by Tom Boyd
Crocodile Bay is the world's premiere eco/fishing lodge. It has luxurious accommodations, an incredible array of amenities, eco-tours, activities and up close and personal opportunities in the most bio-diverse area on our planet - namely the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park. The Osa is the back yard to the lodge. This unparalleled opportunity for families, non-fishermen, or the adventurous explorer complements a diverse fishery that offers virtually limitless opportunities of catching a dazzling array of fly fishing's greatest game fish.
Crocodile Bay has three distinct fisheries:
- Mangroves and rivers,
- Inshore waters of the Golfe Dulce and the nearby sandy beaches and rocky shores,
I. MANGROVES AND RIVERS: The Golfe Dulce has numerous rivers flowing Crocodile Bay Lodge into it that resulted in its name, the "sweet gulf." This is by far the least explored anddeveloped fly fishery at the lodge. This fishery is accessed from flats boats. Much of the opportunity here peaks in the rainy season, June through mid-November, which draws fewer fishermen, although the fishing is still good. Prime mangrove and river species are black snook, the largest of the snook family, barracuda, numerous jacks headed by RoosterfishPacific jack crevelle, mangrove snappers, and various other snappers, corvina (similar to weakfish), and of course roosterfish which like the corvina will frequent the river mouth drop-offs into deep water at the confluence with the gulf. Incredibly, several tarpon have recently been caught here, apparently having migrated through the Panama Canal. You are fishing Valhalla here and these wonderful interlopers show up. Wow!
Tides: Due to the tide spread (8 - 12 feet) river access can be limited to a three to four hour window of opportunity. In the dry season mid-November through May, black snook are far up the river channels. The rivers of the Gulf are short and drain the surrounding hills and mountains. They run muddy all year round. They have fairly deep V-shaped channels near the confluence with the Gulf but with wide shallow mouths. Success lies in fishing either noisy poppers, sliders, or tube-fly style flies near the river shoreline or with full sink lines and bright, colorful clousers or weighted deceivers on or near the bottom in the river channels with 400 grain sinking lines. Rattles and noisy flies that move water, like a whistler, help when run deep. The river mouths hold fish on outgoing tides and can be as muddy as the rivers themselves or gin clear on occasion on the incoming tide. Look for feeding baitfish or check your fish finder for the steep drop-offs that hold many species of fish at times. On the incoming tide, when clear, you can see the step drop-offs. It may be helpful to chum here or to make some low vibration sounds to help attract fish. Casting hookless chugger-type poppers with a spinning rod is another way of enticing fish to fly casting range.
Equipment and flies: The camp record black snook is 46 lbs. with many fish over 20 lbs. Many of the river species are smaller, however, and an 8 wt. rod is appropriate. At river mouths go to a 9 wt. and use a 10 wt. for fishing the drop-offs. Use white, light blue popper heads with black tails for surface flies. Also, try a big-eye deceiver in a size 2/0 or 3/0, black, blue, or green on top with a distinctive yellow stripe at the high lateral line and a white or silver underbelly. This pattern imitates a flatiron herring, a primary baitfish. A sink tip or full sink line is the ticket for when fishing drop-offs. Fish the drop-offs parallel to the steep drop. Floaters often work well coming perpendicular to drop-offs from shallow water. Fish big shrimp patterns when the local shrimp boats are in the gulf. Shrimpers will often discard waste including heads, which act as a natural chum and attract birds and fish. Fish your shrimp pattern low and slow. Keep in mind that snook will never stray far from fresh water, brackish is O.K., but remove the fresh and you remove the snook. Also, snook like the bright lights. A stroll down to the dock at night might prove successful.
II. INSHORE WATERS OF THE GULFE DULCE AND NEARBY SANDY BEACHES AND ROCKY SHORES. Much of the waters of the gulf is fairly deep - up to 700 feet. Often billfish, dolphins and feeding humpback whales are seen in its waters. Most of the opportunity for fly rodders is on the beaches, rocky structures, or shallow reefs. The opportunity to catch a world record size fish is present here every day of the year. The size and diversity of species is astonishing. Recently I caught a 30 lb. bluefin trevally (almost 50% larger than the next biggest IGFA fly rod record) and lost two fly rod-caught roosterfish in the 60 - 70 lb. class to a big white tip shark.
