Best Sailfish Destinations

Editor Dave Ferrell shares his best spots for sailfish.

10 Best Sailfish Destinations
10 Best Sailfish Destinations
Most people’s first introduction to the world of billfishing comes from catching a sailfish. They are by far the most prolific species of billfish and since they tend to frequent near-shore waters, they come in contact with the most number of anglers. Many anglers trolling for dolphin, kingfish or some other meat, end up catching their first sailfish by accident. That’s how I caught my first one off Cape Canaveral, in October, when the sails start their run down the Florida Coast. For those who are seriously targeting sails, however, there are a few spots worldwide that offer up some seriously ridiculous numbers of sails during certain times of the year. Sailfish like to swim and hunt in packs, so you can put yourself in the right spot at the right time, you can really get some practice in! During one of our very first Marlin University session in Costa Rica, I watched four students who had never seen a sailfish before catch 54 sails out of 100 bites! Needless to say, they were spoiled for life. Here are 10 sailfishing hot spots that can really turn on and show you the time of your life if you hit them at the right time. — Dave Ferrell, EditorDave Ferrell
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Another hot fishing hole that we have Tim Choate to thank for! Choate helped pioneer Costa Rica’s prolific waters in the late 80s and the place hasn’t been the same since. Huge numbers of sails migrate along Costa Rica’s entire Pacific coast and they are well fed; you can expect to catch at least one 100-pounder if you fish for several days. Early efforts came out of the port towns of Flamingo and Tamarindo to the North, but the arrival of Los Suenos Marina in 2001 was a game changer. The first full-service resort and Marina on the Pacific coast of Cost Rica, Los Suenos provided a luxury destination that could accommodate the larger sportfishing boats that wanted to traverse the Panama Canal and make their way up and down the Central American coast. With professional crews coming in and fishing, the number of sailfish caught here exploded. With unusually calm water and large numbers of sails close to shore, you’d be hard pressed to find a better spot to catch your fist billfish.Dave Ferrell
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Florida Keys
Florida Keys
While every serious angler should have the Florida Keys on their bucket list just for the sheer variety of species that you can target there, those wanting a shot at a scrappy Atlantic sail would be hard pressed to fins a more agreeable location. Not only do the Keys provide good numbers of sails throughout the winter months, they also have a large number of excellent, and reasonable, charter operations that can get you out to the action. The Florida Keys are one of the few places in the world where you can experience the “run and gun” style of fishing. When the sails congregate bait in the shallow waters next to the reef, savvy captains look for their dark shapes or showering schools of ballyhoo to locate the fish. They then run up to the spot and cast out live ballyhoo, pilchards or sardines to the feeding sails. While these fish won’t approach the size of the ones caught in Central America, they make up for it in their incredible speed, color and acrobatics. When the right conditions come together you can get 20 or 30 bites a day. Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News BureauPhoto by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Guatemala
Guatemala
I first travelled to Guatemala in 1993 for the International Light Tackle Tournament (ILTA) as a guest of Tim Choate. Choate pioneered the offshore fishing scene there along with the help of local angler and businessman, Fernando Aguilar. The two men brought the world’s attention to the area’s spectacular sailfish fishery that is virtually unrivaled anywhere else in the world. Each winter a flood of big, hungry Pacific sails shows up off the port town of Ixtapa, and 100 bite days are a common occurrence when the bite goes off. Even on “slow” days you can get 10-15 bites a day. With the addition of several great sportfishing lodges competing for your business, there’s no better place in the world to get your first Pacific sail … they are so thick you can even pick up a fly rod and have a go! Capt. Chris Sheeder just recently celebrated his 5,000 billfish caught on fly — the vast majority of them caught in Guatemala. Photo by John FrazierJohn Frazier
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Isla Mujeres Mexico
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
I’ve been to Isla Mujeres twice now, once for a Marlin University session several years ago, and once just recently with Capt. Joey Birbeck on the You Never Know. I pretty much fell in love with the island’s laid-back atmosphere and proximity to a truly world-class sailfish bite the first time I saw the place. 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 whole different kind of fun itself. I first heard of the big sailfish bite off of Isla Mujeres in the mid ‘90s and back then it was a more of a springtime fishery. Boats would meet up in Key West (some as from as far away as North Carolina) and head down in late February or March to intercept the multitudes of sailfish that gather there to feed off the bait balls each spring. Boats racked up some incredible numbers, catching 30, 40, 50 up to 100 sails in day. The fishing hasn’t changed much over the years; the sails still come up into gin clear shallow water to herd up balls of sardines. If you get lucky you will be there when they are close to the Isla and you won’t have to run up around the corner to get your 40 bites a day!Dave Ferrell
