Isla Mujeres, Mexico - Described by many sport fishing magazines as a top sailfish destination during the winter months, a double hook up on sailfish three minutes after setting out the spread gave us a very quick introduction to how amazing the sailfish fishery in Isla Mujeres really is. In addition to the fantastic bite, the shear bliss you will find yourself in if you have the opportunity to swim in a bait ball surrounded by sailfish is something that words cannot do justice. I’ve swam with 12 foot great hammerheads and a variety of other large sharks, but watching a pack of sailfish work a bait ball is indescribable and will leave you with an even greater appreciation for the resource than you may already have after seeing a sailfish jumping on the end of your line.
With hot fishing in south Florida in early January during the Silver Sailfish Derby which released over 1100 sailfish in three days of fishing, one would think that the bite could not possibly be unbelievable in two places, but we found out with sore arms and non-stop action that is very possible. Both myself and Peter (both on staff at The Billfish Foundation) had the opportunity to fish with TBF board member Fin Gaddy and his crew aboard the Qualifier for three days releasing over 95 sails and having the opportunity to contribute to TBF's research by placing over 50 tags in sailfish.
Still eating our breakfast sandwiches and expecting to at least be able to finish before the action began; the right rigger popped out of the clip and within a couple seconds the rod was bent over and a sailfish was jumping in the distance. Bam! The left rigger popped and as I shoved the last piece of sausage biscuit into my mouth, I too was hooked up and watching a sailfish greyhounding away from the boat. The action during the first day was nonstop with 48 sails being released and I don't even think we had time to eat lunch because there was always a rod in our hands. At one point during the first day, we had initially hooked a triple and by "prospecting" bites while chasing down the original fish, we caught and released three more fish—releasing 6 sailfish in 15 minutes! Needless to say, Peter and I were beat when we returned to the docks and struggled to even gather the energy to eat some of the great food on Isla Mujeres.
Day two was a slow day by Isla Mujeres standards and we only released 15 fish and called it a day shortly after lunch so that we could do some networking on the docks with the other captains. We wanted to talk to them about the new, easy to use Tag and Release Online Database (TROD) that would allow them to input their tag and release data online so that we could further improve the data collected from the area. Great people, intriguing conversations, and further insight how TBF can reach more captains and anglers and further represent them and their sportfishing communities.
After starting the third day with Fin’s guarantee to wear us out once again, we headed to the same fishing grounds we fished the two days before and got off to a pretty good start releasing close to 10 fish before 10am. Our goal for the day was to see the famous bait balls of Isla Mujeres and hopefully have the chance to not only catch fish off the bait ball, but even more so, have the opportunity to swim in the bait ball and see the sailfish working from underwater. Soon, the secret was broken and a captain said that he had found bait balls north of where we were; seconds later all the lines were in the boat and the Fin had the throttles pushed all the way forward. Never in my life have I seen so many free jumpers than I did on that 30 minute boat ride, I think I counted close to thirty in the short period and if I hadn’t known that more fish were ahead of us, I would have questioned why we weren’t slowing down to set up the spread. Soon we saw exactly what we were looking for—frigate birds working tight and low to the water! During our first pass, we didn’t even put lines in the water as everyone stood on the bridge and watched in amazement as we watched a pack of sailfish work a large bait ball in the crystal clear water. Needless to say we spent the next couple of hours working these bait balls and releasing a total of 35 fish once the day was over. With the day and our trip coming to an end, we found one last school of sailfish working a bait ball and jumped in!
On the surface, you may see 15-20 sailfish within the first 10 feet of the water column or breaking the surface with their sails, but once in the water and with 100 feet of visibility, it soon became apparent that there were far more fish in the pack of sailfish than first apparent. Chasing a small bait ball of three dozen or so sardines, the sailfish would wait their turn, flash and raise their sail signaling it was their turn, and then try their luck for a meal by chasing the bait ball and slashing at the bait with their bill. Scales had already filled the water column as reminiscences of their feeding frenzy, but the feast continued as you could hear the smack of the sailfish’s bill as it crash into the side of a sardine, disorienting it enough that it soon became a quick snack. Staying in the water for more than twenty minutes and completely engulfed in the moment, I recollected on all the time I have spent on and under the water and could honestly not recall anything more amazing than what I was witnessing. The trip to Isla Mujeres was one I will never forget and I know for sure that it will not be my last. Special thanks to the Qualifier with Captain Fin Gaddy and mates Chris Kubik and Synapo. Thanks guys for one hell of a trip!
To find out more about The Billfish Foundation, the TBF Tag and Release Program, and the important work The Billfish Foundation does to protect both billfish and the sportfishing communities around the world, please visit us at www.billfish.org.
I would love to go there and fish, we have a standing offer from a great Capt. that fishes there seasonally, but I have yet to get the chance to take advantage of this paradise.