish and swordfish are constructed to journey huge distances whereas chasing down fast-moving prey and escaping sharks. They’re lean, imply swimming machines with muscular our bodies and highly effective, deeply forked tail fins. They’re additionally straightforward to inform aside when you give attention to a number of key traits:

Swordfish are a lot bigger with longer, sword-like payments

Sailfish have vertical stripes and a large, retractable dorsal fin (that appears like a sail)

Swordfish are usually present in deep water far offshore, whereas sailfish could be present in shallower water nearer to shore


Swordfish develop a lot bigger than sailfish. These giants of the deep can weigh over 1,000 kilos. The IGFA all-tackle world document, caught in Chile, weighed 1,182 kilos. As with sailfish, swordfish attain bigger sizes within the Pacific than they do within the Atlantic.  

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Swordfish are giants of the deep that may weigh upwards of 1,000 kilos. NOAA Fisheries

A typical sailfish averages 5 to 11 ft lengthy (together with the invoice). The most important Atlantic sailfish ever caught weighed round 142 kilos, whereas the all-tackle world document for Pacific sailfish weighed 221 kilos and was caught off the coast of Ecuador.


The identify “swordfish” derives from their sword-like invoice, which is easy, broad, and flat with a pointy tip. Swordfish have the longest payments within the billfish household. They’re between one-third and one-half of their complete physique size.

Sailfish have extra rounded payments which can be formed extra like a spear than a sword. Their payments are shorter than a swordfish’s and just below a 3rd of their complete physique size.


Whereas swordfish are named for his or her payments, sailfish are named for his or her characteristically giant dorsal fins, which fan out and run nearly your complete size of their backs. They’ll retract and broaden these “sails”, which provides them an unimaginable means to maneuver at excessive speeds.

Swordfish have slim, crescent-shaped dorsal fins that run a brief distance behind their gill plates. These fins are inflexible and by no means change form.


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Wanting into the attention of a freshly caught swordfish. lillolillo / Adobe Inventory

Swordfish have big eyeballs which can be noticeably bigger than these of a sailfish. These bigger orbs let in additional mild, permitting swordfish to hunt in deeper, darker waters.

Coloration and Physique Sort

Visually talking, sailfish are stunners. They’re sometimes blue-gray in colour with whitish underbellies and vertical stripes. However after they get excited or agitated, sailfish “mild up”, turning their our bodies a brilliant, iridescent blue with golden and purple tones and yellow stripes.

Swordfish have deep brown or black backs that transition to silvery-white bellies. Their colours are considerably drab in comparison with sailfish, with a subtler iridescence and purple hues.

Each species have lengthy, tapered our bodies, however swordfish have a extra cylindrical form than sailfish. Swordfish even have leathery pores and skin that may be very totally different from the standard scales discovered on most fish.

Distribution and Habitat

Swordfish and sailfish are each pelagic species, which suggests they swim all through the water column however not often contact the underside as they hunt for prey within the ocean. They’re additionally migratory and journey lengthy distances every year, swimming up and down the coasts following meals sources. The 2 species are native to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, and NOAA Fisheries acknowledges 4 important subspecies: Atlantic and Pacific sailfish, together with North Atlantic and North Pacific swordfish.

Whereas these skilled hunters inhabit the identical oceans, sails and swords have a tendency to hang around in several water varieties. Sailfish sometimes choose hotter water nearer to the floor, whereas swordfish could be present in a lot deeper, colder waters nearer to the ocean flooring.

Conduct and Looking Types

Sails and swords are each predatory fish that hunt baitfish, squid, and smaller sport fish. They use their payments (also called “rostrums”) to slash, stab, stun, and impale their prey. The 2 fish have very totally different searching types, nonetheless.

Sailfish are the quickest fish within the ocean, they usually can swim as much as 68 miles an hour. They depend on their velocity to chase down smaller fish like sardines and mackerel. With their dorsal fins folded towards their again, sailfish can sprint via the open ocean at high velocity. Then, by folding out their big dorsal fin, they will use it like a rudder to make sudden turns or throw on the brakes.

As pack hunters, sailfish additionally use their dorsal fin when searching in teams. A number of of them will use their sail to “herd” baitfish into balls and push them close to the floor, whereas one other blasts via the bait ball spearing and slashing at fish. (Most of the time, they stun baitfish reasonably than impale them, knocking them mindless with their invoice after which swallowing them complete.)

