The proud members of the Club Nautico de San Juan, located on the edge of metropolitan San Juan, Puerto Rico, love to invite anglers from all over the world to fish the local waters. Sure, the club members value the opportunity to pick up new tips from anglers who fish in various hot spots around the globe, but they also love to catch fish and throw a good party. That's the basic premise behind the San Juan International Billfish Tournament, and it has been working like a charm for more than half a century.
The tournament sets itself apart by hosting themed parties, a boat parade, amazing dinners and "wife-friendly" daily activities. A consistent blue marlin bite doesn't hurt either. Of all the unique characteristics that this prestigious tournament brings to the table, however, the opportunity to compete as an international angler is what most anglers find so appealing. The tournament format allows fishermen from around the world entrance onto some of the best boats in the Caribbean. Each boat in the fleet must leave a spot open for an international angler. And these aren't rinky-dink charter boats - these are beautiful private yachts with top-notch crews.
"For our international anglers, you just show up with a rod," says past tournament director Gonzalo Ferrer. "Even if you don't have a rod, we put you on a different boat every day. That way you get to know the owner and the teams. It's very hands-on. You really get to meet our people here. It's a winning formula and format that are not very common throughout the world. Many places you have to charter a boat if you want to fish in the tournament. Here, you can put a team of your friends together and come compete as international anglers."
It's an excellent way to learn different techniques and make new friends. My father always told me that each time you fish with a new person, you should learn something new - even if the thing you learn is that you will never fish with that crew again.
To kick off the event, the fleet gathers just off the coast of the historic Fort San Felipe del Morro, a fascinating structure built by the Spanish in the 1500s. The fort's looming presence makes the perfect backdrop for the shotgun start. The boats blast off for the fishing grounds but do not stay on plane for long. The edge drops off like the Grand Canyon, and the outriggers come down just a few miles from shore. The Puerto Rican Trench, the deepest waters found in the Atlantic, starts just off the coast of the island.
The best months to fish off San Juan are around the moon phases of July, August and September. I fished on three different boats during the 2009 San Juan Tournament and found that they all ran a spread of lures similar to that found in St. Thomas: two bridge teasers, two short teasers off the transom cleats and four lures. Each boat also carried rigged pitch baits - dink ballyhoo for smaller blues and split-tail mullet, mackerel or horse ballyhoo for the bigger fish.