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Top 5 Fastest Fish in the Ocean

In this AnyCreek Ultimate Guide, we’ll be diving into the ocean’s five fastest species of fish. Discover the thrilling capabilities of these fish and develop a better understanding of the best techniques to target them on your own or with a guide. If you’ve never encountered one of these fish out in the wild, we’ve got plenty of veteran guides across the country ready to help you experience their world renowned speed for yourself.

This article covers:

  • Fact vs. fiction
  • 5. Yellowfin tuna
  • 4. Wahoo
  • 3. Black marlin
  • 2. Shortfin mako
  • 1. Sailfish
  • Tips for anglers targeting fast fish
  • Conservation concerns
  • Fastest fish FAQ

Fact vs. fiction

There is a wide range of data that categorizes these fish to be the fastest. Each account reports a different highest speed for each species, making it difficult to make sense of all the information. It’s important to remember that measuring these top speeds comes with a multitude of difficulties. Scientists are taking what they know about the limitations of biophysics and applying that to assess what a possible top speed for a fish might be. Mixed in with this bunch of data, there are also first-hand reports — angler’s wisdom and lived experience — making it so that rather than one reliable number, there’s a range of reasonable top speeds for all these species. 

5. Yellowfin tuna

Coming in at number five, the yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) can swim at speeds up to somewhere between 43-46 miles per hour. While it is not typical of this fish to swim around at this speed, in short bursts the yellowfin tuna makes full use of its hydrodynamic design. As with other species down the list, the economic use of space and muscle by the fish’s body earns it its position. 

Not only is it fast, but the yellowfin tuna’s torpedo-shaped body is incredibly agile and adept at maneuvering. The species’ fins pivot, allowing for sharp turns and changes in direction while at high speeds. These features make the yellowfin tuna an excellent predator out in open seas where schools of them hunt, making use of their short bursts of omnidirectional speed to catch their prey — other pelagic fish and squid.

Where to find yellowfin tuna

Yellowfin tuna can be found throughout the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. As a highly migratory fish, their habitat encompasses a range of latitudes across the world, ranging from 40 degrees North to 35 degrees South — any tropical to subtropical regions.

With whole oceans as their range, yellowfin tuna are a popular deep-sea species to target. For those keen on experiencing the thrill of hooking one of these incredible fish, AnyCreek's expert fishing guides have some insights to share. Search for floating objects like logs or seaweed mats, as these provide cover to schools of fish. Additionally, pay attention to bird activity, as diving seabirds can indicate the presence of baitfish that attract yellowfin tuna.

Fishing for yellowfin tuna

If you're up for the adventure, you can book an unforgettable angling adventure with AnyCreekOur expert guides can help you master the techniques required to catch this fast fish. Armed with this information, you’ll be more than ready to encounter yellowfin tuna on your line. 

  1. Trolling: Use fishing lines with lures or baited hooks and slowly drive your boat to attract Yellowfin Tuna.
  2. Chunking: Cut baitfish into chunks and throw them into the water to create a feeding frenzy, then cast your line among the chaos.
  3. Jigging: Drop a heavy metal jig into the water and jerk it up and down to imitate the movement of prey and trigger a bite.

4. Wahoo

As the fourth fastest fish, wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri) is a swift predator known for its speed and agility in the open ocean. This slender, streamlined creature can reach impressive speeds around 48 to 50 miles per hour — in part due to their deeply forked tails. A forked tail creates less drag while swimming, giving wahoo their sustained speed. All this speed drives towards making this fish a more effective ambush predator. 

Wahoo feeding habits

Wahoo surprise their prey, using bursts of speed to catch squid and other fish off-guard. Just like yellowfin tuna, wahoo inhabit the tropical and subtropical waters around the world and have a similar diet consisting mainly of fish and squid. Wahoo are solitary hunters, tending towards isolating themselves from other wahoo to increase their individual chances of success. Wahoo will occasionally target larger fish — even tuna — relying on their speed and size. Ranging anywhere from 3 to 5.5 feet and weighing up to 180 pounds, wahoos are formidable pelagic predators.

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Anglers holding their catch of wahoo. Courtesy of Reel Screamer Charters.

Catching wahoo 

For adventure seekers looking to experience the thrill of catching wahoo, Key West is a prime spot. Its proximity to the Gulf Stream ensures a steady current of baitfish, and wahoo capitalizing on this abundance. With thousands of premier guides in Key Westlet AnyCreek steer you in the right direction

Wahoo are most active around dawn and dusk. Most of our guides aim to go out at these times. This species is attracted to reefs due to the greater concentration of baitfish. When you go out, try trolling around the reefs. As an aggressive predator, wahoo will hit most baits. Enjoy experimenting, seeing what works, and relying on the expert advice of your guide. 

