Eye-Popping Isla Mujeres in Sailfish Season

Photographer Pat Ford's take on the amazing sailfish run off Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

February 6, 2015

In these 20 exclusive photos, Ford, a frequent and longtime contributor to Sport Fishing, offers a dramatic look at the fish and fishery that have come to typify these waters off Mexico’s Caribbean coast each winter.

Schooling sailfish around a baitball


Pat Ford observed that schooling sails here generally pick out one baitfish, perhaps a straggler, and nail it. Pat Ford
Frigate birds swimming around a school of sailfish

Birds Show the Way

A flock of frigates like this generally means sailfish below. Schools of sails push baitfish to the surface for a feast for all concerned. Pat Ford
Sailfish circling a school of bait

Balling the Bait

Ford says this behavior is typical: Sails circle a school of bait to compress it into as tight a ball as possible before picking off targets. Pat Ford
Offshore fishing boat in Isla Mujeres

Serious Sport-Fisher

Many gorgeous offshore boats from the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts head to Isla during sail season, January through March. Pat Ford
School of sailfish

Taking Turns

The half-dozen sails visible in this shot are just a few of 30 or so in the group. Ford says the fish are surprisngly well organized, most remaining deeper and rising in turns to feed on the bait ball. Pat Ford
Offshore fishing mullet dredge

Essential Mullet Dredge

Mullet dredges like these are essential in Isla waters, where live-bait fishing is not allowed. Pat Ford
Sloppy seas while offshore fishing in Isla Mujeres

Good Place for Good Sea Legs

Jimmy Nelson works on a sail in the typically sloppy seas that characterize Isla Mujeres in the winter. Pat Ford
Angler releasing a sailfish caught in Isla Mujeres

Sailfish Release

The end game: Jimmy Nelson releases one of many sails he caught that day. Pat Ford
Sailfish swimming around a bait ball of sardines


As mentioned already, more sails swim below the bait ball. The school will stay with the bait until every last sardine is gone, Ford says. Pat Ford
Sailfish around a bait ball in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Cloaked in Black

Interestingly, while excited sailfish are often “lit up” with brilliant hues of blue, when Isla sails went after a bait ball in attack mode, they became nearly black. Pat Ford
Feedling sailfish showing blue hues

Dressed in Blue

Quite unlike the black shade of feeding sails, the fish remaining deep and not feeding were lighter and brighter, showing brilliant blues. Pat Ford
Caribbean sailfish jumping out of the water

Acrobatic Isla Sail

Wild action above the surface characterizes these Caribbean sailfish. Pat Ford
Jumping sailfish and frigate birds

Dances with Frigates

Frigate birds wheel over a jumping sailfish. Pat Ford
Angler releasing a sailfish in Isal Mujeres, Mexico, from a fishing boat

Release on a Perfect Day

Clearly, the wind does stop blowing now and then, when the high seas common to Isla sailfishing give way to a bluebird day. Pat Ford
Baitfish being attacked by a sailfish in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

What Goes Down Must Come Up

Diving deeper, as here, didn’t save baitfish from being sailifish dinner; rather, the sails would simply force the bait ball back up to the surface where the saifish would pick off the hapless victims. Pat Ford
Caribbean sailfish hooked while offshore fishing

Making an Appearance

Close-up of a sailfish near the boat. Pat Ford
Sailfish swimming away from a sport-fishing boat after release while offshore fishing

Sail Says Bye-Bye

Ford catches a happy tail-ending as a released sail swims strongly away from the boat. Pat Ford
Sailfish feeding on a bait ball

My Turn!

As noted, Ford observed the sails feeding one or two at a time while others waited below to get their shots. Pat Ford
Mexican art in Isla Mujeres

So Many Smiling Faces

Isla Mujeres offers an array of Mexican art. Pat Ford
Restaurant in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

At the End of the Day….

At the end of the day, anglers find no shortage of outstanding local eateries. Pat Ford

More Travel