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.


Pat Ford observed that schooling sails here generally pick out one baitfish, perhaps a straggler, and nail it.Pat Ford

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

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

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

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

Essential Mullet Dredge

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

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

Sailfish Release

The end game: Jimmy Nelson releases one of many sails he caught that day.Pat Ford


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

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

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

Acrobatic Isla Sail

Wild action above the surface characterizes these Caribbean sailfish.Pat Ford

Dances with Frigates

Frigate birds wheel over a jumping sailfish.Pat Ford

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

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

Making an Appearance

Close-up of a sailfish near the boat.Pat Ford

Sail Says Bye-Bye

Ford catches a happy tail-ending as a released sail swims strongly away from the boat.Pat Ford

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

So Many Smiling Faces

Isla Mujeres offers an array of Mexican art.Pat Ford

At the End of the Day....

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