The World’s Best Sailfish Destinations
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
On the East Coast of Mexico, at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, sticking out into the Gulf, Isla Mujeres is a long, thin island only a few miles from the world’s best sailfishing. PENN Fleet Captain Randy Butler has spent winters fishing Isla Mujeres for over a decade. He says, “It’s a great island and an easy destination.”
Butler says the island is easy to get to. Fly into Cancun then take a cab to the ferry landing and hop a high-speed boat to the island. “Once on the island, most people rent a golf cart.”
Accommodations range from hostels to hotels to rental homes. “The south side of the island is quieter, with the nightlife on the north end,” Butler adds.
Sailfish season runs from December through January. “On my best day we released 50 fish, Butler marvels. Anglers can expect double and triple hookups. He laughs, “I’ve rigged 120 ballyhoo and used them all.”
A typical day fishing starts at 7 a.m. “A northeast wind pushes bait close to the island,” Butler explains. Under ideal conditions, they find sails within a few miles of shore. On a southerly blow, the boats may have to run up to 50 miles to find the fish.
To get started, Butler looks for birds on the horizon and bait on the fishfinder. Once he’s on the fish, the crew deploys dredges and teasers then sets out four small ballyhoo on circle hooks. “When you hit it right, you can get a shot at 100 fish each day.”
Butler says anglers should expect to get in on the action. Isla Mujeras is a perfect place to hone your billfish skills. “We get a lot of shots, so you get a lot of practice.” Most boats host one or two mates, so there’s plenty of experience onboard.
The epic action comes to a close in late afternoon as the boats return to the harbor. Butler says there’s plenty of action onshore, too. World-class restaurants, local specialists, even dockside dining are high on his list. On blow days, visitors can dive with whale sharks, explore Mayan temples, or visit a turtle sanctuary. “It’s a nice, safe, friendly place to visit,” Butler says, “and a hell-of-a-place to catch sailfish.”
Los Suenos, Costa Rica
As if someone put his thumb on the globe and said, “We’re going to build a world-class fishing resort, here,” Los Suenos, Costa Rica has every amenity a hard-core angler would demand in the middle of some of the Pacific’s most prolific sailfish water. Each winter, PENN Fleet Captain Quinton Dieterle travels to fish in the marina’s premier sailfish tournaments. “Los Suenos is a fishing paradise,” he says.
The best sailfishing is from October to March. “We see more blue and striped marlin in March,” Dieterle says.
According to Dieterle, traveling to the mountainside resort is half the adventure. After flying into San Jose, Dieterle takes a cab an hour through the jungle to the resort. “The drivers can be a little crazy,” he laughs nervously.
Visitors can choose from a variety of hotels and rental houses. “There’s a Marriott and condos for big groups,” he says. More options for accommodations are available in nearby Junco.
Anglers meet at the dock at 6:30 a.m. to run forty-five minutes to the fishing grounds. Crews pull dredges and squid-chain teasers. Then they fish four rods rigged with ballyhoo on a circle hook. “Keep your eye on the bait and you’ll see the fish before it strikes,” Dieterle urges.
Dieterle describes sails cutting the water on balls of bait. “It can be pretty epic,” he says. Pacific sails are generally bigger and meaner than their Atlantic brothers. Dieterle has had days seeing 35 sails and hooking 20 to 25. He adds, excitedly, “There’s a good shot at a blue or striped marlin, too.” Dolphin fishing can be excellent and the yellowfin tuna grow over 200 pounds. “Like I said, epic.” Dieterle laughs.
Boats head back to the marina around 4 p.m. so anglers have plenty of time to explore on shore. Dieterle says most of the restaurants serve authentic, local cuisine. “It’s pretty much farm to table,” he says.
When he’s not fishing, Dieterle says there’s plenty to do. “We went whitewater rafting,” he recalls, then admits with a chuckle “That was pretty scary.” The resort also features offroad tours, ziplines, and surfing. “It’s a real chill place,” he says, adding, “everyone is there for fishing.”
South Florida, USA
One of the best opportunities to score a billfish is off South Florida in winter. From Stuart to Key West, sailfish congregate on the edge of the continental shelf giving anglers a shot at near shore action. PENN Fleet Captain Patrick Price is a Stuart native with 25 years of experience chasing sailfish and over 90 top three tournament finishes. “The smoking speed, repeated jumps, and amazing colors put sailfish on any angler’s bucket list.”
From November to February scoring a sailfish couldn’t be easier. “South Florida is a tourist mecca,” Price laughs, “so it’s easy to reach.” To fish Stuart he recommends flying into West Palm Beach and taking a cab to any of the area hotels or rental homes. He points out, “Some of the hotels and resorts are on the canal; we can pick you up at the dock.”
The day starts early, so the crew can catch live bait on the way to the fishing grounds. Jigging Sabiki rigs over the reef for blue runners, goggle eye, and cigar minnows kicks off the action. “Catching bait is fun, too,” Price laughs.
With the baitwell packed, the run to the fish is short. “Most of the fishing is within eight miles of the beach,” he says. “We can see land all day.” That’s good, because the weather can be a little rough in the winter. Sailfish like the wind and waves following a passing cold front, on a good day he expects three to five foot seas and 15-knot winds.
If Price is fishing north of Palm Beach, he trolls rigged ballyhoo until he finds the sailfish. South of Palm Beach they use live bait dangling from a kite. Price says on his best days he sees double digit releases, “If I can get every angler to catch his first billfish, that’s a great day.”
In addition to sailfish, Price often catches king mackerel, dolphin, blackfin tuna, and wahoo. “We fish the same way for all these species,” he says. The crew never knows what is going to bite next.
The run home is short, leaving plenty of time to explore South Florida’s onshore attractions. Price recommends the Florida Oceanographic Society Coastal Institute. The fully immersive nature trails and gamefish lagoons allow visitors to see and even touch the local sea life. “You can learn about the area where we fish,” Price says.
Big water, big boats, big fish, and a big bite make sailfishing one of the most popular pursuits for pro anglers. These fish swim close to shore in the Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, and Pacific Ocean, making sailfish accessible for every angler. A short flight, comfortable accommodations, great food, and amazing fishing make South Florida, Costa Rica, and Isla Mujeres world-class sailfish destinations within reach of any angler.