This fishing is not for the unskilled or unprepared. The rewards are greater than anywhere I know of on this planet, but the challenge is great. The near shore Pacific fishery can be difficult for virtually its entire length south of the Bering Sea to Tierra del Fuego. Generally the near shore waters become deep very quickly close to shore as is the case here on the Osa Peninsula. There are not a lot of barrier islands and shallow cays, reefs, and other such structure that blesses much of the Atlantic all the way out to the Continental shelf. Nor is there the minimal tide change from Massachusetts through the Caribbean that often allows flats wading in green water. The near shore Pacific is a wild, beautiful, exotic coast that often has to be accessed by boat and boat only. The tides are often great and range from 8 - 12 feet near Crocodile Bay, with minimal structure to attract and hold fish. Tide movement becomes more important here. I like to fish where water drains, like drop-offs, lagoon, stream or river mouths, on the out-going tide, rocky areas, structured beaches, peninsulas, coves or points, on the incoming. Always be on the alert for baitfish: surface activity, birds working, nervous water, slicks etc. Glass the water, move until you find feeding fish. If the fish are moving in a particular pattern intercept then and fish as they approach you.
The beginner can fly fish here, but usually not conforming to IGA regulations. Beginners can troll flies using a swivel so as not to ruin their fly line or short cast and let the boat's momentum carry their fly a good distance behind the boat before beginning their strip. These methods are forbidden in IGFA regulations, but are extremely productive and fun. For those who wish to fish to IGFA standards, however, the challenge is great. Long casts from a boat to shore are often required. Your fishing boat must stay far enough offshore so as not to make it part of the beach structure by a rogue wave. Your fly should land in the white foam aftermath of a dispelled wave and be stripped up the face of the next incoming wave to be most successful when blind casting. If you can't reach the foam, fish as close to shore as possible while remaining at a safe distance. Choose effective areas when doing this. For example, differences in the shoreline, i.e. draining lagoons or rivers, rocky outcroppings or shallow reefs, peninsulas or cover where baitfish can be trapped, drop-offs, or where outgoing undertows are present, or productive areas your captain knows of. Often you can see abrupt color changes in the water indicating changes of depth. Always watch for surface activity, working birds, or oil slicks.
The key near shore target fish is "el gallo" - the roosterfish. Roosters are notorious surface feeders and, in my opinion, catching a large rooster on a fly is the sport's greatest challenge. They are not only the hardest fish to hook on a fly (until recently), they are the most difficult to land once hooked. One nice reward to surface fishing for roosters is that many other species will take your fly. Testing my new Wounded Baitfish Pattern recently, I caught thirteen different species over a two-day period.
I've heard it said that fewer than 100 anglers have caught a good-sized rooster on a fly utilizing IGFA regulations. I don't doubt that one bit. For many years I tried unsuccessfully to master catching big roosters from Ecuador to Cabo San Lucas. Big roosters are a bird of a different feather and very difficult to catch indeed. There are more specimens of this incredible warrior at Crocodile Bay than anywhere else I'm aware of. I caught the only large IGFA rooster several years back, but only through sheer determination and five straight tiring days of casting.
No one had been successful at Crocodile Bay for three years in catching a big rooster with IGFA regs. This was extremely perplexing as they are so very common and visible and available, even right near the docks. It took me two days of non-stop casting to catch the first good fish here using a fly I had designed five years earlier, made with EZ body. However, on that trip, with the help of Crocodile Bay's Director of Fishing, Todd Staley, and their experienced captains and mates, we devised a plan. We captured all the prevailing baitfish in the area including google eye jacks, blanquitos, blue runners, mullet, and several varieties of sardines. We photographed and discussed the availability and characteristics of the baitfish. The sardine was chosen as the most likely candidate for our fly. It was abundant and when herded by roosterfish, they fled to the surface.
Using photographs, some taken under water, definitive characteristics of the fly emerged: a sardine's shape and distinctive profile, its very large eyes, a darkly colored widely-separated tail, and a bright yellow band above the lateral line, plus femoral blotches of black and pink. The colors above the lateral line were dark - black, dark blue, light blue and green. Bellies were white or silver. Its dorsal fin was distinctive and yellow. The "Boyd's Wounded Baitfish Fly" encompassed all of these characteristics save the dorsal fin. The "wounded baitfish" had a thin piece of foam inserted in the EZ body material to aid in keeping the fly on top of the water. If correctly made, it should swim when stripped slowly, and bounce and skip on top when retrieved quickly, the latter being the preferred method.
With this fly, over 50 (mostly large) roosters were enticed to attack in one day. Only five were landed as the prototype hook was much too small. Never had I seen or expected this much success. Size 6/0 Gamakatsu and Owners have replaced the original hooks.