Swordfish sometimes hunt alone. They’ll eat baitfish, however a few of their favourite prey objects are cephalopods—particularly squid and octopus. They do most of their searching at night time. Like sailfish, swordfish use their payments to stun prey.

Find out how to Catch Them

Captain Jimmy David runs L&H Sportfishing out of Key Biscayne, Florida, which is simply south of Miami. His location permits him to chase each sailfish and swordfish year-round, however because the two species are migratory, he says some months are higher than others.

“We’ve caught swordfish each month of the yr, however fall appears to be one of the best time,” David tells Out of doors Life.

The sailfishing in South Florida sometimes peaks in the course of the winter and spring (November via March). That is after they’re migrating north to south alongside the coast.

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A giant sailfish is delivered to the floor. Don / Adobe Inventory

“It may be thrilling fishing. We all the time sit up for it, and there’s often some good motion after they’re round.”

David spends extra of his time fishing for sails, which isn’t too shocking. They’re the official state saltwater fish of Florida, in spite of everything. However there’s one other large cause why purchasers are likely to e book extra journeys for sailfish vs. swordfish: sails present a number of the most enjoyable and action-packed fishing there’s.

Fishing for Sailfish

“Nearly all of the time we chase sailfish as a result of they’re near shore,” says David, who caught his first sailfish when he was six years outdated. “We do get a whole lot of swordfish charters, too, however they’re additional off. And the vast majority of the time, you gotta goal one or the opposite.”

Fishing for sailfish off Key Biscayne sometimes includes a run of solely three miles or so from the coast, the place the sails congregate simply outdoors the sting of reefs.

As soon as he reaches an space with sailfish, David makes use of two important methods. The primary (and his favourite) is pure sight fishing, which includes him driving round within the tuna tower on the lookout for sailfish. When he spots one, he’ll maneuver the boat into place and have his mates or anglers solid to the fish with mild spinning rods. As a result of they have an inclination to hunt in teams close to the floor, he says this generally is a dependable option to discover sailfish.

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Touchdown a sailfish aboard the L&H. Courtesy of L&H Sportfishing

“Normally you’ll see the precise fish on the floor, and it’s very enjoyable and efficient,” David says. “All our greatest large quantity days have been like that. One of the best we ever did was 41 sailfish in someday—which is a document for probably the most ever caught by a constitution boat [in a day] out of Miami.”

The opposite method, often called kite fishing, makes use of a sq. kite to hold a baited line behind and away from the boat. By clipping his traces to the kite, David can maintain his baits up close to the floor the place the sailfish are feeding.

“We often deploy two kites with three stay baits on every,” he explains. “That’s the best option to catch sails in our space after we’re not seeing them.”

As soon as a sailfish is hooked, the enjoyable actually begins. These fish go bonkers, leaping out of the water and burning drag as they run close to the floor. This makes for an thrilling struggle, David says. It additionally makes them a lot simpler to land shortly.

Learn Subsequent: Girl Speared by Sailfish Throughout Florida Fishing Journey

“Sailfish will often do a whole lot of leaping, they usually are likely to struggle extra on the floor, which is healthier for the fish,” he explains. “You’ll be able to drive the boat to the fish, get ‘em up faster, and get a clear launch with out inflicting a whole lot of stress on the fish.”

Fishing for Swordfish

Concentrating on swordfish is extra of a grind, David says, with extra time spent ready and fewer alternatives to hook up. It additionally requires considerably extra operating time and gasoline, as he sometimes goes at the very least 20 miles offshore to achieve productive fishing grounds. (Which he says is comparatively shut in comparison with different locations all over the world the place swordfish frequent.)

“With swordfish, there are much more days the place you strike out,” David says. “Climate additionally performs a giant issue. They’re means out within the Gulf Stream so that you want good climate and calmer seas to achieve them.”

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Reaching productive swordfishing grounds often requires a future offshore. Jandrie Lombard / Adobe Inventory

As a result of swords are nocturnal hunters, anglers used to consider swordfishing as strictly a nighttime proposition. However David fishes for them in the course of the daytime simply as typically, and he says his success charges are likely to go up in the course of the day.

