Swim with Sailfish in Isla Mujeres Private Charter with Gregory Sweeney Photography

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Sailfish and the Sardine Run

Gulf of Mexico & Isla Mujeres, Mexico

February 2019

Photograph sailfish hunting sardines in the blue water off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Photographer Gregory Sweeney is your escort on our private charter that leaves daily from the docks of Isla Mujeres. We stay all day for maximum time in the water photographing and enjoying this incredible encounter. Only snorkeling gear is required. We charter the most experienced sport fishing guides who know the water and patterns of the sardines and predators. Limited to 5 passengers on boat plus guide and crew.This is an excellent opportunity for photographers to capture dramatic images and video. Freediving and excellent swimming skills are recommended in order to enjoy this athletic experience.

Read my article in UWP mag: Sailfish and Sardines in Isla Mujeres


As a extra activity, we may do a Mako Shark cage dive and breaching excursion. Read my recent article in UWP mag: Mako Cage Diving in Isla Mujeres

Photographing sailfish and sardine run in Mexico

Trip Details



Where: Isla Mujeres and the Gulf of Mexico
Participants: Limited to 5

5 days on a private charter leaving daily from Isla Mujeres for a full day looking for and freediving with sailfish and their baitball

One of the boat days will be to witness mako sharks breach and to go in the cage .


February 1 - 7 2019

Contact us now if you are interested!


*Payment & Cancellation Policies

Price Enquire for price and spaces
Map of Cancun and Gulf Of Mexico
link to Sailfish Blog Posts
link to Sailfish Images
Sailfish Trip Logs
Guest Reviews for our trips
Swim with sailfish and sardine run mexico

Trip Fee Includes:

Does not Include

Travel Planning

Guests should arrange to fly into Cancun airport (CUN)

Guests will take taxi and travel the ½ - 1 hr drive to ferry

Ferry to Isla Mujeres departs on the ½ hr then hourly in the evening until 9pm takes (about 20 minutes ride)

Guests should arrange to depart CUN at the end of the trip no earlier than mid morning allowing time for the ferry and taxi ride. If this is not possible guests should consider staying an extra day so as not to miss any time on the boat. Boat returns to dock around 3:30 each day.



Feb 1 2019 : Guests arrive on Isla Mujeres First night in hotel, get camera gear ready

Feb 2: First day on boat start early and goes to late afternoon

Feb 3,Feb 4, Feb 5 These are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th day on boat. Schedule is the same with start and stop times modified for conditions and weather

Feb 6th : Last day on boat arriving back late afternoon, last night in hotel

Feb 7th : Guests Depart



A typical day begins when we depart at 7am sharp. It only takes a few minutes to walk to the wharf. We head out at high speed for about 45 minutes then the expert crew beings to look for signals of sardine action. When a congregation is spotted, we quickly get into the water. We must also quickly get out so the boat can catch up to the moving schools of fish.

The water is moderately warm so a long 3mm suit or warmer is required. Long fins or closed heel fins are recommended

This trip is designed for photographers and those that love marine life. We make every effort to share the best encounters during this trip, but we are dealing with nature and there are no guarantees of animal encounters and no guarantees (or refunds) in regards to the weather. Due to weather, which is more of a factor in the winter months, it is possible to not be able to locate the animals or they may stay deep for a day.

A good encounter will require some swimming and getting in and out of the boat quickly and often.

This trip is ideal for strong swimmers who want to work for some exciting encounters and photographs of sailfish hunting sardine. Guests should be comfortable being on a 36 ft - 41 ft passenger boat all day and have a patient attitude, adventurous personality, have respect for the wildlife during their encounters. Aside from great pictures, we hope our guests will return with happy memories and new friends.

2017 Trip Log

Sailfish on the Hunt by Gregory Sweeney

Photographing the Sardine Run in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Each year during the winter season, nutrient rich currents flow from South America pushing its way north up onto the shallow shelf off of Isla Mujeres, Mexico drawing in large shoals of sardines and needle fish. Following these baitfish are great numbers of Atlantic sailfish (Istiophorus albicans). It is here in these shallow waters that marine life and predators collide in havoc.

Our adventure begins at the dock in early morning. We board our 36 ft custom built deep sea fishing boat both comfortable and spacious. Captain Anthony Mendillo fired up the engine and departed the dock heading out into the Mexican Caribbean.

The Keen M Vessel Painted skulls in the marketplace Mexican flag

Swimming with Needles in a Giant Pinball Game

Locating the sailfish and sardines can take a combination of a few ingredients: lots of patience, persistence, years of experience, and one last ingredient: frigate birds. Captain Anthony, with years of fishing knowledge under his belt, knows how to locate the sailfish. Soon we spot frigate birds (Fregata Magnificens) swirling in a funnel cloud formation. Approaching their location the water surface looks like it's boiling from all the sardines breaking the surface, then we notice the backs of large bluish gray fish. Our excitement level rises; we don our fins, mask, and tightly clutch underwater cameras as we slip into the water. Once underwater we see a large bait ball of sardines moving in unison shifting in many different directions. Twenty to thirty sailfish are orbiting around this bait ball.

A frigate bird signals where the sardine school is swimming

The sailfish cooperate as a team to hold the bait ball together. Every time the bait ball changes direction it encounters another sailfish: that sailfish will through up it's sail-like dorsal fin to scare the bait ball into diverting in another direction. The sailfish herd the bait ball near the surface and try not to let it sink down deep or disperse. When the bait ball gets close to the surface the frigate birds dive down grapping and gulping sardines, which pushes the mass down into a tighter bait ball. This team of sailfish are not all feeding at the same time: their method is to take turns individually going after the bait ball with astounding speed and precision maneuverability slashing the dense bait ball blindly with their bills knocking hapless individuals unconscious or wounding them enough to separate them from the safety of the bait ball. The isolated sardines are consumed within seconds on a second incredibly fast turn and pass by the sailfish. The next sailfish with a good position has its turn and the cycle starts again. The whole process continues unless the sardines perform enough evasive maneuvers to loose the sailfish or the predators are full and loose interest. Competing with the sailfish in this chaos of the open seas are dolphins.

Herding the Sardines

It was truly an amazing experience watching the sailfish work together as a team using precision, accuracy, and teamwork to control the bait ball, then demolish it. I have many great pictures I feel like I have experienced an exhilarating whirling cacophony of sight not many people ever see.

An efficient predator: the sailfish Photographing Sailfish

I would like to give a special to Captain Anthony, his wife Kin, and their hard working crew for making this trip fun and successful. They are the best in the business.

Please contact us for more information about our next sailfish trip.


Gallery of Photo Safari Images

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