3. Black marlin

A truly remarkable fish, the black marlin (Istiompax indica) boasts a wide range of speeds from such low estimates as 22 miles per hour up to the grand assertion of 82 miles per hour. The lower end comes from a study looking into the limitations of swimming speeds due to cavitation or the creation of cavities in the surrounding water due to the force of swimming. The higher number comes from a fisherman’s experience having his line stripped at 120 miles per hour by the fish, estimating it must have been going at least 82 miles per hour to achieve such a feat. While this is a generous range, somewhere in there is the true speed of this swift species, which we’re averaging out to sit as the third fastest at a median 52 miles per hour. 

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Beautiful black marlin getting let off the hook. Courtesy of Hayden Dobbins.

Built for speed and precision

Black marlin are built for hunting fast baitfish in the open ocean and for long migrations. Their elongated bodies, crescent-shaped tails, and long bills allow them to slice through water with minimal resistance. The sword-like bill is an effective weapon used to stun prey during high-speed pursuits by slashing at prey. 

The largest marlin species and one of the largest species of bony fish, black marlin are typically 11 feet in length with larger specimens coming in at 15 feet in length. They average 200 to 400 pounds, with females of the species generally being larger and heavier. The heaviest marlin ever caught was just over 1500 pounds. As one of the largest and fastest fish in the ocean, the black marlin is an apex predator that leverages its excellent design.

Epic migrations of black marlin

Found throughout tropical and subtropical waters, black marlin inhabit oceans all across the globe and will readily swim thousands of miles. Quite a few species are tagged for scientific research and some have been found to have swam 5000 thousand miles — caught initially in Australia and then again in Sri Lanka. Black marlin make use of not only their speed to accomplish such feats but also their size and stamina that comes from their build of lean muscles. 

Due to their vast range and incredibly migratory lifestyle, very little is known about black marlin. They will occasionally come together for spawning, preferring water temperatures between 77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The coast of Florida — namely Key LargoIslamorada, and Key West — provides access to black marlin’s ideal temperature range and feeding habits. Deep-sea fishing the Gulf Stream off the Florida coast will allow you to partake in the thrilling first-hand experience of catching this species. 

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2. Shortfin mako

The shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) is the second fastest fish and the fastest shark species, capable of speeds up to 60 miles per hour. While they usually will cruise at speeds of 45 miles per hour, high-speed bursts have been reported earning this species its penultimate spot. Thanks to its torpedo-shaped body and long, slim tail, the shortfin mako cuts through water in pursuit of its prey. As an apex predator, shortfin mako target some of the largest fish in the sea, including bluefish, tuna, other sharks, swordfish, and even marine mammals. 

Shortfin makos average 6 to 7 feet in length and 130 to 300 pounds. However, larger specimens can reach 13 feet in length and have been caught weighing upwards of 1,300 pounds. They mate during the summer and early fall. As a pelagic species, shortfin mako prefer to inhabit the upper zones of oceans, targeting the fish that congregate in them. Mature individuals reside in deeper waters while juveniles spend most of their time around the coast. Shortfin makos can be found throughout the Atlantic Ocean and inhabit tropical and temperate oceans. 

Hunting strategy of the shortfin mako

The shortfin mako employs its speed to execute successful ambushes. As with many shark species, countershading — when the top half of the species is darker than the bottom — is an essential part of the mako’s design. The dark grey top half allows makos to blend into the depths of the ocean when viewed from above, while their white bottom half makes them blend in with the lighter uppermost waters and sky when viewed from below. This camouflage allows makos to perfectly situate themselves underneath or above their prey and then accelerate to catch the prey off-guard. 

How to find shortfin makos

If you want to catch a shortfin mako, it's important to know that they prefer warmer waters and have specific times when they migrate. Here are some tips from AnyCreek's expert fishing guides on locating these amazing creatures:

  1. Look for areas with higher water temperatures, as makos tend to stay in warmer waters.
  2. Study their migration patterns, so you know when and where they are most likely to be.
  3. Use specialized fishing gear designed for targeting fast-swimming predators like makos.

By understanding their habits and behavior, you can plan your fishing trip better and increase your chances of encountering a shortfin mako.

