Puerto Rico: The Isle of Dreams
by Till Brauer photos Jose Fussa
The island of Puerto Rico is a short three- to four-hour flight from any major city on the East Coast and truly offers some of the most sensational blue marlin, inshore and offshore light tackle and fly fishing opportunities in the Caribbean. While some other destinations get a lot of exposure through their tourism bureaus, Puerto Rico’s fisheries have evolved mostly through word of mouth advertising, which has created a somewhat secret following among knowledgeable fishermen around the world.
Puerto Rico is also a Commonwealth of the United States and shares currency, commerce and military ties to the U.S; therefore, a passport is not necessary to enter Puerto Rico, making it a truly “no hassle” destination.
You can be assured that these visiting anglers and their families coming into San Juan will enjoy all the comforts of home, fine hotel accommodations, casinos for the ones that want to try their luck, great restaurants featuring exciting cuisines from around the world and a vibrant nightlife. There are accommodations of every price range available, from quaint bed and breakfast hostels to luxurious suites, limited only by your imagination and spending ability.
San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, is a modern city boasting over 500 years of colonial construction and history, featuring such Colonial Spanish period architecture as the El Morro Fortress and the stunning San Juan Cathedral. Old San Juan is a jewel in the Caribbean, and visitors are well advised to spend a few hours or a day walking through the cobblestone paved narrow streets, wondering what history happened there centuries ago.
As expected, Puerto Rico also boasts fine sand beaches and warm, clear water that appeals to snorkeling and scuba diving enthusiasts. Also, challenging golf courses, tennis, rappelling, zip lining and various other watersports and others are available throughout the island.
Puerto Rico truly is a spectacular island with diverse climate conditions enabling for really extreme changes in the scenery and opportunities for sightseeing. The endless variety of beaches, lush mountains, dry tropical deserts and tropical rainforests make Puerto Rico a really unique traveling experience with many tours available and always something to do for the non-anglers in the family.
Surrounded by water, the island of Puerto Rico and its main neighboring islands of Vieques and Culebra have fishing of all types, from largemouth and peacock bass in freshwater lakes and man-made reservoirs; spectacular estuary fishing for tarpon, snook and jacks; flats fishing for bonefish and permit, all the way to the largest gamefish in the world, blue marlin.
One of the main points for visiting boats and anglers is the fact that the offshore fishing is done within sight of land, none of that running for hours to reach the deep waters where pelagic gamefish roam. You will be fishing within two miles of the coast thanks to the deep waters of the Puerto Rico Trench.
Quite remarkably, the tarpon fishery, ranked amongst the best in the world, is also very close to the hotels and hustle and bustle of the city. The world famous San Juan Estuary is actually located behind the San Juan International Airport and Isla Verde Beach. This enables you to catch a tarpon at sunrise and a marlin before lunch.
In terms of fishing, the island is most famous for its impressive run of blue marlin of all sizes. In fact, the northern coast of Puerto Rico is also known as “Marlin Alley.” Marlin season runs from the month of June to the end of October. These days, most of the blue marlin are released to fight another day and we are very proud to say that Puerto Rico’s sport fishermen were among the pioneers in the release of blue marlin when the idea came out in the early 1980s.
The possibility of a grander blue marlin is always there when you are fishing the North Coast. In fact, the longest running blue marlin tournament in the world, The San Juan International Billfish Tournament, has been hosted by the classy Club Nautico de San Juan for over 60 years without interruption. To date, this tournament continues to attract anglers from as far away as Europe and South Africa and many anglers have fished the tournament for decades—it truly is a world class event (visit www.sanjuaninternational.com for more information). On the west coast, a very special light tackle blue marlin tournament is held in October. The Club Deportivo del Oeste International Light Tackle Blue Marlin Tournament challenges anglers, crews and Captains to fight and release blue marlin on light tackle. It’s a lot of fun and the use of circle hooks for bait fishermen is mandatory, as the healthy release of a marlin ensures that it recovers from the battle. For information on this event, got to www.clubdeportivodeloeste.com
While blue marlin are available in fluctuating numbers to anglers all year round, the main season runs from the month of June to the end of October in San Juan, and slightly longer on the west coast. As the water continues to warm, these marlin will reach North Carolina and Virginia during their yearly migrations.
