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15 Great Sailfish Spots

Whether you want triple-digit trophies, double-digit-release days or both, here are 15 great sailfish spots in three oceans where you can make it happen

February 9, 2011
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Chris and Monique Fallows

These 15 hot spots are by no means the world’s only places to seek and find great sailfishing. But they’re among the best places by any measure and, in various respects, each deserves consideration.

Note that the destinations have not been ordered by relative merit, since our goal is not to rate these spots but to help you compare the options. Within each ocean grouping, destinations are listed by their relative proximity to the United States (using Dallas as an arbitrary midpoint between coasts and between popular departure points Miami and Los Angeles).

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Atlantic Ocean

Mexico, Isla Mujeres

Just off the Yucatan Peninsula, this small, personable island is a short ferry ride from Cancun. In recent years, its waters have produced fabulous underwater photography showing hordes of sailfish decimating huge baitballs; anglers look for such scenarios during the January-to-June peak season for sails.

Why You Should Go: When bait abounds, action on the grounds can be dramatic and ferocious. Long runs to fish are rare. Minimal time commitment or cost is required to get here, generally (just two hours from Miami).

But… Can be blustery when sails are thickest. Isla sails are generally of modest size. Fishing live baits is illegal for foreign boats; most troll ballyhoo.

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Contact: Capt. Anthony Mendillo Jr. at Keen M International, www.keenmsportfishing.com.

Florida, Southeast to Upper Keys

You don’t have to travel across the globe for great sailfish action. The winter/spring fishery seems to be getting better and better, and in fact, has recently been nothing short of spectacular. For example, in January 2009, 24 tournament boats tallied 424 sailfish releases over two days. The fish run pretty small, and the seas can run pretty big (when north winds driven by frontal systems offer the rugged conditions that get sailfish packs tailing down-sea in numbers). From Stuart north, anglers generally troll ballyhoo; to the south, live baits fished under kites or slow-trolled are the norm.

Why You Should Go: Hot sailfishing in country from January into May. The run to fish is often within 10 miles; for some areas (Palm Beach and adjacent) it might be just two or three. No shortage of charters, marinas, etc. At times, many exciting sight-casting/pitch-baiting opportunities.

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But… Most sails run 30 or 40 pounds, so fish light. Weekends might get a bit crowded in popular areas offshore.

Contact: Capt. Rick Bradley in Fort Lauderdale, www.marlinmydarlin.com; Capt. Jimmy David on Key Biscayne, www.landhsportfishing.com; Capt. Glenn Clyatt in Key Largo, www.oceanreef.com. (Note: There are many excellent skippers/charters up and down this coast.)

Africa, Senegal

On the Cape Verde Peninsula, this westernmost, French-speaking city offers the potential for great action all summer and well into the fall.

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Why You Should Go: Anglers can rack up big numbers of sails off Senegal while enjoying a relatively safe and very exotic African experience. Charters generally work at modest rates.

But… You’ll need a day plus to travel to Dakar, and $3,000 to $4,000 for round-trip airfare makes it the costliest of these destinations to reach.

Contact: Atlantic Evasion, www.atlantic-evasion.com; Gildas-Espladon, www.gildas-espladon.com. (Both sites are in French, but you’ll find contact information on each home page.)

Africa, Gabon

While those without a sense of adventure need not apply, Gabon has some hefty Atlantic sails in generally calm waters during the spring and summer.

Why You Should Go: Look for five to 10 shots on typical days, with the sails running a respectable 70 to 75 pounds or so (but some approaching twice that size are caught here). Blue marlin are likely to crash the party at any time. Don’t look for other boats fishing sails; you won’t see any. You can fish estuaries for huge tarpon as well as cubera snapper and giant threadfin. Game sanctuaries nearby offer wild Africa at its most exhilarating.

But… The round-trip flight to Libreville will run you a couple grand plus and require at least 24 hours each way. Not much infrastructure here for offshore sport fishing.

Contact: Bert Bouchard via e-mail at [email protected] (Also, visit www.billfishgabon.com.)

Africa, Angola

When it comes to Atlantic sailfish, Angola has long been ­associated with big fish since the current all-tackle world-record Atlantic sailfish was taken here in 1994, along with most of the 100-plus-pound records. This is one reason that interest in Angola remains high among sailfish enthusiasts.

Why You Should Go: Triple-digit sails aren’t at all unlikely. Seas are usually flat and the run to fish short; sportfishing pressure is light. Blue marlin in the 500-pound range prowl the same waters (and frequently take sailfish baits).

