Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sailfish Destination - Malaysia


The most magnificent sight to an angler must be a Sail Fish doing a tail walk. The majesty and raw power of the Sail Fish as it proudly struts across the shimmering surface of the water, displaying its full colors in the tropical sun. It is a sight that is forever etched in the minds of both the experienced and inexperienced angler. With every turn of its head, the colors on its body seem to change but always in spectacular form.

The Sail Fish has and always remain the dream of any angler. To successfully land one is prove of one's physical and mental strength. It is truly the epitome of one's angling experience.

Malaysia is truly blessed that such a magnificent fish has graced our waters with its presence. Each year, anglers converge onto Malaysia to realize their dream of catching a Sail Fish or Black Marlin.

Added on to this privilege of catching one on rod and line, we are granted a bonus of being able to catch them the whole year round, switching between the east coast and the west coast of Malaysia.

Distinctive Features

The Sail Fish is characterized by its enormous sail-like dorsal fin which is much taller than the width of its body, running almost the length of its body.

The Sail Fish's upper jaw extends into a long rounded bill which has a circular cross-section and is twice as long as the lower jaw. The Sail Fish has two keels at the caudal base and two anal and two dorsal fins with the second anal and the second dorsal fins being short and concave mirror images.

The Sail Fish's fins are generally black, but the anal fin base is white. The Sail Fish has long pectoral fins and extremely long pelvic fins that are twice as long as the pectoral fins. Its sides have 20 rows of vertical bars that are composed of light blue round spots. The lateral line is readily visible.


Body color is variable depending upon level of excitement. The body is dark blue dorsally and white with brown spots ventrally. About 20 bars, each consisting of many light blue dots, are present on each side. The fins are all generally blackish blue. The anal fin base is white. The first dorsal fin contains many small black dots, which are more common towards the anterior end of the fin.

Geographical Distribution

The Sail Fish is distributed from approximately 40° N to 40° S in the western Atlantic Ocean and from 50° N to 32° S in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. It has been taken in the Mediterranean Sea, although few records exist for this region. In the western Atlantic Ocean, its highest abundance is in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic coast of Florida, and the Caribbean Sea. In this region, distribution is apparently influenced by wind conditions as well as water temperature. In the northern and southern extremes of its distribution, sailfish appear during warm seasons. These seasonal changes in distribution may be directly linked to prey movement. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, there is an aggregation off the coast of West Africa.

In the Pacific Ocean, the sailfish is widely distributed in temperate and tropical regions. It resides in waters from 45° to 50° N to 35° S in the western Pacific and from 35° N to 35° S in the eastern Pacific. Sail Fish are especially abundant off Papua New Guinea and the Philippines as well as from Tahiti to the Marquesas and off Hawaii. This species may also be found in the Indian Ocean to approximately 35 to 45° S latitude.

In Malaysia, it is found on both the west and east coast of the Peninsular and off Labuan in the island of Borneo.


The Sail Fish is a tropical and temperate water species normally found above the thermal incline in the first 100 feet of the water column in both oceanic and inshore waters. It prefers water temperatures of 21 to 28 degrees Centigrade. The females release 4.5 million eggs annually. The Sail Fish feeds on ballyhoo, mackerel, mullet, needlefish, small tuna, and crustaceans. The Sail Fish is not easy to confuse with other species due to its enormous dorsal fin. The Sail Fish is a highly prized targeted species of sport anglers.

Popular Sail Fish Angling Destinations in Malaysia

In Malaysia, the Sail Fish is found on both the west and east coast. In the west coast, they are generally found around Pulau Jarak off the state of Perak. The Sail Fish on the west coast are generally larger than those found on the east coast.

Pulau Jarak or Jarak island is an uninhabited island situated off the coast of the state of Perak Angling charter boats are available for hire from Bagan Dato, Hutan Melintang, Sungei Besar and Lumut.

The angling charter boats are usually made of wood with inboard engines, equipped with gps, sonar, galley, bunks and head. Designed and constructed for longer fishing sessions, it is practically a boathouse with all the amenities of home.

The charters could be for a day's fishing or for a duration of 3 days 2 nights fishing depending on the targeted species.

A sight to behold; pure acrobatics and agility

In the east coast, the Sail Fish is found in the waters stretching from the state of Terengganu in the north to Johor in the south. However, they are more abundant off the coast of the state of Pahang; particularly off the town of Kuala Rompin.

The town of Kuala Rompin; situated on the southern tip of Pahang remains the Sail Fish capital of Malaysia. Anglers from all over the world converge here to fish for the magnificent Sail Fish and the occasional Black Marlin.

