Hit Cape Fear this month for a shot at sailfish

Sailfish push into nearshore waters off the east side of Cape Fear every July.

Arrival this month is almost predictable

All billfish are special. But fishermen are most likely to encounter sailfish, other than those specifically seeking billfish. One of the best locations to catch sailfish north of Florida is in the waters around Cape Fear. Unlike blue and white marlin, sailfish readily abandon the Gulf Stream and move inshore following baitfish once the water warms above 70 degrees.

Something about the water off Cape Fear attracts sailfish. Perhaps it’s the abundance of baitfish flushed out the Cape Fear River on each falling tide. Or maybe it’s the current patterns around Frying Pan Shoals that often trap schools of baitfish. For whatever reason, sails return to the area every year and occasionally wander inshore. Fishermen don’t question what draws the spindlebeaks that close in. They just try to be prepared to take advantage when it happens.

The midsummer arrival of sailfish has become so consistent, they’re almost expected

Most Cape Fear sailfish are hooked incidentally by king mackerel fishermen slow-trolling live baits. They are targeting large kings, maybe hoping a dolphin or two might hit. And most are pleasantly surprised when 30 seconds into a drag-screaming run, a sailfish begins tail-walking at the end of their line. Anglers specifically targeting sailfish and nearshore dolphin often deploy trolling lures or small lures and skirts paired with small ballyhoo.

Lee Parsons, a Wrightsville Beach guide, said, “The current federal regulations require using circle hooks when targeting billfish with baits. I prefer to fish small ballyhoo rigged naked. I catch a few sailfish on them rigged with skirts. But the skirts seem to attract a lot more kings and dolphin.”

An area that runs from Frying Pan Shoals past WR-4 and 23-Mile Rock to Dallas Rock has been occasionally referred to as the “Cape Fear sailfish crescent.” They are also found west of Frying Pan Shoals, just not in quite the same numbers.

Click here to read about an angler who caught a sailfish off the Avon Pier with a Got-cha plug.

About Jerry Dilsaver 1171 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.