Getting a chunk from a swordfish often includes drifting useless baits, that are dropped tons of of ft deep, and ready for lengthy intervals of time. For swordfish baits, David likes bonita strips, dolphin bellies, and complete squid, together with the occasional stay goggleye or blue runner.

Learn Subsequent: Fisherman Sight-Casts to Land a Swordfish on the Fly. That’s Nearly Unheard Of

Battling a swordfish can also be very totally different from reeling in a sailfish. Swords are extremely sturdy they usually’re often hooked in deep water, the place they love to do most of their combating.

“They name them ‘gladiators’ they usually’re one of many strongest combating fish on the market,” David says. “They like to remain down, and a whole lot of the larger ones, they’ll struggle to the loss of life till they don’t have anything left.”

Harvest and Prepare dinner vs. Catch and Launch

The opposite main distinction between fishing for swordfish vs. sailfish is that swordfishing is extra harvest-based, whereas sailfishing is generally a catch-and-release sport. That is partly as a result of so many swordfish die earlier than they’re landed, but it surely’s additionally as a result of they make such phenomenal desk fare.

A Somali fisherman carries a harvested swordfish to a local fish market.
A Somali fisherman carries a harvested swordfish to a neighborhood fish market. Mohamed Abdiwahab / AFP by way of Getty Photos

“Swordfish have a minimal dimension restrict, and in the event that they attain that dimension, we’ll harvest them more often than not. They’ve nice meals worth, and a whole lot of the time that’s what the purchasers are after.”

Sailfish meat, then again, isn’t practically pretty much as good. And the vast majority of anglers who wish to chase sails are doing so strictly for the thrill. They love the visible side of sightfishing and the joys that comes with being hooked as much as the quickest fish on the planet.

“I’d say 99 % of the sailfish we catch are launched,” David says. “Often, if we’ve one come up useless and it’s authorized dimension we’ll convey it residence. However they’re not practically pretty much as good desk fare. You’ll be able to grill it or fry it, but when we do maintain one we’ll often simply have the meat smoked.”

Sailfish vs. Swordfish FAQs

Q: Do you want a giant boat to chase sailfish and swordfish?

Not essentially. Most individuals chasing billfish run large, twin-engine boats that may run a far distance offshore. That is extra essential when focusing on swordfish, that are sometimes present in deeper water farther from the coast. Sailfish could be discovered nearer to shore in shallower water, and a whole lot of anglers catch them from kayaks regularly.

Q: Are you able to eat sailfish?

Sure, you’ll be able to eat sailfish, however they’re not the best-tasting fish within the billfish household. And whereas they’re saved and eaten in lots of locations all over the world, most anglers in North America view sailfish as an essential gamefish that needs to be launched each time attainable.   

Q: Are swordfish good to eat?

Swordfish have agency, chicken that’s on the milder facet and makes for wonderful desk fare. When you haven’t had a grilled swordfish steak earlier than, you’re lacking out on probably the greatest tasting fish within the ocean. As with different giant, predatory fish, excessive mercury ranges are a priority when consuming giant quantities of swordfish.

Q: Find out how to determine a sailfish?

Search for the vast, sail-like dorsal fin operating down the fish’s again. Additionally search for a rounded invoice that’s formed extra like a spear.

Q: Find out how to determine a swordfish?

Search for a skinny, crescent-shaped dorsal fin, lengthy sword-like invoice, and extra-large eyeballs. 

Closing Ideas on Sailfish vs Swordfish

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Fishing for sailfish and swordfish requires high-capacity reels and stout deal with. Might Hayward / Adobe Inventory

Among the best components about fishing for sailfish vs. swordfish is that when you go to the best place and fish for lengthy sufficient, you’ll be able to have pictures at each. A number of anglers will let you know one of the best sailfishing on the planet is present in Panama, and many of the world-record swordfish have come from South America and New Zealand. However throughout the best time of yr, North American anglers can fish nearer to residence and nonetheless have alternatives to catch each species.

“The sails, they migrate previous our space yearly,” Capt. David says. “The swordfish are farther out, however not so far as most different locations. So, you’ll be able to catch sails on a half-day journey after which have a very good shot at swordfish on a full day. Plus, you actually by no means can inform. This yr we caught a swordfish on a kite whereas fishing for sailfish simply three miles from the lower. And we’ve caught sailfish when focusing on swords, too.”

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