Sailfishing at Cancun
Part 1

Sails in the sunset,
morning and afternoon.

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From April through June, Cancun provides sailfish action virtually unmatched elsewhere. It happens every spring thanks to the bait-rich waters of the Contoy Bank which is just to the northeast of Cancun.

Generally, best fishing is on the dark of the moon and just before the full moon as the migrating sails come in from deep water and eat their way north. During peak periods anglers can boat as many as 30 fish a day, though 10-15 is a more common figure.

Anglers who take advantage of the earlier season in Cozumel pursue sailfish in the deep channel between the island and the Yucatan.

Cancun-based sportfishermen, on the other hand, troll over a bottom that is almost completely flat. Sailfish group on the banks in pods of a dozen or more, so that a first strike on a trolled bait often sets the stage for a multiple hookup.

Sails will hit falling baits after a boat goes into neutral, so expect some late hits. Captains who like to roll up the numbers and keep their anglers busy will troll a bait off the bow as they back down on a fish that's already hooked.

Sailfish are usually located by following the simple but efficient rule of looking first where the fish were the day before. They're often in the same general area, though typically slightly more to the north, as they follow the bait in the swift Caribbean Current.

With a definite mid- and late-day bite pattern, there's no need to start fishing early. Almost imitating the locals, sailfish become active late in the morning and then take a siesta of several hours until around 3. From 3 on, the activity generally increases, with the best bite of the day right around sunset.

Frigate birds and balling bait are the most obvious signs of fish, but skippers will also use their depth recorders to locate bait pods.

Although the banks are relatively flat, you can find some randomly scattered humps and a good-sized ledge at the south end. Any of these irregularities may host good action, so some boats routinely troll from one marker point to the next, scanning for bait pods along the way.

For me, watching a pod of cigar minnows or herring with a recorder is fascinating. The baitfish appear as poorly defined clouds until sailfish ball them up, when they form a tall pillar. Once you see this on a screen, expect almost immediate hits.

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