Among tropical enthusiasts in search of their next Caribbean getaway, Puerto Rico is often overlooked in favor of more trendy and exotic boutique destinations. Many pass through en route to nearby islands that are more romanticized, yet those who’ve visited and become intimate with this easily accessible island dream always come back for more.
As a mate on a transient game boat that traveled to St. Thomas for 20 years to partake in the epic fishery that begins every year with the full moon in May, Puerto Rico was really only an occasional stop for us to clear customs or take on fuel. For years the North Drop off St. Thomas was the epicenter of Atlantic blue marlin fishing for traveling sport fishers from across the Eastern Seaboard, and it still very much is. However, with a new face of sport fishing many owners are choosing to spend their time at the latest Caribbean rock star—the Dominican Republic. With big release numbers of blue and white marlin, and new infrastructure accommodating the most discriminating clientele, captains and owners have since almost forgotten about the long run to St. Thomas.
Every year anglers await the arrival of big blue marlin, and it’s not a matter of if they are coming, but more a question of when and how many.
What makes the Cap Cana area of the Dominican Republic such a hotbed for activity is the Mona Passage, which separates the Dominican Republic from Puerto Rico. Through this 68 nm channel, current rips converge and game fish abound, with the west coast of Puerto Rico also seeing incredible, yet largely unpressured and undeveloped fisheries. Locals have quietly enjoyed great billfishing here for years. The wild west coast of Puerto Rico is more popular with surfers chasing swell along the windswept shoreline, although there are a few charter operations that exist in the area.
It is the capital city of San Juan on the northeast coast that is Puerto Rico’s top destination for the most serious sport fishing crews. Every year anglers await the arrival of big blue marlin, and it’s not a matter of if they are coming, but more a question of when and how many. Although I no longer leader big blue marlin, I now chase the bite with Canon camera in hand and have since visited Puerto Rico on several occasions to document the action with thrilling results. Plus, with first class amenities and easy access to the capital’s centuries-old architecture, beautiful beaches, historic sites, shops, hotels, restaurants, night life and vibrant culture, Puerto Rico provides an authentic Caribbean getaway with impressive offshore angling opportunities.
While the North Drop has been held on a pedestal for many years, what you may not know is the deep trench that has made the small USVI famous stretches all the way to Puerto Rico and beyond. Additionally, the entertainment and amenities of a modern city fused together with the tropical allure of old world Caribbean character make this rock one you won’t want to miss.
Many Caribbean destinations that draw adventurous anglers willing to venture off the beaten path often feature less than stellar infrastructure with little to no shore-side services, but San Juan Harbor isn’t lacking in any aspect. Its size and importance to global economic trade is quickly apparent with the amount of commercial shipping traffic, and of course there are cruise lines that have dozens of ships calling here on a weekly basis.
However, tucked away within the harbor is Club Náutico de San Juan, the island’s top destination for serious sport fishing crews. Club Náutico is very protected and boats based out of neighboring islands will run to Club Náutico for shelter during inclement weather from nearby tropical disturbances.
Club Náutico is a great central location for traveling boaters visiting the island. It’s also home to the world’s longest continually run sport fishing tournament—the San Juan International Billfish Tournament. For over 60 years, local anglers have pulled out all the stops by opening up their private club and facilities to all participants. The tournament parties are nothing short of world class and the event features a unique division that has guest anglers flying in from around the world to fish aboard local boats for the day. This makes for an exciting format that emphasizes camaraderie, and is indicative of the warmth of the local people. In its 62nd year, the event recently updated its status to a 30 lb. test line tournament to provide participants with new and exciting challenges. Whether you’re on a private vessel or local charter boat for the day, departing from Club Náutico de San Juan you’ll be in awe as you pass by Old San Juan and the historic walled fortress of El Morro on the way to the fishing grounds. With this 16th century castle perched at the harbor opening, this is without a doubt the most photogenic harboring in all of the Caribbean.
What makes the area a hotbed for billfish activity is the proximity to the Puerto Rico Trench. With depths eclipsing five miles, this area represents the deepest part of the entire Atlantic Ocean. The Puerto Rico Trench stretches for miles and crews fishing St. Thomas are working a different stretch of the same deep water. This is definitely big fish country, though Puerto Rico has never received the same media attention as its neighbors. Yet because of San Juan’s proximity to unique bottom topography, anglers departing Club Náutico can fish the 100-fathom line within a mile or two of the coast where they can expect to tangle with billfish, various tuna species, wahoo and dorado. Smoker king mackerel and big cero mackerel regularly patrol the coast as do prized mutton snapper. Off San Juan, there is always something to catch. Although the fishing action is the main draw and certainly can’t be overlooked, a trip to Puerto Rico wouldn’t be complete without a little island exploration. There’s something for everyone and a variety of lodging options ranging from uber modern resorts, to small boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts to meet any budget. East of San Juan along the northern coast visitors will be in awe over the beautiful white sand beaches and world-class oceanfront golf courses. Here you will also find El Yunque National Forest with hiking and walking trails that lead to breathtaking views and stunning waterfalls.
Whether you prefer adventurous island tours or visiting historic sites on your lay day from sea, Puerto Rico has so much to offer and perfectly blends old and new world flair with an inviting tropical allure.
Notes of Interest About Puerto Rico:
Capital: San Juan
Government: U.S. Commonwealth
Area: 3,515 square miles
Currency: U.S. Dollar
Languages: Spanish and English