Rough seas didn’t dampen the sports fishing enthusiasm at Club Nautico de San Juan’s 64th International Billfish Tournament (IBT), fished December 2nd to 3rd 2017. Rescheduled once from September and again from November in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation, a hearty group of highly skilled anglers and crews braved strong winds and were rewarded by releasing 20 blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish. What’s more, the champion team aboard the 43-foot Sea Dream, caught and released its three blue marlin using extremely-competitive light tackle 20lb test line.
“The conditions were really tough on the first day fishing, with seven- to eight-foot seas and green water up to ten miles out,” says Juan Pepe Donestevez, Sea Dream’s owner and one of its anglers. “The tournament’s winning angler Humberto Martinez hooked his first blue marlin at around 9:30am and released the nearly 250-pounder after a 15-minute fight. We did not see any other fish that day.”
The second day, weather conditions improved and the Sea Dream team started fishing about six miles out in front of Cangrejos, a town east of San Juan.
“Early in the morning, the captain called a blue on the teasers,” tells Martinez. “I hooked the small, about 100lb blue marlin, on a pitch bait and released it in ten minutes. Then, around 1pm, Juan Pepe released another blue marlin that secured us the tournament victory.”
Donestevez and Martinez credit the Sea Dream’s team as the secret to its successful win. This included fellow angler Joe Ramirez, as well as Captain Jose Vela and mate Jose Rosario.
“I have been fishing this tournament since 1990, and have won best team twice. With all the tragedy of Hurricane Maria, I felt it was important to participate, to help our Club Nautico de San Juan’s IBT remain as the longest consecutive held billfish tournament in the world, an honor which we are all proud of,” says Donestevez.
In other awards, the 42-foot Blueprint finished second in the boat awards, with a white marlin caught by lady angler Coralys Ayala and a blue released by her partner and vessel owner Eduardo Rodriguez. The 50-foot Panama Jack, rounded out third place, having scored two white marlin releases by anglers Joey Vizcarrondo and Salvador Egea, Jr., of which the latter was also the IBT’s tournament chairman.
The winning international team was Club Náutico of San Juan 01, thanks to the blue marlin caught by Edward Rodriguez. Carlos Ramírez and Carlos Luis Rodríguez were other members of this team. Team USA finished in second with a marlin caught by Donny McLeod, who teamed up with Rick Shinto and Jose Pazos. The Dominican Republic, with Wally Heinsen, Miguel Bonilla and Arnaldo Torres, finished third in team awards.
In the Interclub category, Humberto Martínez, Luis Umpierre and Jorge Luis Díaz won, with Juan Pepe Donestevez, Emilio Fernandez and Joe Vizcarrondo coming in second.
Coralys Ayala earned champion lady angler, followed by Camelia Fernandez second and Vanessa González third. The ladies also landed third place in the Interclub category.
“For this edition of the IBT, we gave anglers the opportunity to fish with either 20lb or 30lb line test. Most of them chose 20lb line and it gave them the edge needed to win,” says Egea, Jr. “Actually, the 20lb line provided a refreshing fishing perspective to a new generation of young anglers who are now participating and experiencing the thrill of fishing—right there, standing in the boat, you and the fish,” says Egea, Jr., who added that the support from the fishing community for this year’s tournament was overwhelming and gratifying.
The 65th anniversary IBT is set for October 15-21, 2018.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.