But… Definitely not a numbers place; a few shots per day would be good. The U.S. State Department says safety has improved markedly in Angola in recent years but still advises caution in travel. Anglers seriously interested in fishing here should consult the contact source listed for more information as well as finding a boat to charter (though day rates are not likely to be bargains).

Contact: Iain Nicolson (IGFA representative in Luanda) via e-mail at [email protected]

Pacific Ocean

Mexico (Baja California Sur), East Cape

Baja’s East Cape doesn’t offer sails in numbers like some Central American hotspots; however, it’s close and easy, and generally has far better odds for big sails than most people realize plus, of course, outstanding mixedbag fishing.

Why You Should Go: An affordable option to try for triple-digit sails, commonly 60 to 120 pounds, in waters very often calm. A long season runs most of spring through midautumn. Super slams are possible with black, striped and blue marlin common here. Travel costs are reasonable, and fishing packages at resorts can be excellent.

But… Not a spot to rack up high numbers. Charters often run 10 to 30 miles out to fish.

Contact: Axel Valdez at Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, www.hotelbuenavista.com.

Guatemala, Iztapa

No spot in the world is as renowned for its sailfishing as is Guatemala. That’s not surprising when, for example, one angler in one day enjoyed 82 shots and released 52 sails.

Why You Should Go: On a typical day, you can expect at least 20 shots and on a good day, many more. And these are big fish – running 80 to 105 pounds for the most part. But wait, there’s more: Most of the time, the Pacific here is flat. Travel costs from the states will set you back neither an arm nor a leg. Outstanding boats and crews, great for light-tackle and fly-rod bait/switch action.

But… Expectations can run too high; even here there are no guarantees, and off days do happen. The run to find fish might be quite close but at times could be 20 to 30 miles, or even more.

Contact: Jim Turner at Casa Vieja Lodge, www.casaviejalodge.com.

El Salvador

El Salvador offers sailfish action comparable to its neighbor, Guatemala, though far fewer boats fish these waters, which is mostly off the radar for American anglers.

Why You Should Go: During the long (October through March) season, expect 15 to 20 shots on a typical day, mostly with light winds and big fish (the same size as Guatemala’s). You’re unlikely to see any other boats fishing sails. Excellent concentrations of marlin at times.

But… Run to fish can be 30-plus miles.

Contact: Blue Sail Sportfishing Charters, www.bluesailcharters.com.

Costa Rica, Tamarindo/Flamingo

From December through August (excluding May, which is often slower), sailfishing can be hot off the central Costa Rica coast. In fact, Costa Rica’s Pacific coast offers great fishing opportunities throughout the year, from Golfito in the south to Papagayo in the north, with an abundance of great resorts, marinas and charters.

Why You Should Go: Again, expect very big eastern Pacific sails to be the norm, up to 120 pounds and sometimes much larger. Ocean conditions vary widely by area and season, and can range from tranquil to downright rough. Costa Rica prides itself on being accessible and inviting to tourists, with travel generally easy and safe. Plenty of options await for other big-game pelagics, and nearshore you’ll find roosterfish, cubera snapper and more.

But… Trade winds might make the northern coast rough ­seasonally. Cold or green water can shut down sailfishing at times anywhere along the coast.

Contact: Capt. Steve Curtis at Capullo Sportfishing, www.capullo.com.

Panama, Piñas Bay

Time it so you’re here when sails are whacking sardines (mostly likely to happen May through July), and you’ll enjoy triple and quad hookups. December and January are good alternative months for sails. Just watch out for grander marlin here as well – Tropic Star boats hook ’em. Many line-class record sails, as large as 199 pounds, weighed in here.

Why You Should Go: Calm waters, big sails and often very short runs to lines in all make for world-class sailfishing when timed right. Staying at famed Tropic Star Lodge is a bonus. Quick flight down to Panama City at generally very affordable rates. Outstanding boats/crews for anglers looking to pitch baits or cast flies to sails.

But… Fabulous lodge but no bargain rates, nor are there less-pricey alternatives in the area. Overnight in Panama City generally required en route and sometimes when returning to the states as well.

Contact: Tropic Star Lodge, www.tropicstar.com.

Tonga, Vava’u

A search of Google Maps will show the geographically impaired that the Kingdom of Tonga lies northeast of New Zealand, about halfway to the equator – a long way to go to catch a sailfish, but some of the world’s biggest reputedly prowl these waters. Effort for the species remains minimal.