Seeing a roosterfish attack a surface fly is one of fly fishing's greatest rewards. They light up like a yellow school bus - chartreuse, purple - their long comb breaking the surface. They have huge bucket-mouths and terrorize baitfish like no other. When the water world erupts with fleeing baitfish the captain and mates invariably yell "Gallo! Gallo!"
Landing a rooster is another matter. They have little or no quit. I teach fighting techniques that allow the angler a chance to land this tireless adversary. Many of the techniques are Stu Apte's blue water and tarpon tactics, but any way you do it, you're in for one hell of a fight. Roosters will run and run and occasionally jump. If you don't use proper tactics or give them slack you won't land them.
Another beautiful, exotic fish of the area is the bluefin trevally, locally called the blue jack. This exquisite fish is cobalt blue with sky blue markings. It is caught in much the same manner as roosters, although trevallys, jacks and snappers readily take offerings deeper in the water column than roosters. Other inshore species include jack crevelle, and other jacks; many snappers, including giant cubera, Colorado, yellow tail, and rock; many groupers, including tiger, broom tail, and gag, horse eye trevally, hound fish, bonito, several species of mackerel, yellow fin, wahoo, pompano, and so on.
Other interesting fish available near shore, particularly under floating debris like groups of floating coconuts, logs, or tide line debris is the tripletail and mahi mahi as well. Both of these fish are tough customers and are determined fighters and will often jump, particularly the mahi mahi. A sardine-colored Clouser works well although these species are unsophisticated and will strike almost any offering top or down. Cast into or as close as possible to the debris.
Equipment and flies: Bring the best equipment you can afford. You'll need good gear to successfully challenge this fishery. Be prepared with quality rods and reels and properly maintained equipment including: new or cleaned and stretched fly lines; a good selection of leaders and tippets; metal or mono shock tippets in 40#, and 80 to 100# fluorocarbon. It's important in being as prepared with as many different rods and lines as possible to cover different situations. When I venture out, I put string on 5 or 6 rods. I'll take an 8 wt. with a floating line and a small popper slider or crease fly for schooling Pacific bonito. I'll use a 9 wt. with a warm water clear intermediate with ¾" deceiver patterns (coloration preferable like the sardine or blanquito) for rocky shore areas frequented by various snappers, jacks, trevally, and snook. I'll take two 10 weights, one with a floating line (shooting head) and a Boyd's Wounded Baitfish Fly for roosters, big jacks or whatever. The second 10 wt. is loaded with 300, 350, or 400 grain line and fished with a short tippet of 3' - 4' and a Lefty's big eye deceiver (imitating a sardine, blue runner, google eye, etc., coloration often with some pink in it). Many of the jacks, trevally, snappers, grouper, and mackerel plus wahoo like this presentation - particularly around agitated schools of baitfish.
I prefer an 11 wt. with a floating line and big wounded bait fish, chuggar or tube style fly (blue over white with yellow stripe), or match the hatch, to be used around large schools of agitated baitfish. When fishing in pairs, one fisherman can use a chuggar/tube setup while the other the wounded baitfish fly.
Lastly, if possible I'll use a 12 weight with a heavy full sink line of 600 to 1,000 grain in conjunction with a big squid pattern like Popovics's Shady Lady Squid, Cotton Candy or a huge 10 - 12 inch big eyed deceiver with bright yellow feathers. Fish the 12 weight over shallow reefs up to 70 or 80 feet. Fish the squid by casting out as far as possible, wait a for your line to sink near or on the bottom, then make two or three yard-long strips with a pause, then let the fly drop and repeat the action. Fish the big deceiver low and slow with occasional quick strips and then let it sink and repeat. Often you'll get strikes on the drop so keep your rod down, pointed directly at your fly for a good hook setting position. You can fish deeper than this if your fish finder shows a good population of fish. Your boat must be fairly stationary, either dead drifting or with a sea anchor. Use large circle hooks 4/0 to 6/0 at depths below 70 feet in conjunction with Rio's "Tungsten Dreager" fly lines or use no stretch, gel spun backing with Courtland's Lead Core line in 15 to 25 foot lengths to get down.
