I may not have caught a sailfish, but I did learn some Spanish swear words. Enjoying some well needed sun in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, I booked a half-day fishing trip through my hotel. I wasn’t quite sure what this would entail, but the price wasn’t too steep and the boat would pick me up from the beach in front of the hotel.

The start time was a little hazy; however I was content to have a leisurely breakfast overlooking the sea, whilst I waited. And waited. I sipped cold drinks on a beach-lounger and scanned the horizon for a white dot coming round from the harbour south of Playa del Carmen. Not the worst way of passing time.

The small craft eventually turned up and we headed out to patrol the waters along the beachfront, a mile or two offshore. It was a little early in the season for the billfish, but barracuda and wahoo were a possibility. The four rods – one straight back, one down-rigger and two outriggers – were set up with ballyhoo-baited lures, and sent out into the blue.

Within the first half-hour came a strong take on the downrigger. The skipper passed the rod over, but the fish had gone. On examining the bait, I saw the fish had somehow chomped the ballyhoo in half and managed to miss both hooks. “Barracuda” suggested the skipper.


The clock ticked on, for an hour or more without any further takes. I stared at the rods and reapplied the sun-screen.

Another take! And another miss! The skipper swore his filthiest Spanish oaths, and wound in the slashed bait and twisted wire leader. A sailfish, he thought.

The only further diversion was when the first mate called for us to look off the bow at a white marlin or swordfish. I got up just in time to catch a glimpse of the unmistakable ghostly white shape of a billfish below the water. So they were there, just not taking our lure today.

With time running out, and the trolling not producing, we agreed the last hour would be dedicated to bottom-fishing. It was a little disappointing to give up on the chance of catching the monsters, but it was a way of getting something on the boat at least. The technique and tackle was simple enough: A 2-hook paternoster, baited with chunks of the ballyhoo, fished on the sea-bed. It wasn’t long before the bites started, and although I needed a few re-baitings, I eventually got a double-header. “Banana Fish” yelled the skipper; which seems to be his tourist-friendly name for Sand Tilefish. I boated and released three more of these before my time was up.

Sand Tilefish, Malacanthus Plumieri
Sand Tilefish, Malacanthus plumieri

So, no billfish for me this time. Maybe next time. Later in the season.


Total Catch:

  • 5 Sand Tilefish