Sailfish and swordfish are two of the most sought-after species in the big-game fishing world. Both are known for their speed, size, and fighting spirit. However, they have distinct differences in physical attributes, preferred habitats, migration habits, and fighting styles. These differences necessitate unique strategies for each species from an angling perspective.
Physically, swordfish are larger with longer, sword-like bills, while sailfish have vertical stripes and a wide, retractable dorsal fin. Swordfish are generally found in deep water far offshore, while sailfish can be found in shallower water closer to shore. Swordfish can weigh over 1,000 pounds, with the world record caught in Chile weighing 1,182 pounds. In contrast, the biggest Atlantic sailfish ever caught weighed around 142 pounds, while the world record for Pacific sailfish weighed 221 pounds.
Sailfish and swordfish are both pelagic species, meaning they swim throughout the water column but rarely touch the bottom. They are migratory and travel long distances each year, following food sources. While they inhabit the same oceans, they tend to prefer different water types. Sailfish typically prefer warmer water closer to the surface, while swordfish can be found in much deeper, colder waters closer to the ocean floor.
When it comes to hunting styles, sailfish are the fastest fish in the ocean, capable of swimming up to 68 miles an hour. They rely on their speed to chase down smaller fish like sardines and mackerel. Swordfish, on the other hand, typically hunt alone, with squid and octopus being some of their favorite prey items.
Fishing for sailfish typically involves a run of only three miles or so from the coast, where the sails congregate just outside the edge of reefs. Swordfish, however, require significantly more running time and fuel, as they are typically found at least 20 miles offshore.
Another major difference between fishing for swordfish vs. sailfish is that swordfishing is more harvest-based, while sailfishing is mostly a catch-and-release game. Swordfish have a minimum size limit, and if they reach that size, they are often harvested due to their excellent food value. Sailfish meat, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as good, and the majority of anglers who want to chase sails are doing so strictly for the excitement.