Equipment: I strongly recommend quality rods like a Scot STS, Sage RPLxi, T & T Vector or Loomis. Also, you need strong but light reels with an outstanding drag, like the Islander, Tibor, or Pate. Large arbor models that aid in quicker landings and make it easier for the angler and fish alike. Dual mode (Seamaster) or anti reverse (Islander) reels are also well adapted for these conditions. Make sure your reels are clean and oiled. For bargain priced but good performance try a TFO rod from Springbrook and Teton Tioga reels. Having equipment failure when you have a once in a lifetime fish on is not a fun thing. Crocodile Bay has some equipment available but should be considered as a backup source.
Fly line extensions and leaders and tippets: I use a 40 lb. fluorocarbon shock tippet, even for the toothless rooster whose sandpaper like mouth will easily wear through even quality 20 lb. mono during a hard fight. Use 80 lb. mono, fluorocarbon or wire when targeting snappers or jacks. You'll break some fish off with mono or fluoro, but usually land more. If you're targeting cuberas, however, you must use wire as they'll break you off in the rocks or coral. For floating lines, I like to add AirFlo's clear poly extension (10'). Often I'll just use a loop to loop with a 5 foot section of 50# mono with a 3 foot section of 30# and a 15 inch section of line class tippet and a 12 inch tippet of 40# fluoro. Tie the 40# fluoro to the line class with a blood or improved blood knot.
Hook set: Try to set the hook immediately, or as an alternative, use a circle hook. Make sure you have a quality hook or be prepared to have it straightened out for you. It is extremely important to have a razor sharp point. When you set the hook, try to do it at as close to a 90 degree angle on the fish as possible. This gives you the power of utilizing the strength of the rod butt.
Fighting Fish: It is imperative to fight roosters with a low rod. A high rod lacks the power required to pressure these incredibly strong warriors. I use low rod tactics almost exclusively in the Pacific. Stand at a 90 degree angle to the fish you're fighting, keep the rod down near the water and point the last six feet of the rod directly at the fish. This allows you to battle the fish with the power of the rod butt. Roosters have no quit, neither should you. Change the direction of your angle of pressure by rotating your rod every few minutes - this technique assumes you have some sort of shock tippet. This and other "down and dirty" tactics will help you psychologically defeat the fish, land him more quickly and keep you off the masseuse's table.
Handling fish: Boga grips are recommended as most species have good sets of ivories. Use a heavy glove to handle species such as roosterfish. Basically, the rules are catch and release except for the unusual trophy, although I often keep a yellow-fin for sushi or a mahi mahi or snapper for dinner. Billfish and roosters should be for photos only. Release tuna/mackerel species by holding them above the water and dropping them in headfirst. Hold others by the tail and while supporting their belly gently rock them back and forth until they are ready to swim off.
Seasons: Fish are available year round, subject to moving in response to spawning or migratory baitfish, shrimp, squid etc., or in the case of snook which are not accessible during the dry season except when caught incidentally. However, roosters seem to bunch up more and cooperate in herding baitfish from around mid-November through April. Big fish are also here year round, but it seems the average size is somewhat larger in the rainy season.
III. OFFSHORE: After all is said and done, I believe the best quality of fly fishing for billfish is in Pacific Costa Rica from Punta Quinones south to the Panama border. Other areas can be more prolific at times, but for smaller fish. At Crocodile Bay and for miles north and south of there, the blue water billfish grounds are only a few miles offshore. Offshore is really close to shore. This means several things: a shorter boat ride and, therefore, more fishing time; the ability to split days from offshore to inshore; because of the generally steep shoreline it is a rarity to lose a fishing day to wind, particularly in the most popular dry months; the near shore deep water also makes migrating blue, black, and striped marlin plus sailfish available to augment the billfish endemic to the area.
Costa Rica's sailfish are the largest sails I've encountered since first catching a sail in the Caribbean in 1969. They average a solid 100 lbs. Sails and marlin are present 12 months of the year and to quote fishing director Todd Staley, "the fishing can vary more day to day than season to season." However, there are times when the chance of catching a marlin improves on average due to migration conditions. For example, blues are more prevalent in March and April, while blacks and striped are more common in July and August.
Sailfish chances are in the 10 to 15 sighted fish on an average day, and twice that or more on a good day. Billfish "ups" are counted if one is seen at one of the teasers. Often multiple fish are sighted. In Costa Rica I've seen pods of as many as 10 sails immediately behind the boat within easy casting range. On another occasion I looked on with awe at a pod of 9 fish, including 2 blue marlin.