As it is to be expected, the local charter fleet and many private boats enjoy marlin fishing and many marinas and yacht clubs hold tournaments almost every weekend. The practice of catch and release has taken over kill tournaments gradually and Puerto Rico tournament anglers now release over 90 percent of their marlin. If you are planning on chartering a boat for a tournament or a day of offshore fishing, be advised to do so before you arrive as the best boats and crews are booked months in advance. As is common with marlin fishing everywhere around the world, most boats use heavy tackle while trolling with artificial lures, teasers and dredges etc. Some crews also specialize in pitch baiting with lighter tackle and the visitor can arrange for a personalized charter using equipment that is suitable for his experience and desire for a challenge.
As the water temperatures start to drop and fish start to migrate south, the mahi-mahi, yellowfin tuna and wahoo start to arrive with the first cold fronts from the west. These pelagic species will roam around the island much to the delight of visiting and local fishermen.
Back in the main island, the bountiful waters of the San Juan Estuary are located a few miles east from the world famous Condado hotels and Isla Verde Beach area, a very short drive from the San Juan International Airport. These waters are teeming with tarpon of all sizes and have been acknowledged among the top waters to fish for tarpon year round in the world.
To those of us lucky enough to be able to fish these waters on an almost daily basis, it is a little bit of fishing heaven just a few steps from our backdoor. Tarpon, called sabalo in Puerto Rico, are found around the island, and especially in the mouths of rivers and mangrove islands providing great sport along with snook, jack crevalle and a variety of other species. Most of the tarpon are caught with light to medium spinning tackle, fluorocarbon leaders and circle hooks.
Fly fishing is becoming increasingly popular on the island, and there are few fish as difficult to catch on a fly rod as estuary or backcountry tarpon. Some captains are very knowledgeable of this type of fishing, and customers are encouraged to call and talk to the captains before they book their fishing charter. Some have vast travel and international experience as well so ask the right questions and you will get your perfect match.
Many other species of fish are found around the island, including bonefish, permit and tarpon. In the remote islands of Culebra and Vieques, an endless variety of tropical reef species of all sizes are always ready to attack a well placed fly, bait or lure.
An important reminder is that the best tarpon season in Puerto Rico coincides with the worst winter and early spring weather conditions in the U.S, providing the angler and his family with an excuse to escape the brutal weather and enjoy a few days of tropical warmth and relaxation. As with offshore fishing, if you are planning on chartering a boat for a tarpon tournament or a day of inshore fishing, be advised to do so before you arrive, the best boats and captains are booked well in advance.
Puerto Rico truly has a great deal to offer, from the warmth and affable nature of the Puerto Rican people to the warm water lapping at your feet and the fine sand between your toes. Throw in tropical drinks, salsa, meringue and reggae music and exciting restaurants and nightlife and you’ll find yourself getting pulled in by the island’s charms. Top it off with superb fishing for blue marlin and tarpon and you’ll be solidly hooked on the isle of dreams.
Culebra and Vieques Islands
The neighboring island municipalities of Culebra and Vieques offer a complete different experience to traveling anglers. Located a few miles east of the main island and easily accessible via local ferry service or air travel, these two jewels remain largely untouched and have the finest beaches in Puerto Rico. In fact, Flamenco Beach in Culebra is continuously rated in the top 10 beaches in the world. In both of the islands, inexpensive shuttle service is readily available and good there are many great places to eat and have a cold tropical drink after enjoying a day on the water.
Fishing for bonefish, tarpon and permit is available, as well as reef species, and light tackle nearshore fishing can be very good. However, the number of guides working the area is very limited. Again, careful planning and prompt reservations will ensure that you have a good experience in these small islands. With great water clarity, snorkeling and scuba diving are also popular activities.
What to Pack Along
There are fish near shore that can be a part of the adventure for the do it yourself angler, so bring the appropriate travel rod, reels, flies and lures such as bucktail and curly-tail jigs and shiny spoons. This will keep you busy, especially in the sunrise and sunset hours. Don’t forget a spare spool of line, just in case!
Even though tarpon, snook, jacks, barracudas and other species cruise the beaches and can brighten your day from your hotel beach, the best waters are only available by boat so book your fishing charter before you get to Puerto Rico. Long sleeve shirts, sunblock, sunglasses, a camera and your favorite fishing hat complete the items that should be in your fishing pack.
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