Eye-Popping Isla Mujeres in Sailfish Season

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

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