Why You Should Go: Not a bad place to look for a world record; the men’s 50-pound line-class record of 210 1/2 pounds was taken here, with sails larger than the world-record 221 pounds probably caught but never weighed. The run to start fishing can be fairly short and often begins working along steep reef edges – but beware of big yellowfin and wahoo as well (and of course closer to the reefs, dogtooth tuna and giant trevally).

But… During the best sailfish season (winter in the southern hemisphere), 15- to 20knot trade winds blow constantly. Figure on 30 to 40 hours traveling each way and dropping two to three grand for the privilege.

Contact: Capt. Steve Campbell at Ika Lahi Resort, www.tongafishing.com; Capt. Jeff La Strange at Hakula Lodge, www.fishtonga.com; Dean Butler at www.deanbutler.com.au.

Indian Ocean

Africa, Watamu

For decades, anglers have sought western Indian Ocean sails off the coast of Kenya. The action in recent seasons seems better than ever, and one theory is that worry of Somali pirates to the north (but not off Kenya) has reduced pressure from longliners in the region, allowing pelagics to flourish.

Why You Should Go: Don’t like long runs to fish? Here, lines can go in as little as a mile from the beach. Seas run calm and crowds are nil. These waters are also known for nighttime swordfishing. Charters are cheap.

But… Not so cheap is the airfare to Nairobi, which will set you back in the vicinity of a couple grand.

Contact: Garry Cullen at Hemingways, www.hemingways.co.ke (Cullen suggests e-mailing him directly for fishing info: [email protected])

Thailand, Phuket

More than two decades ago, ­sailfish seemed to be everywhere just off Phuket in southern Thailand. Then commercial netters began to target sails and the fishery declined. Last season, sails made a real comeback, with anglers enjoying up to 10 shots and charters often releasing several sails in a day. Whether it’s a seasonal one-off or a return to great days of the past remains to be seen.

Why You Should Go: Generally calm conditions and a long season, from June through December. A mecca for Western tourists, Phuket offers a particularly inviting base of operations for anglers; accommodations run from bargain-basement hotels to fivestar luxury.

But… Don’t look for big sails; these Indian Ocean fish range most often from 40 to 70 pounds. Allow at least 20 to 24 hours to get here, and figure your round-trip ticket costing a bit under $2,000.

Contact: Capt. John Pearce at Asia Spirit, www.asiaspirit.net.

Malaysia, Kuala Rompin

With conditions on the South China Sea off Malaysia’s ­southeast coast seldom rougher than your average farm pond, Rompin is likely the world’s calmest sailfish hot spot. And hot it has been, since gaining fame as one of the best places on the planet for sailfish (running 50 to 80 pounds) within the past few years (Sport Fishing was one of the first to feature the fishery in our March 2009 issue).

Why You Should Go: Enjoy quiet fishing, drifting live baits with engines off. Most days you’ll see birds and sails on top of the mirror-smooth sea, and enjoy many multiple hookups. Package trips include ground transportation (from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur), accommodations, meals (with to-die-for dinners) and fishing (including top-quality conventional reels) with guides who speak English as fluently as you – and priced to make this one of sailfishing’s best bargains. Plus you’ll experience a ­fascinating and hospitable corner of Asia.

But… The fairly short season lasts from mid-July through October. Shallow, expansive sea offers minimal bycatch of other large game fish. Standard wooden, open boats offer shade and space, and work well for fishing here; however, if your taste runs to convertible sportfishers, this is the wrong place. Allow a day for travel and upward of two grand for the trip.

Contact: Dom Pereira at Fishzone Sportfishing, www.fishzone.com.sg.

Broome, Western Australia

Although known more widely for pearls than sailfish, in angling circles, this largest city on Australia’s northwest coast offers reliable odds for memorable Indian Ocean sailfish action during the season, beginning sometime in May and running into November.

Why You Should Go: Great light-tackle action; many skippers play the bait-and-switch game, so sight-casting opportunities abound. No worries about competition on the grounds here. It’s also a gateway to the amazing Kimberley in Australia’s far Northwest with breathtaking scenery and barramundi fishing. Also check out multiday trips to the incredible Rowley Shoals, 160 miles offshore.

But… Expect a long run of 20 to 35 miles over shallow waters typical to reach sailfish grounds. You’ll find good numbers of fish but of moderate size, running 30 to 70 pounds. And you’ll drop a couple thousand to get here, logging 30 to 40 hours of travel time (about 10,000 miles) each way.

Contact: Capt. Chris Nisbet at Broome Billfish Charters, www.broomebillfish.com.

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