Sails are a lot easier to hook than marlin. First they're more plentiful. They are also far more aggressive than any marlin species. Usually you only get one shot at a marlin; if you miss him, he's history. You usually have to be faster with your fly presentation as well. Marlin don't usually hang around, although I've seen a number of exceptions. I've seen sails, lit up like a Christmas tree, attack a fly repeatedly. I've seen four sails hooked out of one pod of fish - these fish hung around the drifting boat for many minutes. On one occasion my fishing partner broke off a big record class sail on a blue and white popper fly and then 20 minutes later I caught the same fish on a red and white offering and retrieved both flies.
Marlin average sizes are 250 - 300 lbs. for blues, 400 for blacks, (granders - 1,000 lbs. or more are known in these waters), and 150 - 300 lbs. for striped. The average number of sightings for all types of marlin/day is one. The lodge record is four in a half day session. This was on conventional tackle, but where else could such a feat as this be accomplished in a half day.
In addition to billfish, there are opportunities for many other bluewater species. The "catch 22" however is that if you only have hookless teasers and feathers out when fly fishing, you're not in a position to catch other non-schooling species such as wahoo. If you have a plan and are ready for schooling species that are visible on the surface from a distance, like yellow fin tuna, you can replace a teaser with a hooked jig and catch some sushi. I've done this many times and on several occasions caught big yellowfin or big eyes on light tackle that was more than I bargained for. I've also caught non-billfish species casting to sailfish including a 61 lb. yellowfin on a 16# tippet and several dorado. The best shot for dorado is to cast for them near floating debris or to troll with conventional light tackle and after catching one, shut down the engine, keep the mahi mahi in the water until others in the same harem are attracted. As long as one fish stays active in the water the others will not leave. A lone bull dolphin, the one with the flat head, travels with his harem of females. The bigger the individual fish, the fewer in number. At Crocodile Bay the mahi mahi grow to awesome proportions. While available year round they are particularly abundant December through February. During this time a catch of 20 fish/day averaging 25 lbs. is usual. The first mahi mahi I saw taken here weighed 78 lbs. and they are known to go over 100 lb. Mahi mahi are a cinch to catch once you locate them. They'll attack virtually any baitfish imitation on top or down.
Yellow fin tuna are abundant here in all sizes from football size to over 300 lbs. On occasion big-eye tuna are also taken, also up to 300 lbs. Tuna, along with the mahi mahi are the primary food staple for marlin. Often various bottle-nosed dolphin run with schools of tuna and are a great sign for billfish. A good opportunity arises when yellow fin school to feed on small squid or schools of herring. Birds announce their presence for long distances. When approaching these situations make your decision, fly or conventional tackle! Portuguese Man of War birds (frigate), also often announce the presence of baitfish from afar. They are a good billfish sign.
Crocodile Bay's captains and mates are well versed in fly fishing blue water with regard to boat preparation, tactics, the number and type of teasers (up to five), teaser colors to use, and how to position them. The angler must decide what role he wants to play with regard to teasing the fish. He can tease the fish himself or defer to the mate who is an expert. Being able to properly tease a fish to within casting range of the boat is as important as any individual aspect of catching a billfish. Other teaser rods must be handled with co-ordination and teamwork that is predetermined according to the number, skill, and desires of the angler.
Equipment: As with the inshore equipment, get the best you can afford, Scott, Sage, T & T. When fly fishing offshore I'll prepare six rods if possible. If I only have one it will be for my primary target species.
For mahi mahi: string a 10 wt. rod with a floating line and a small popper, slider, or small wounded baitfish fly on about a 2/0 hook. A clear intermediate line will probably take more fish with a small clouser or deceiver but isn't as much fun. For smaller yellow fin an 11 wt. is a good choice. Even small yellow fin are fast, hard fighters. Small baitfish patterns work well on intermediate, sink tip, or 300 to 400 grain lines.
For sailfish: Catching your first sailfish is very easy and very difficult. Easy if you do what you are taught. Difficult, as you are in such a state of excitement with a 10 foot animal trashing your fly with his bill 20 feet from your face, you somehow can't even chew gum right. This is truly a totally electric moment, one to cherish for the rest of your life. A 12 wt. rod is the ticket for the experienced angler. I prefer to have three rods ready, if possible, with different colored flies. Many, including beginners, prefer to use heavier rods to a 14 or 15 wt. for the really big sails here. Catching a world record fish is a definite possibility. On two separate occasions I landed back to back record sailfish here, I released all four fish after taking their measurements and photos.
