Whether you are addicted to hot billfish action, or like chasing records, the incredible fishing at the following 12 premier big-game destinations is not to be missed. See what makes each place special, and where your favorite species is most abundant.
When it comes to Pacific sailfish, no other destination in the world comes close to matching Iztapa, Guatemala, where for over two decades game boats have routinely raised two to three dozen sails daily during peak season, which runs from November through April, and some have tallied over 50 releases on particularly good days. Even the shoulder seasons, leading to and winding down from the best fishing period, offer double-digit chances most days. And sails are not the only billfish available. There’s a good black marlin run in Guatemala from December through March, with plenty in the 250- to 400-pound range, blue marlin of similar size add to the fun from April through July, and a few striped marlin make a showing from November through January.
Piñas Bay, Panama
Anglers fishing renowned Tropic Star Lodge have amassed countless world-record catches since the early 60s. Other than in October and November, monsoon season in that region, the billfishing is outstanding. The black and Pacific blue marlin bites are strong in January and February, and again from July through December, with lots of 250- to 350-pounders, and a fair number of leviathans weighing north of 500 pounds. Pacific sailfish are in good supply from May through New Year’s. And it’s not unusual for boats to release two, or all three of the different billfish species available in a single day.
While South Florida has a long-standing reputation as an Atlantic sailfish hot spot that often yields multiple daily releases from fall through spring, it has also become the world’s top swordfish destination over the last dozen years, and rightfully so, as here anglers targeting broadbills, day or night, stand a great chance to hook one or more fish in just a few hours. Top local captains have pioneered various new techniques to catch swords, including live-bait trolling and even sight-fishing with flies, major departures from drifting deep baits with strobes or Cyalume light sticks, the classic method used by most.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
With sport fishing fleets releasing some 2,000 striped marlin a year, it’s easy to understand why Cabo San Lucas is considered “Striped Marlin Central.” While the stripes remain active year-round, the best months to target them in that area is January through May, and again November and December. Abundant and wildly acrobatic, stripes off Cabo range in weight from 120 and 200 pounds, and if they aren’t enough of an incentive to visit this Mexican resort town, black and Pacific blue marlin are also common catches, especially July through October, and swordfish, some of which are targeted while finning on the surface here, are plentiful from February through the end of May.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
A pair of very deep canyons known as the North and South drops are marlin super highways that bring blue marlin in great numbers within easy reach of boats out of St. Thomas during the summer months. While most of the blues in these waters run in the 250- to 400-pound range, plenty of 500-pound-plus specimens are caught every season, and the potential for a grander is always there. A few submerged pinnacles a short run from the island also attract their share of blues, along with some white marlin and sailfish.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
Hatteras and Oregon Inlet in North Carolina’s Outer Banks offer some of the finest billfishing in the entire Eastern Seaboard. Atlantic blue marlin become a major protagonist during springtime, and the white marlin and sailfish bite is red hot during summer and early fall, as both species migrate along the edge of the Gulf Stream, staging for extended periods wherever forage abounds. Multiple hookups are commonplace, especially with whites, which frequently hunt in packs, so reaching double-digit release totals is a goal often achieved by boats fishing the area.
Quepos, Costa Rica
The abundance of Pacific sailfish enabled top big-game captains in the 70s and 80s to perfect many of the light-tackle and fly-fishing techniques we use today, and boats out of Quepos and nearby Los Sueños still continue to amass thousands of releases every year, especially from January through April, and again in November and December, the peak periods for sails in Tico waters. In addition, fishing Costa Rica's FAD’s and seamounts located more than 100 miles offshore yield some incredible marlin action. Boats fishing around them often tally a dozen or more releases of blue, black and striped marlin in a single day.
Carioca waters off Vitoria have produced a number of world records, but none more impressive than the largest Atlantic blue marlin (1,402 pounds) and the largest white marlin (181 pounds). Brazilian billfish are most abundant from October through March, when hooking more than half a dozen fish won’t raise any eyebrows. Sailfish are also caught sporadically. And running to the big drop in the continental shelf, less than 25 miles off the coast, is usually all it takes to get in on the amazing action.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
The Yucatan Channel between Cancun and Isla Mujeres is loaded with sailfish from February through May. The sailfish bite, which starts as early as January, improves steadily with the arrival of large schools of baitfish, and peaks from March through May. With wolfpacks of sails corralling bait pods, double and triple headers are commonplace, also providing light-tackle and fly-fishing enthusiasts plenty of opportunities to hook up. During the spring, hordes of white marlin also migrate through the area and compete for food with the sails, making for some wild action.
Pacific blue marlin, including some giants weighing over 800 pounds, are caught year-round off Kona, where warm and very deep waters stretch to the east, south and west, beginning just a few hundred yards from shore. Striped marlin are also available in the region, but primarily during the winter months. The peak time for blues is June through September, and for stripes, January through March is best. Kona also offers anglers the chance to complete their quest for all 9 billfish species, by catching shortbill spearfish, the rarest of them all, which migrate through the Hawaiian islands from late fall through spring.
If it’s big black marlin you’re after, or just a great chance to tangle with a grander, there’s no better place on earth than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where from Late August through December blacks are not only plentiful, they’re also huge. In fact, 70 percent of the granders caught worldwide hail from the stretch between Cairns and Lizard Island, as female blacks of superlative size make lengthy pilgrimages from parts unknown to patrol fertile Great Barrier Reef waters for 4 or 5 months every year. In Addition to blacks, blue marlin of considerably size offer a great second option, and Pacific sails also make an entrance now and again.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Some of the Caribbean’s top marlin grounds are just a short run from Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic’s east coast, where game boats troll for white and Atlantic blue marlin over a series of banks located 12 to 20 miles offshore, in the western side of fabled Mona Passage. When the bite really heats up, usually during peak season between mid April and early July, it’s quite common for boats to raise a dozen or more marlin, both blues and whites, in a single day. In addition, some sailfish show up now and then.