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Panama
Panama
Like all the countries in Central America, Panama gets its share of sailfish as well. However, a quick look at the record books shows that Panama (and Costa Rica) has some of the biggest sailfish found anywhere on the planet. Panama’s prolific waters support an unusually rich food chain and the sails here eat big baits and it shows. Prime time for sails in Panama runs from December through April, though they can be caught here year around. What’s amazing here is that you can literally get sailfish bites just 100 yards from the rocky shoreline! Crews here catch the big sails on the crushingly effective Panama strip bait, which works even better than the original when paired with a circle-hook. The fish come back and attack the strip again and again until you finally get a hook into them! While there are several mothership operations that service the Panamanian coastline, a visit to the historic Tropic Star Lodge should also be on every serious angler’s bucket list.Dave Ferrell
10 Best Sailfish Destinations South Florida West Palm Florida
South Florida
Big game sportfishing for billfish started in the years following WWII in the Palm Beach area. Known as “Sailfish Alley” the area between Fort Pierce and North Miami Beach, capitalized on the Florida land boom and the number of tourists that travelled to the sunshine state to enjoy it’s mild winters. Consequently, wintertime is sailfish time in south Florida, and when the cold fronts come in from the North, they stack up the sails in the Gulf Stream, which lies just a few miles offshore. At the northern end of the “alley” in the Fort Pierce area, crews pull dead baits and dredges to cover more ground since the fish are scattered out a bit. (The whole dredge fishing craze started in Fort Pierce.) Down south in the Palm Beaches and Miami, live bait fishing with kites along the reef proves deadly effective. Although you can catch sails in south Florida year around, the winter months from December through March usually have the higher concentrations. When the wind is blowing from the North you can get 20 bites a day … or more. Photo Courtesy of West Palm Beach Fishing ClubWest Palm Beach Fishing Club
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Mozambique Africa
Mozambique, Africa
The last time I fished in the Bazaruto Island area of Mozambique I was fishing for the area’s giant black marlin. We didn’t see a sailfish, although that’s what most anglers who come here from all over Europe normally target. Although you can catch these Indo-Pacific sails throughout the year, the peak of the season runs from July-September – the winter months for this part of the world. Large numbers of sails show up in these warm waters all the way up to Kenya, and you usually don’t have to travel very far offshore to get into them. Trolling dead baits and/or pitching baiting with live baits or strips, the sails here aren’t picky and anglers can expect 10 to 15 strikes a day. The Bazaruto Archepelago is one of last truly pristine places, that coupled with the amazing amount of wildlife and other adventures on the mainland make Mozambique an exciting place to target sails. Photo Courtesy of Rani ResortsPhoto Courtesy of Rani Resorts
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Exmouth Australia
Exmouth, Australia
These last three places represent destinations that I’ve never had the pleasure to fish personally, but since I’m young and still have my health, I hope to visit them someday soon. Exmouth in Western Australia represents one of the world’s richest and most diverse fishing destinations. Australia declared The Ningaloo Coastline as a World Heritage Marine Park, which means that the area will remain protected to be enjoyed as an untouched wilderness. The Ningaloo Reef provides a perfect ecosystem that supports a wide variety of marine life, but the sails make their major showing from October through December. The sails come in so thick that many anglers target sails on the fly here. Also, the presence of both black and striped marlin make Exmouth a decent place to score a grand slam. Plus, it’s in freaking Australia … where the people speak English and all the fishing is incredible! Several good gameboats with excellent equipment service the area, so you know you won’t travel halfway around the world and end up fishing on a rust bucket. Photo by A Ben Knaggs image. Exmouth Visitor Centre www.exmouthwa.com.auA Ben Knaggs image. Exmouth Visitor Centre www.exmouthwa.com.au
10 Best Sailfish Destinations Kuala Rompin, Singapore
Kuala Rompin, Singapore
I first heard about the great sailfish bite off Singapore when one of our Marlin U students, Capt. Mike Tan of Bluesails Sportfishing clued me in during our Kona session last year. Capt Mike has released well over 5,000 sails for his fishing guests along with a decent number of juvenile black marlin. Sailfish are caught here year around but the best times coincide with summer monsoons from March until September. Tan has even caught seven sails in one day pitching top water plugs to feeding sails!Dave Ferrell
10 Best Sailfish Destination Phucket Thailand
Phucket, Thailand
This island in the Andaman Sea offers up some great sailfish action. Pacific Sailfish are present all year around Phuket, but the peak occurs between June and August during the monsoon season. There is a good fleet of boats that service the area and several extremely nice resorts. The legendary Thai food and hospitality, combined with 6 to 10 shots at good sized sails a day should make the trip an awesome Asian adventure. With a good infrastructure and safe, tourist friendly atmosphere, a fishing trip to Thailand should be a no brainer. A decent number of juvenile black marlin only sweetens the pot.File Photo