A Winter Sailfish Hotspot in Mexico

World-class bluewater fishing is closer than you think.
Isla Mujeres sailfish
Most people come to Isla Mujeres for the sailfishing, but plenty of other species are available too. Courtesy Captain Jeff Ross

Captain Jeff Ross, fishing out of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, has been on a sailfish tear this winter. “We’re averaging a half-dozen sailfish each day,” he says. Some days his boat will strike gold with up to 14 fish.

Isla Mujeres is a five-mile-long island four miles off the coast of Cancun on the Mexican Yucatan peninsula. The world-famous fishing destination is only a short flight from major US cities. A renowned tourist mecca, the area offers diverse accommodations and entertainment in a safe and tropical atmosphere. It’s the perfect get away from winter cold. You can shovel snow off your driveway in the morning, hop on a plane, and enjoy a frosty umbrella drink and spectacular sunset in the evening.

The island sits at the confluence of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Deep, warm water and strong ocean currents are a perfect combination for sailfish, wahoo, dorado and tuna. “Most people come for the sailfishing,” Ross admits, but he suggests exploring the island’s other diverse fishing opportunities too.

A typical fishing trip begins at dawn with a short run to the grounds.

“We can go 12 miles and find excellent fishing,” Ross says. On a nice day he runs 15 to 45 miles north looking for birds, bait and signs of fish. “When the wind and weather allow us to fish north, we average 10 to 20 sailfish bites,” he says. 

Isla Mujeres wahoo
Deep, warm water and strong ocean currents are a perfect combination for wahoo. Courtesy Captain Jeff Ross

In addition to sailfish, Ross targets wahoo, mahi and blackfin tuna. “We had a really nice blackfin this winter,” he adds. Ross expects blackfin tuna fishing to pick up later in the season. 

When he’s not trolling rigged ballyhoo for sailfish, Ross stops the boat to do some grocery fishing. He reports, “We’ve had really good catches of snapper and triggerfish.” Anglers can head farther offshore to deep-drop for grouper and queen snapper. 

The limiting factor is the wind. “January is always really windy,” he says. Even when the wind blows, he takes a half-day fishing trip close to shore. The weather and fishing historically improve through February and March.

Since 1995, Ross has spent the winter fishing out Isla Mujeres. He says the island offers, “Tremendous variety of things to do.” In addition to fishing, the tropical paradise boasts world-class diving, food, nightlife, and beautiful beaches. Famous historical sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza make a great day trip.