Tag Archives: Snorkel with Sailfish

Sailfish and Sardine Run Trip Report 2017

Sailfish and Sardines in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Trip Report 2017

2017 Highlights: Sailfish along with bonus Whale Sharks, Dolphins, and Giant Manta Rays.

2 spaces left on our 2018 Sailfish Expedition

Private charter for sailfish and sardine run mexico
Sailfish maintain the baitball close to the surface and wait their turn

This year I lead 2 groups down to Isla Mujeres for the Sardine Run.  Each group was on our charter boat for 5 full days on the water.

This year’s experience demonstrated to all of us how the sardines and sailfish are just two pieces of a larger ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico.  We encountered Whale Sharks, Giant Mantas, Sailfish , and Dolphins all feeding in food rich waters.  The sardines are there to feed on the plankton  and krill and they attract all the species that want to eat sardines such as the sailfish and dolphins.  We were excited to see so many different species out in the open blue water.

Photograph sailfish in Mexico
A guest photographs among a group of sailfish in a coordinated attack on the baitball

On our first day when we found the dolphins we thought we had found a pod feeding on sardines and perhaps the same bait school that some sailfish were working,  but this was not the case.  In fact the encounter was more unusual:  this was a pod in the act of mating.  The frenzied males were chasing the females and competing with each other to dominate her. They paid no notice to us as we swam along and photographed them.

pod of dolphins
We were able to swim with a pod of dolphins
sailfish Mexico
Sailfish and sardines

Over the next few days we found some sailfish.  The captain and crew must look for frigate birds diving into the water.  This is a sign that sardines or other food is near the surface.  Spotting the surface disturbance of the sailfish or sardines would be impossible so the birds are the best method to find Sailfish.  We are very lucky to work with experienced and patient captains for have loads of experience in these waters.  They found us several chances to “drop” us  in the water  with sailfish.

Captain of Sailfish Charter boat
Our Captain searching for birds, sardines, and sailfish
Sailfish Charter Boat
Our boat has located a flock of frigate birds which means sailfish and sardines below
Frigate birds
Captains look for Frigate Birds which flock around sardines close to the surface
snorkel with sailfish
The water is warm enough for 3mm wetsuits or less

Once in the water it is some fast surface swimming to catch up to the moving baitball.  I have found that it is easier to keep up with a group of sailfish who are managing a smaller baitball. The large schools of sardines  move and break apart to rapidly.

sailfish and baitball
Bait Ball: the sailfish like to keep the ball tight and close to the surface
Swim with sailfish Mexico
Sailfish and baitball

The sailfish work together to trap the sardines near the surface. The birds are diving down to grab fish at the same time as sailfish take turns running into the baitball and swatting at the fish to stun them.  They then eat fish that are stunned and separated from the ball.  Then a another makes a run. The sailfish flash colors and their “sail” fins as a means of communication.  This action makes for great video.

Snorkel with Sailfish
Guests enjoying the search for sailfish

It can be a long day of searching for sailfish so on a less productive day we  tried a different area and were excited to find  feeding whale sharks and giant mantas.  These two species are known to aggregate in these waters in the summer months, so it is unusual to find them in the winter.  We had nice long encounters with the whale sharks.  The giant mantas swam in loops while they fed.  I was able to take many images of their individualized markings.  I submit all my manta photos to the local Manta Trust .  They confirmed that these are mantas that have been documented in the area during summer concluding that there is a resident population – very exciting!

Isla Mujeres Whale Shark
On one of the days we could not find the sailfish, we found whale sharks
Whale Shark
Whale shark feeding on the same food that the sardines enjoy
Giant Manta Ray
We found a group of mantas and whale sharks drawn to the food the sardines also eat. They were willing subjects for a long time.
Snorkel with manta rays
A guest free dives to photograph a manta

All of my guests had some great images and were pleased with the surprise species encounters and with the fact that we were able to find sailfish.  I wish to thank all of them for making this an enjoyable trip for everyone.  I hope to see them on a future trip.

Equipment

I was very conscious of baggage volume and weight when I made  my equipment choices.  My biggest decision was between my 16 – 35mm lens and the fish eye.  I have used both before for sailfish.  While the images with the fisheye were nice, one drawback was how close you need to be to get a good shot. Also if you get too close, your subject gets distorted at the edges of the image.  I did not want to bring both or switch my equipment halfway through, so I opted for the 16 – 35mm.

I have a Nauticam housing with my best glass dome port.  I also had  a 2nd 5DMKIII as a backup and set for land images.  No strobes as they would just slow down my swimming.

