When I got the call from Ron Kawaja of Pelagic asking about the possibility of me joining him on a fishing trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, in February, my first thought was about the amount of work I had to do to get the next issue out. But I do love Isla Mujeres, so I layed down until that work feeling went away and called him back to confirm the trip. It has been pretty cold here in Florida this winter, so I was ready for a little break and a bit of fishing with my good friend Capt. Joey Birbeck on his fabulous new F&S.
I’d been to Isla Mujeres once before for a Marlin University session several years ago and pretty much fell in love with the island’s laid-back atmosphere and proximity to a truly world-class sailfish bite. I travel quite a bit, but Isla marks one of those special spots where I’d have no qualms about bringing the whole family and letting them run wild. The only cars allowed on Isla are taxis, so everyone else gets around on scooters or golf carts — which is a whole different kind of fun itself.
I first heard of the big sailfish bite off Isla Mujeres in the mid-1990s, and back then, it was more of a springtime fishery. Boats, some from as far away as North Carolina, would meet up in Key West and head down in late February or March to intercept the multitude of sailfish that gather there to feed off the baitballs in the spring.
Boats racked up some incredible numbers, catching 30, 40, 50, up to 100 sails in a day working these fish with spinning rods and dead ballyhoo. Things got a little out of hand, and the locals eventually outlawed foreign vessels from using these methods in an attempt to preserve the fishery. This was long before the use of circle hooks, so it worked out in favor of the resource, which is still going strong.
Over time, boats started leaving the States earlier and earlier to get first crack at the sails as they moved into the area. The fish can show up like gangbusters in January, so as soon as those early boats started doing well, the news spread, and nowadays, most boats head for Isla soon after Christmas and stay until March.
Kawaja and some friends of his planned on fishing the Fifth Annual Island Time Fishing Tournament while I was there, and I couldn’t wait to get in on the action. Unfortunately, the bite had been dwindling for several days before my arrival, so it looked like my chances at a 30- or 40-bite day weren’t very good. But I always like to hear that the bite isn’t going well before I leave on a trip. If you hear that the boats somewhere are tearing them up and you still have a week or more to travel, you usually find that the bite peters out before you arrive. So when Birbeck told me that the bite was off, I just smiled and told him that they were just waiting on me to get there.