1. Sailfish

The sailfish (Istiophorus platypterus) is the fastest fish on the planet. Able to reach speeds up to 68 miles per hour, this species takes hydrodynamics to the ultimate level. Though average speed for this species tends to be between 20-35 miles per hour, the sailfish is capable of incredible bursts of speed when targeting fast prey — like pelagic baitfish and squid. 

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Sailfish acrobatically leaping out from the water. Courtesy of Hayden Dobbins.

What makes sailfish so fast

  • Long, slender bodies that cut through water easily
  • Massive dorsal fin or "sail" that can be folded down for an extra burst of speed
  • Crescent-shaped tail that acts as a propeller, aiding in sudden acceleration
  • Secretion of oil from their bill that allows for even smoother movement through the water

This combination of features makes sailfish not only fast but also highly maneuverable. Along with such speed, sailfish grow to lengths between 7 to 11 feet and weigh in at 120 to 220 pounds. Despite their length, these fish are incredibly compact and use their relatively-light weight to cut through the water. 

These fish are also known for their vibrant colors, which can change rapidly when they're excited or hunting. This color change is used to confuse prey, which along with their bursts of speed makes the sailfish an impossible predator to evade. They prefer to hunt during the daytime and occupy a habitat spanning temperate and tropical regions. They are highly migratory, traveling across oceans, but tend to spend the majority of their lives in the upper levels of the water column. 

Experience the speed of sailfish

The best fishing for sailfish is in Florida, Marathon and Key West, where the warmer waters — closer to the equator and tropical regions — provide an ideal habitat for the fish to thrive. Deep-sea adventures tackling this species are charged with the excitement of knowing one will land the ocean’s most notorious and fastest fish. Experience the thrill firsthand by booking a fishing expedition with AnyCreek's expert guides who have countless tales of encounters with these magnificent fish.

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Tips for anglers targeting fast fish

When embarking on a fishing adventure targeting the world's fastest fish, preparation is key. Equip yourself with the right knowledge and gear to make your chase successful. Our guides will arm you with everything you need to thrive against these species. Here we’ll attempt to further arm you with any and all information that may prove useful when the time comes. 

Choosing the right lures and bait

When it comes to fast fish, not just any bait will do. Opt for bait that mimics their natural prey to attract their attention. For example, our guides recommend brightly colored lures that trigger the predatory instincts of these fish. Trolling baits are a particularly excellent option, as they remain in the upper water column — where most of these predators spend most of their time. 

Adjusting fishing techniques

Fast fish require swift actions. Regular fishing techniques might not cut it when you're up against a thousand-pound shortfin mako or black marlin. A dynamic approach considering factors such as water current, temperature, and depth can increase your chances of landing one. Additionally, take into consideration time of day, winds, and bird sightings to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time. Your guide will have finding these species down to an art and will be able to take you through the steps of what it takes to land one on your line.

Handling fast fish during catch-and-release

When practicing catch-and-release, be mindful of how you handle these species. Exhaustion from the fight can be fatal for them, and as the fastest fish in the sea, these fish are sure to put up a fight. Ensure you release them back into the water as quickly as possible and don’t take them out unless you absolutely need to. For some of these species, being out of the water can be fatal for them due to the increased gravity and unnatural conditions. Listen to what your guide says and err on the side of caution when handling these species — for both your sake and theirs. 

Conservation concerns

Conservation efforts are vital not just for the survival of these magnificent creatures, but also for the balance of marine ecosystems. These fish play integral roles in their habitats. With most being apex predators, these fish are great indicators of issues going on in their environment — bioaccumulation of toxins, changing water temperatures, or drastically reduced food supplies. Be conscious that while targeting and catching these fish is an unmatched and exciting feat, how you handle the species will affect the ability of anglers after you to do the same. Organizations that support restoration efforts like Captains for Clean Water play a pivotal role in keeping these fisheries healthy. Look into local efforts to find more ways to get involved.   

Threats to fast fish

  1. Overfishing: These species are often targeted for sport due to their impressive speeds and size, and commercial fisheries prize them too. 
  2. Habitat destruction: Factors like clear-cutting mangroves, coral reef bleaching due to warming oceans, and pollution from plastic waste contribute to an environment that's increasingly inhospitable for not only these species, but for the baitfish they rely on as a food source.

While these threats occur on a global scale and are often perpetuated on a level unable to be directly affected by individual action, your fishing practices are essential in helping to preserve these species and spread good practice. Always look into local regulations and guidelines concerning the species you’re targeting to ensure you stay within the boundaries of what is meant to best keep these species safe.

Fastest fish FAQ

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