By Joe Byrum
The Azores have been a part of blue marlin lore for a couple of decades now. However, the archipelago’s remote location approximately 850 miles off the coast of Portugal has still limited the number of fishermen who have actually experienced this fishery firsthand. In today’s world, with yacht transport and mothership operations becoming more common, dream destinations like the Azores are becoming more of a realistic opportunity to visit.
For those in search of some of the most consistent big-fish action in the Atlantic and a legitimate shot at seeing the fish of a lifetime, it’s no surprise that the Azores is a bucket list destination. In fact, as I was working on this piece, longtime Azores captain Les Gallagher weighed a 1,067-pound blue marlin caught from the waters off Horta, a port city in the Azores.
Gallagher’s grander is no anomaly, as the Azores fleet is credited with at least six granders weighed since 2016, with the largest being 1,310 pounds. Plus, there have been many more 800-plus-pound fish that have been released. One of the most impressive things about the Portuguese island chain is that the average size of blue marlin caught here is around 500 pounds. This, combined with a short run to the fishing grounds and calm water throughout much of the marlin season, makes the Azores especially unique.
The typical blue marlin season here is relatively short, with July, August and September as the prime months. The fishing style is like other blue marlin hotspots, with most people pulling either a full spread of lures or a combination of lures and teasers with either live or dead pitch baits ready to deploy. Because the fish are large, 130s and 80s are the standard tackle outside of record fishing. Capt. Devin Silas told me that on his last 10-day trip in August, he wasn’t fishing on the moon and still saw seven fish, with five bites. During that time, he had four days with bites and six without. At the time I spoke with Silas, three blue marlin were the most he’d seen in a day since the Shoe had been in the Azores. Obviously, bite frequency will vary, but that gives an idea of realistic expectations.
While giant marlin may be the draw, they’re certainly not the only game in town. The Azores also get considerable numbers of white marlin, giant bluefin tuna (six in a day is the record), large bigeye tuna and swordfish. Yellowfins, spearfish and albacore tuna are also possibilities. Everyone I spoke to said that the fishing grounds were almost always teeming with life during the marlin season, with enormous amounts of bait very common. Popular fishing areas include the Condor Bank, Azores Bank and the ledges off North Faial Island, all within 20 miles of Horta Harbor or closer. The Princess Alice Bank is another popular spot that is a little longer run depending on your port. Silas says that they’re often dropping their riggers right after leaving the harbor and have hooked blues just beyond the basin.
Compared to many other remote marlin destinations, the Azores is relatively easy to reach by air from the U.S., with regular direct flights from Boston and New York. Sao Miguel (PDL) and Terceira (TER) are the two main international hubs, with inter-island flights available from both to reach the other islands. Taxis are available and fairly priced for airport transfers. Shipping a boat to this region is more of a logistical challenge, as there’s usually no direct route to the Azores.
Depending on the timing and availability of yacht transport ships, the most common drop-off ports are the Canary Islands, Spain (often Mallorca or Gibraltar) and even ports in Italy. All these ports require significant open water travel after drop-off to reach the Azores. Programs fishing this side of the Atlantic sometimes fish in the earlier seasons in places like Cape Verde, Madeira or the Canary Islands before coming to the Azores. But if you’re planning to run this circuit, it’s important to know that these are exceedingly long and often extremely rough crossings that are hundreds of miles away from land. The closest of these runs is from Madeira, but this is still around a 600-mile trip through the open ocean.
Horta Harbor is where most of the local charter fleet resides, but there are also popular marinas with close fishing access in Ponta Delgada and Santa Maria (Vila do Porto).
What To Know
Having recently shipped the 70’ Viking Shoe across the Atlantic and fished the Azores and other popular East Atlantic hotspots, Capt. Silas has a wealth of information. Regarding bringing a boat to the Azores, Silas says the harbors are quite easy to navigate with plenty of deep-water access.
Dockage prices are very reasonable, but one possible issue is dockage availability. Silas told me that while the harbors are large and busy with transients, most marinas here were built with 40-to-50-foot sailboats in mind and not large sportfishers. Because of this, there may only be a few slips available for boats in the 70’-plus range, and the marinas here don’t usually take reservations. He also says they can be difficult to reach by phone and email. So if there are a few large boats here at the same time, you might have to make a move to another island, as there really aren’t any good anchorages in this region.
Some marinas can get a bit of surge at times, so be aware of this when tying up. If you can acquire a slip, Silas says the Azores marinas are better than other far-flung destinations. However, there are still a few things to keep in mind.
He says the shore power is good and consistent, but to remember to bring power converters (and spares). The fuel here is clean and readily available, but he says that it can often be extremely slow from the marina, in the realm of six to eight hours to fuel up the Shoe. He recommended setting up a fuel truck to come to the dock. But to do this, you must schedule a couple of days in advance, have the local police present for the refueling and provide your captain’s license and boat insurance information. Portugal also has a law that requires you to fly a red flag while refueling.
Silas says that the customs and immigration process is easy in the Azores and though Portuguese is the native language, it was possible to get by with English. A Portugal fishing license must be purchased. Of note is that there are quotas for harvesting marlin and tunas in this area, so be sure to check these regularly before breaking the gaffs out.
Capt. Silas provided a mostly glowing review of the Azores even outside of the fishing, noting that the islands were gorgeous, and the people were very friendly. He said the food was great and easy to access via local restaurants and for provisioning. Silas also mentioned that the local dinner time is often later than in the U.S. Make restaurant reservations, he says, three to five days in advance. Some of the most popular restaurants require making reservations a couple of weeks in advance. The Azores offers a wide variety of unique experiences outside of fishing, and one that Silas recommended was visiting the active volcano on Sao Miguel, where you can have dinner cooked in the steam from the adjacent hot springs.
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