Sailfish Feeding Habits

by BFD Lures on March 24, 2022

This is a summary of research reporting the stomach contents of Sailfish. The Sailfish is a warm water inhabitant and seems to be very opportunistic in its feeding habits. From big water prey to reef and shallow water ocean creatures, the Sailfish seems to adapt to whatever is available wherever it is found.

Common themes are:

  • Sailfish thrive in equatorial zones.
  • Sailfish prefer 77-85 F water temperatures.
  • Sailfish seem to prefer the smaller juvenile stages of the same prey larger Billfish consume.
  • Sailfish seem to eat a lot of Beltfish and Needlefish when available.
  • A higher percentage of Sailfish were found with empty stomachs than other pelagic species studied.
  • Apparently Sailfish use their sail to wall off prey and their bill stun them.

sailfish on bfd trolling lure

Below are some excerpts from various studies with links to the outside sources. If any of these links become broken over time, let me know and I'll remove them.

Research has not only helped us catch sailfish, it's helped us design better BFDs (see photo.) My hope is that this research will help someone in their pursuit of sailfish, if they're nerdy enough to read through all of this.


According to the index of relative importance (%IRI), the most important prey items were Priacanthus macracanthus (Red Bigeye)(38.7%), followed by Auxis spp. (Frigate-Bullet Tuna) (35.9%), and Trichiurus lepturus (Largehead Hairtail or Beltfish) (8.5%). However, the most important prey groups for adult sailfish (>181 cm, LJFL) as estimated by the stable isotope-mixing model were T. lepturus (……Beltfish) (32.6%), Katsuwonus pelamis (Skipjack Tuna) (15.8%), and P. macracanthus (….Bigeye) (11.3%), and for maturing sailfish were K. pelamis (12.9%), P. macracanthus (10.4%), and T. lepturus (32.6%), respectively.


………..68.2% corresponded to Sardinella brasiliensis  (Brazilian or Orange Spot Sardine) (17.1%), Auxis Thazard (Frigate Tuna-Mackerel)(14.7%), Selar crumenophthalmus (Bigeye Scad)(9.5%), Exocoetus volitans (Flying Fish) (5.7%). They totalized 210 specimens and 18 species

3.2.2 Analysis of the temporal series per number of specimens per analyzed stomachs, The most frequent species was Selar crumenophtalmus (Bigeye Scad) (31.6%), followed by Sardinella brasiliensis (Sardines)(18.1%), Selene sp (Scad)(13.9%), Auxis thazard thazard  (Frigate Tuna-Mackerel) (13%) and Priacanthus arenatus (Atlantic Bigeye)(8%).


Though sails are often found around flying fish and near migrating schools of mullet, biologists who study stomach contents say that neither species is a favorite food year-round. They eat a lot of baby mackerel and little tunny, ballyhoo and needlefish, and also chow down on squid. Gulf sails apparently eat a lot of shrimp, as well. They’re primarily daytime feeders; few have been caught after dark, and fish caught early in the morning usually have empty stomachs, while those caught near dusk are often full.


We analyzed the stomach contents of 533 sailfish taken between August 2002 and August 2003 by the sport fishing fleet off the coast of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico. A total of 62 different prey taxa was classified, 53 were identified by species, and according to index of relative importance, the most important prey species were Dosidicus gigas (Humboldt Squid) (d'Orbigny, 1835) (65%), Argonauta spp. (Pelagic Octopus referred to as “Paper Nautilus”)(26%), Balistes polylepis (Steindachner, 1876) (6%), and Auxis spp. (1%). In spite of the apparent high prey diversity, the trophic niche breadth (Levin's index = 0.02) suggests that sailfish close to Mazatlán are specialist predators, feeding mainly on cephalopods (D. gigas and Argonauta spp.).

Atlantic Ocean Sailfish eatCephalopods (squid and octopus) and bony fishes are the primary prey items of the sailfish in the Atlantic Ocean. Mackerels, tunas, jacks, halfbeaks, and needlefish are the most commonly taken fishes. These prey items indicate that some feeding occurs at the surface, as well as in mid-water, along reef edges, or along the bottom substrate.

Pacific Sailfish in the Pacific region feed on fishes and cephalopods including squid. Fishes consumed include sardines, anchovies, jacks, dolphin, ribbonfish and triggerfish.