I have had my housing from my old Canon 5DII converted to fit my 2nd 5D III or a future RS.  I like things to be interchangeable and to carry less equipment.

My initial setup was thus:

Canon 5D MKIV  with a 16 – 35mm lens  ISO  400  1/320 and f5.6

When  conditions were cloudy or if the action was further below the surface,  I stayed in the ISO 400 – 640 range, Shutter priority.  For the sunny days and surface shots, I would dial things down.

The subjects are alway moving so a center weighted autofocus mode is important as is keeping the shutter fast enough to get crisp images.

 

Private Charter swim with Sailfish
Our boat as we swim back for another drop on the baitball

 

You can enjoy my sailfish images from past seasons in my online gallery

Online Gallery of Sailfish and Other Underwater Images

Dates for my Next Sailfish Trip

Sailfish Hunting Article

Staying on Isla Mujeres

As always, Isla Mujeres is a fun and comfortable home base for this adventure (and our whale shark trip in the summer).  Our hotel is close to the dock and restaurants, while being a quiet place to rest.

Pool at our hotel

Restaurant in Isla Mujeres
One of the colorful restaurants in town

There is a nice pool which leads down to the beach.  The rooms have AC and many have a balcony facing the water.

Sailfish Statue
Isla Mujeres is a destination for beach goers and sport fishermen practicing catch and release
Isla Mujeres Sailfish
One of the many colorful murals around town

Sailfish Group Trip

There are many good restaurants in town and food is very economical (average of $30 total for  dinner) .   We feasted on fresh fish, Mediterranean dishes, local tastes, and Cuban. I have been going so many years now that I have a list of the best places to please all my guests.

Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish
The first group out at one of the excellent and economical restaurants in Isla Mujeres

The shops are colorful and the people are friendly and we enjoyed just walking around town.   The guests and I  had happy hour around the pool with great conversations .

I hope to share another adventure with each of them and I am already looking forward to my next visit to Isla Mujeres.

Join my next Sailfish or other underwater adventure

 

Sailfish & Sardine Adventure for Feb 2019

A Special Opportunity to Join a Most Exciting Marine Wildlife Encounter

Sailfish Hunting Bait Balls in Isla Mujeres

Our next adventure will be  January 2019

5 boat days for sailfish

Limited to 5 guests

swim with sailfish and sardine run
A guest snorkels while photographing sailfish

Photograph and free dive with sailfish hunting sardines in the blue water off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Our private charter leaves daily from the docks of Isla Mujeres for an 8 hour day of maximum time in the water photographing and enjoying this incredible encounter.

Only snorkeling gear is required and the action happens at or a meter or two below the surface. 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.

sailfish and sardine run Mexico
A sailfish has snagged a sardine from the bait ball and eats it, Gulf of Mexico

Read my article about Swimming with Sailfish  from Underwater Photographer Magazine Issue#71

 Images and Trip Reports:

Trip Report 2016

Trip Report 2017

Sailfish Image Gallery 

Trip Details on my Website

Comments from our Guests:

The trip was fantastic.  Excellent itinerary and well organized.  I saw way more sailfish than I ever expected and was much closer than I thought possible.  My friends are amazed by the photos I took.  I got a really good shot of you that I attached.  Many thanks to you and Karen.  Michael and I are spreading the word about a trip to Africa.  Great trip and hope to see you again” ——- Kurt Bitters

“Had a great time in the water and topside. And, I salute your restaurant selections! I’ll be back for more… you’re a topnotch guide and host.  I will be back for more.”

— Bob Pooley

 

sailfish-4

The hotel has a private beach with pool and deck. The rooms are ensuite with a balcony, AC, and wifi. Upgraded rooms are available at extra cost. The town of Isla Mujeres is safe and features many great restaurants, shops, beaches, bars, and a park. It is an easy ferry ride from Cancun.

I will need a minimum of 4 guests to make this trip happen and a max of 5 to allow for uncrowded boat and encounters.

 

Please contact me soon with your interest so I finalize bookings and make sure I get space on the fleet’s and hotel’s busy in season schedule. Contact Me

Get more details & images on our website

Contact us to reserve your spot 

Sailfish Trip Report 2016 – Hunting Action Underwater

Trip Report 2016

My 5 guests and myself had a very successful 5 days of photographing sailfish.  My sailfish and other underwater photo trips

The weather was overcast,  but we were able to find sailfish each day we headed out.  The first day we found dolphins and sailfish working the same large bait ball.  This was  fast and chaotic scene.   We did several drops from the boat to keep up with them.  It was a great trial by fire for my guests who are new to sailfish.

sailfish and sardines

Sailfish

Sailfish Hunting sardines

Our second day stayed with smaller groups of sardines and bait balls.  I found that the smaller the ball, the slower the sailfish moved making it easier for us slow humans to keep up and photograph the action.  We were privileged with several hours long sessions in the water with the sailfish and their prey .

