The fleet releases a good amount of fish every year. In 1988, the tournament racked up 190 blue marlin releases. Most of the blues caught off San Juan range from 250 to 500 pounds, a sporting challenge on the 50-pound gear required by tournament rules. Big blues show up off these shores as well. Roger Medlock of South Carolina caught a 1,086-pounder in 2000.
The highlight of my trip came on day two when I was paired with Luis Bacardi and his team on Rum Bum. Bacardi got the day started, hooking a nice blue on the shotgun lure. The fish appeared behind the long rigger, and Bacardi reeled in the shotgun at the perfect time, getting the fish to switch over just as it was about to fade off. Capt. Baxter Still did an expert job of maneuvering on the fish, and Bacardi got it to the boat for the tag-and-release in about 20 minutes. Next, Doug Covin hooked a lively blue of about 300 pounds. The fish nearly hit the boat as it took off on a wild tear down the port side of the Bertram. A mystery bite on the left rigger during my rotation turned into another rowdy blue on the leader. This fish was a scrapper and stayed deep for most of the fight, but thanks to the work of the veteran crew, I caught the 275-pounder after about a 30-minute fight. Covin added another blue in the late afternoon, helping the team go 4-for-4 on the day - a damn good score no matter where in the world you are. Rum Bum went on to win the event, and Covin took home second-place-angler honors. As for me, I got the lucky draw, getting to ride along with the hot boat.
As we backed into the covered slip at the club, a group of people waited to congratulate the team on a fantastic day and do a little recon in the hunt for some top-secret information. There wasn't much to tell; we were just at the right place at the right time. That evening, at a safari-themed pig roast, I spoke at length with some of the older club members. I quickly learned that this tournament and the big-game scene in San Juan are about more than just fishing. It's about conservation, camaraderie, good times and sportsmanship. It should come as no surprise that San Juan is home to the longest consecutively held international big-game fishing tournament in the world.
San Juan serves as a major airline hub for the entire Caribbean, so finding a flight to Puerto Rico is never a problem. And since the island is a U.S. territory, Americans do not need a passport or visa, making the trip nice and easy.
For those anglers taking part in the International Billfish Tournament at the Club Nautico de San Juan, you need not worry about a thing. The event staff makes sure to take care of all your needs, including providing ground transportation to and from the airport as well as cab vouchers to take you from the host hotel to the club and back each day. The 2010 tournament is slated for August 16-22. To view a complete schedule of events, rules, rates, hotel information and everything else you will need to know about the event, visit www.sanjuaninternational.com. You can also contact the tournament director, Frankie Mirandes, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 787-722-0177.
For those looking to charter a boat in San Juan any time of year, contact Benitez Marine Services and Sport Fishing at 787-723-2292, or visit www.mikebenitezsportfishing.com. Mike Benitez also operates a ship's store located just below the club.
If it's your first trip to San Juan, set aside a day to tour Old San Juan, especially El Morro. It's well worth your time.