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Club Nautico de San Juan: International Billfish Tournament

The winning fishermen aboard Peje (front, from left): Joselo Hernandez, Rafael Caicedo, Efrain Rodriguez, Caíto Chapel and Captain Juan Jose Garcia. Bryan Ramos (back) is the IGFTO observer. Photo: Mark Smestad

There were several awards offered in Club Nautico de San Juan’s 62nd International Billfish Tournament (IBT), fished September 24th to 30th. Yet it was the Puerto Rico-based team aboard Carlos Garcia’s 47ft Cabo, Peje, which took home seven of them. This is a spectacular feat considering the team was up against 196 anglers from Puerto Rico, the U.S., England, Venezuela, Ecuador and Guatemala, aboard 50 boats.

“We only saw one blue marlin that didn’t eat the first day,” Garcia tells.

The second day was a different story. Peje’s Carlos Chapel pulled the hook on his first bite, but released a 300lb blue marlin in the afternoon. Meanwhile, fellow Peje angler Efrain Rodriguez released a blue mid-day. These two fish catapulted the team into sixth place overall.

The IBT’s third day proved a repeat of the first: Peje came up fishless. It was the fourth and final day when the marlin bite turned red hot. Peje’s anglers were ready and took full advantage of Puerto Rico’s ‘Marlin Alley’s’ bounty.

Angler Joselo Hernandez hooked up a blue seconds after lines in at 8:30am. After an exhilarating back down chase on the fish orchestrated by Capt. Juan Garcia, Hernandez quickly released his fish. A half hour later, Chapel released a blue marlin. This was Peje’s fourth fish of the tournament and it tied them with Reel Affair for first place in the boat category. A double-header struck mid-morning with Rodriguez and Chapel each releasing a marlin apiece. This score jumped Peje to the top of the leaderboard, but they weren’t finished fishing or catching yet.

The winning fishermen aboard Peje (front, from left): Joselo Hernandez, Rafael Caicedo, Efrain Rodriguez, Caíto Chapel and Captain Juan Jose Garcia. Bryan Ramos (back) is the IGFTO observer. Photo: Mark Smestad
The winning fishermen aboard Peje (front, from left): Joselo Hernandez, Rafael Caicedo, Efrain Rodriguez, Caíto Chapel and Captain Juan Jose Garcia. Bryan Ramos (back) is the IGFTO observer. Photo: Mark Smestad

“The fifth blue marlin of the day was big, close to 500lb,” explains Garcia. “It was released by angler Rafo Caicedo after a tough fight that called for another demonstration of our captain’s expert backing maneuvers. By 1pm we had five blue marlin for the day. This tied our own record for the IBT’s record of five blue marlin released in one day of fishing recorded in 1997. It was the seven blue marlin total that won us this year’s tournament.”

Chapel’s three releases earned him Top Angler.

“Carlos (Chapel) is my lifelong friend,” says Garcia. “He is undergoing chemotherapy and I let him have my position on the boat. I knew he was going to win. He is a lifelong member of Club Náutico de San Juan who has fished in the IBT over 40 times. He has never won Top Angler before, but he did win Best Captain with us back in 1997.”

In total, the Peje team earned Top Boat, Top Local Boat, Top Angler, Top Local Angler, Top Captain, Best Crew and Best Interclub Team. However, it was the trio of U.S. anglers comprised marine artist Carey Chen, John Moore and Andy Wilson that won the Top International Team Award.

“Since I had won Top International Angler last year, I was excited to try and reclaim my title,” says Chen, who was also the IBT’s featured artist. “I was a rotating angler and fished on a different boat each day. When you only have one rod and one bait in rotation, the odds of catching a fish are low because there are three other anglers on board. Not missing a fish is vital to your team. Plus, the advantage of using light tackle is that the fish does not feel a lot of pressure, so it stays on the surface jumping a lot and wearing itself out. In the end, I released two blue marlin and Andy (Wilson) one to win. I hadn’t won a team award in over five years, so this was exciting.”

The lady anglers of the International Billfish Tournament. Photo: Mark Smestad
The lady anglers of the International Billfish Tournament. Photo: Mark Smestad

New this year was the mandatory use of light-tackle or 30lb test line. The move to 30lb was smooth and well-planned ahead of time.

“In the last three years we used a 50/30 line test format, with 60% of billfish released on 30lb,” explains tournament director Ricky Jaen. “Last year, 75% of participating anglers moved to 30lb test. September is the peak of our marlin season and the run brings smaller fish through the area that is perfect for light tackle. With a total of 79 blue marlin released this year, I think we showed that we are going to become the premier light tackle fishing event in the world.”

For full results, visit: sanjuaninternational.com

 

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian. 

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