Here, angling charters are readily available with fiberglass boats of double digits specifications fitted with twin 90 hp outboards; equipped with gps, sonars and guide. The charters are usually for day trips only operating from 0800 hrs to 1700 hrs.

The beautiful Pulau Aur and Pulau Tioman or Aur Island and Tioman island, is home to the bigger species of Sail Fishes and Black Marlins. Although the marlins rarely exceed 100 kg in this area, they can be great fun on lighter tackle. However, larger specimens are occasionally recorded. Accommodation and angling charters are readily available for hire on the picturesque islands themselves.

Not forgetting the Spratlys; located off the coast of Sabah. With a collection of coral atolls rising from depths of 1000 meters, it's Malaysia's premier saltwater game fishing destination. This is the home of the giant Black Marlin and a host of other gargantuan species.

It is also the venue of the Rolex-IGFA Labuan International Offshore Qualifying Event, held annually, is now part of the International Angling Circuit culminating in the world championship each year

Most Productive Fishing Periods

Malaysia, being a peninsular surrounded by the Straits of Melaka on the west and the South China Seas on the east is subjected to the onslaught of monsoons.

Angling is available all year round, depending on the respective monsoon season on both the west and east coast. Early correspondence with local fishing organizations is necessary to prepare a suitable schedule to cater to your targeted species.

Fishing for Sail fish at Pulau Jarak is most productive from the month of November to February.

The most productive Sail Fish angling periods in the east coast would be from the month of July to October registering the highest number of hook ups and strikes. During peak season, one boat could very well register 30 plus hook-ups!

Recently, at the Royal Pahang Billfish International Challenge, a total of 87 Sail Fishes were successfully Caught, Tagged and Released within a two day period of fishing.

Sail Fish Angling Methods in Malaysia

The most common and productive angling methods for Sail Fish in Malaysia are;

a. Trolling with artificial lures

Depending on the time of the day, trolling with mid water or surface lures contributes to the degree of productivity. The use of teasers also contributes to the success rate.

b. Trolling with live baits.

Live bait fishes collected from Fish Attracting Devices are trolled over prospective Sail Fish hunting grounds but the chance of other pelagic fishes attacking the bait is equally high. Fishes like Barracuda, Spanish Mackerel and other pelagics are commonly attracted to this method of fishing.

However, live bait is not easily available at Pulau Jarak or Jarak Island on the west coat as there are no FADs. Early arrangements for live bait with the boatman is essential here.

c. Popping with artificial lures

This method is employed only when the Sail Fishes are sighted and refuse to attack the bait presented. Chances of a successful hook up are low as the fish would turn back after a follow up to the boat.

d. Float with live bait

Drifting live bait rigged with a circle hook on the line with a balloon as a float is the preferred angling method in Malaysia for Sail Fish.

e. Fly Fishing

For fly fishing enthusiasts, the use of teasers and bait and switch method has proven effective.

Conservation Programme

Persatuan Memancing Malaysia or the Malaysian Angling Association is currently engaged in a conservation programme to encourage Catch, Tag and Release of all Billfishes. This programme is endorsed by The Billfish Foundation and is officially recognized by the International Game Fish Association.

It's objective is to;

a. promote fishery conservation
b. encourage anglers to get involved in conservation
c. set the angling ethics and educate anglers
d. encourage good management of Malaysian fishery resources

This programme also sets out to educate the commercial fishermen and anglers on the importance of the Sail Fish and its economic value.
From its inception in year 2000, we have been slowly but surely changing the mindset of the anglers and commercial fishermen to release all Sail Fish caught.

The Royal Pahang Billfish International Challenge was the first international angling event in Malaysia where the Sail Fishes were Caught, Photographed, Tagged and Released.

Not a single Sail Fish was killed and brought back for display. All fishes landed were measured, recorded, revived and subsequently released back into the water.

The data obtained through the tagging process would be utilized to determine movement, distribution and growth patterns of these marvelous creatures which have chosen to call Malaysia home.

Reviving a Sailfish after tagging

Malaysia the next Angling Paradise

The tropical seas of Malaysia, holds most of the main target species of tropical game fish including the Black Marlin, Blue Marlin and more commonly the Indo-Pacific Sail Fish.

Tuna, Yellowfin, Bigeye and Dogtooth are found in the deep water areas around atolls and drop offs. Wahoo, Giant Trevally, Cobia, Narrowbarred Mackerel, Dorado, Barracuda, Escolar, Rainbow Runner, Greater Amberjack and big Sharks add to the variety of game fishes to be found.

The sheer fact of being able to catch fish in their natural habitat means that your angling dreams could become reality in Malaysia. Coupled with the potential of world record catches, an excellent climate and a wealth of diverse cultures, Malaysia provides an angling avenue 'par excellence'.

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