For marlin: A 15 wt. is your best choice. All reels must be large arbor with good smooth drags: Islander, Tibor, or Pate. I like to load 35 or 50 lb. gelspun as the base for backing. I loop this (with a bimini twist) to 30 lb. flat Dacron braided backing, and then loop again to about 50 feet of Elite braided running line, and then loop again with a Lefty loop onto a blue water fly line or a length of Courtlands lead core of from 18 to 28 feet depending on how big the fly is you're casting and the size of the rod. Novices can use a straight 30 lb. mono leader with a 24" length of 80 or 100 lb. shock tippet or a prepared IGFA leader. See attached diagram for self-construction of a backing, running line, fly line, leader system.
Billfish flies: There are a number of excellent billfish flies. Cam Sigler Co. (Camsigler@aol.com) has flies with his tube heads that have tandem hooks. Blue Water Flies C.C., email@example.com also has flies and a line of foam products. Edgewater, at 1-800-584-7647 www.fishtheedge.com or JSHIBA2300@aol.com, sells all the materials necessary to tie offshore flies. Boyd's Wounded Baitfish Fly is also available at retailers who handle the Springbrook product line (1-800-638-9052, www.sbm-mangrove.com) Crocodile Bay Lodge will also sell the Wounded Baitfish fly at their lodge.
I have taught bluewater fly fishing for over three decades and believe color patterns can make a difference in flies. For sailfish, I have a great deal of confidence in flies that are red over white; blue over white, dark pink over light pink. For marlin or sails I will fish any of the above but also like green and yellow (dorado colors).
It is critical that flies have strong sharp hooks. A hook is sharp when it cannot be firmly dragged across your fingernail without digging in. Owners and Gamakatsu are good choices.
Fighting techniques: The captain or mate at Crocodile Bay will ask whether you're right or left-handed. This will allow proper positioning of a stripping basket and determine which side of the boat for the majority of the teaser placement. Strip out about 40 feet of line and cast it becoming used to the line. You won't need any more line than that, as fish are teased in close by one of your fishing partners or the mate. Strip your line in and, as it comes in, coil it in your stripping basket or bucket with about 6" of water in it. This way, when you cast, the line that will shoot out first will be on the top and the line that shorts out last will be on the bottom, avoiding many unnecessary tangles at the critical time of delivery. Make a plan with your captain and mate as to how you want things done. Who's up first, who's next? Usually what constitutes an up is a legitimate chance to cast to a billfish and he tries to eat your fly. If you miss, you're done - next angler. If the billfish doesn't attack and try to eat the fly, you're still up.
Determine how many and what type of teasers, and assign who's to man each of them. For example, if you're targeting marlin you might want to use a whole rigged black fin tuna or a good-sized mahi mahi belly bait as your primary teaser, whereas a rigged ballyhoo and smaller belly bait, or rigged sardine or mullet with a skirt might do the trick, particularly if color coordinated with your fly. Often I like to color coordinate teasers and/or skirts, particularly with marlin, so your fly looks somewhat like the teaser when you present it to him. Have several rods rigged, two or three for sailfish, one for marlin - or more if you're targeting marlin with big teasers and belly baits.
Discuss with your captain if you want to fish IGFA regulations or not. There is a better chance of setting a record here on billfish than anywhere else I know of. If fishing IGFA regs, the engines must be in neutral before you can cast. Cast slightly behind your billfish but near their head. I always try to cast to the side of the billfish that they're heading and behind. Billfish have peripheral vision and see and hear the fly. By casting in this manner, you can get an angle going away and set the hook in the opposite direction the fish is swimming towards. This improves your chances of getting your hook set in the corner of the mouth. All billfish have mouths like concrete. They have a small soft area in the top front of the mouth and a very narrow band circling the mouth. Except for these tiny areas, and you have almost no chance of gaining a purchase there, you have to set the hook in the corner of the mouth.
Set the hook hard several times until the fish starts to jump or run. If he jumps quickly drop your rod into the water to reduce your chance of breaking your line. If he runs, let him go. Often sails or marlin will jump or greyhound across the surface at over 65 mph. They are the ocean's fastest swimmers. Let them go. Jumping tires them. Always keep your rod low when fighting billfish. Never raise your rod up high as many of us have been taught. When the billfish completes his run, he'll go down. Back down on him - tighten your drag and put the wood to him. Side angle him with a low rod then change directions. Repeat this process. It discourages him and makes him give up earlier. When he runs again, let him and repeat the process. This way, you can drastically cut your fighting time to under 30 minutes, often under 15 minutes if you're good at it.