The 59th International Billfish Tournament of Club Nautico de San Juan ended over the weekend, and the participants enjoyed some pretty good fishing. The 148 participating anglers — from eight countries — fishing aboard 43 boats released 102 blue marlin. That comes out to an average of 2½ blues per boat — not too shabby!
I’ve been fortunate enough to have fished the San Juan International, and during the 50th anniversary, in 2003, I won the big-fish prize by releasing a blue marlin before 8:30 a.m. on the first day. Since no one killed a fish during that event (it was the last year that you could kill a blue marlin in this tournament), I won a nice watch. I was fishing with my good friend Dr. Thomas Irizarry, and we had a great time, even though that was the only fish we saw in three days and had no idea that we had won anything! I offered to give the watch to Irizarry to pay some of the expenses, but he politely declined. He’s a good egg!
The San Juan tournament is one of my favorites, because anyone with a rod and reel and $1,850 can show up and fish the event. You don’t need an entire team — just you and your rod. The tournament puts you on a different boat each day, and you get to fish your rod and lure where you want it in the spread. The entry fee pays for a ton of parties and dinners as well, so it’s really a great tournament for those of us without the megabucks that most prestigious events like this one require for entry. I reckon I’ll have to make it back down there this next year to hit the 60th!
The IBT is a well-orchestrated fishing competition that boasts nightly parties, a spectacular boat parade, a special ladies’ program, a shootout start past the famous El Morro Castle, an honorary jet flyover welcoming the fleet back to shore, and a tournament finale gala awards banquet, where more than 30 prizes are presented.
This year the tournament partnered up with the National Geographic Society in order to deploy several “critter cams” that will be showcased in an upcoming TV show. The IBT also welcomed professionals from The Billfish Foundation and the International Game Fishing Association. In fact, in addition to the six successful critter-cam deployments, several pop-up archival satellite tags were also placed in released blue marlin. Five tags placed in last year’s tournament have already been recovered. The tag recovered from farthest away was placed by the late Puerto Rican captain Mike Benitez. It popped up 4,776 nautical miles away, off the coast of Angola, Africa, nearly four months later.
If you think you can fish just one international tournament next year, I’d highly recommend a trip to San Juan!