The island nation of Puerto Rico has long had a love affair with offshore fishing. Naturally, this history led to the creation of the International Billfish Tournament of San Juan, which is now the longest consecutively held big-game fishing tournament in the world. In August, the event celebrated its platinum anniversary, with 70 years of history, competition and camaraderie. And from the shotgun start and flag ceremony to the closing awards celebration, it’s a sport-fishing spectacle like no other.
Club Náutico de San Juan has championed Puerto Rico’s nautical lifestyle for more than 90 years. The historic club was founded in 1933 overlooking San Antonio Channel, a location where it remains today. The IBT was among the first to establish minimum qualifying lengths for blue marlin, and then went to an all-release format long before it was fashionable as a nod to the importance of conservation. And while the fishing has had its ups and downs over the past seven decades, this event proved to be a memorable one. This year, the IBT hosted 60 participating boats and 252 anglers representing eight countries, including the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ecuador, Venezuela, Italy, Turkey, and the United States, as well as Puerto Rico.
According to tournament director Richard Christiansen Jr., 45 percent of participating vessels had at least one release during the three-day event, and five boats had two. Quantified, a visiting team from Texas, won the event on time with four blue marlin, followed by Pillo, a local boat, also with four. Nage, another local Puerto Rican entry, slid into third place with three releases.
Top Angler honors went to Pillo owner Isaias Mora with three releases—his son Francisco released the team’s fourth fish. Anglers follow an hourly rotation program to evenly spread out the shots at fish, which makes for fair and exciting competition in the cockpit. Carlos Padrón and Van Wichers each released two blues, with Wichers winning as the top visiting angler on Quantified. Ana Maldonado was the top lady angler with two blues on the 52-foot Viking Lala.
No stranger to success, she’s been the top lady in this event in the past, Christiansen noted. She released her second fish as time was winding down on the final day. For the tournament, there were 40 blue marlin released. During the awards celebration, Christiansen announced that planning has already begun for the 71st edition of the IBT, so whether you’re a solo angler or a competitive team, this is definitely one to add to the calendar for 2024.