Sailfish and Sardine Run

About the next Sailfish Trip

For processing the photos I used Adobe Lightroom with some scatter and spot removal via Photoshop.  I used Sharpening and Contrast tools to bring out the detail.  Some required a Curves adjustment to brighten them up.

swim with billfish in Mexico

During our stay on Isla Mujeres,  we took one of the days to try out the new cage for mako sharks.  We loaded the cage onto their largest boat and headed out.  We picked a likely spot off shore and chummed and trolled bait.

Overall I am very pleased with our results.  The crew was excellent and very skilled at getting us to the right places and finding the sailfish.  Once we were on them they could get us in the water and back into the boat for another drop.  I thank them for making it a special trip for our first time guests and those who have been before.

About the Mako Shark Cage

Equipment

I was very conscious of baggage volume and weight when I made  my equipment choices.  My biggest decision was between my 16 – 35mm lens and the fish eye.  I have used both before for sailfish.  While the images with the fisheye were nice, one drawback was how close you need to be to get a good shot. Also if you get too close, your subject gets distorted at the edges of the image.  I did not want to bring both or switch my equipment halfway through, so I opted for the 16 – 35mm.

I have a Nauticam housing with my best glass dome port.  I also had  a 2nd 5DMKIII as a backup and set for land images.  No strobes as they would just slow down my swimming.

I have had my housing from my old Canon 5DII converted to fit my 2nd 5D III or a future RS.  I like things to be interchangeable and to carry less equipment.

Sailfish and Bait Balls

My initial setup was thus:

Canon 5D MKIII  with a 16 – 35mm lens  ISO  500  1/250 and f5.6

The conditions were cloudy much of the time so I stayed in the ISO 400 – 640 range, Shutter priority

Sailfish Photography

Sailfish hunting bait balls in Mexico

snorkel and photograph sailfish in Mexico

Swim with Sailfish Mexico

You can enjoy my sailfish images from past season in my online gallery

Online Gallery of Sailfish and Other Underwater Images

Dates for my Next Sailfish Trip

Sailfish Hunting Sardines Article

2017 Sailfish Trip Report

Isla Mujeres

 

Sailfish in Mexico

As always, Isla Mujeres is a fun and comfortable home base for this adventure (and out whale shark trip).  We had nice rooms which were so new they paint was barely dry. We were right on the beach and the pool was very refreshing after  a day at sea.

Restaurant in Isla Mujeres
One of the colorful restaurants in town

There are more good restaurants than we could get to for our dinners.  We feasted on fresh fish, Mediterranean dishes, local tastes and Cuban.

fisherman in Isla Mujeres
a man brings home is barracuda catch

The shops are colorful and the people are friendly and we enjoyed just walking around town.   The guest and I  had happy hour around the pool with great conversations .  I hope to share another adventure with each of them.

boat for sailfish
a guest waiting in the water for a pickup

Pool at our hotel

Join our Next Trip

Sailfish Gallery – Sardine Run Isla Mujeres

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run in the Gulf of Mexico off Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres MexicoIn a few days I will be heading to Mexico to photograph the Sailfish.

This is a  challenging photographic situation: the fish are fast, the baitballs in chaos, birds diving at the surface, action all around.  It is well worth it to witness this spectacle.  The images can be exciting and beautiful capturing a dramatic natural spectacle.

Please enjoy this gallery of my sailfish images from the past years.  I look forward to sharing my images from my upcoming trip.

Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico

These images were taken with my Canon 5D MKII and MKIII in an underwater housing .

The lenses I used were a EF15mm F2.8 Fisheye  and an EF 16-35mm f2.8   .  While I found an equal number of good photos taken with both lenses, for this year’s trip I will just take the 16-35mm.  I base this decision on the fact that I have to get very close with the fisheye and given the speed of these animals and the choas, it is difficult and if I miss the sweet spot I get distortion of the fish’s body shape.

 

Interested in Joining Me next year?  Information on my Next Sailfish Trip 

 

Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico Sailfish and Sardine Run Isla Mujeres Mexico

 

Other blog posts you may like:

Using the Lightroom Dehaze filter to correct underwater images

Underwater Photography Image Gallery

Sailfish and Sardines Trip information

My Snorkel and Scuba Trips

Photo Safari in South Africa Dates