September 7, 2011
San Juan, Puerto Rico. Fishing was red hot on the first day of the Club Nautico de San Juan’s 58th Annual International Billfish Tournament (IBT). The 52-boat fleet released 31 blue marlin, and according to informal angler reports, the fleet hooked-up or saw more than double this number. This is why Puerto Rico’s ‘Marlin Alley’, a mile-and-a-half deep trench off the north coast of San Juan, is known as one of the hot spots in the world for blue marlin fishing.
It was the Puerto Rican angling team aboard the 60-foot Rybovich, Pescador, who had an especially good day. They were the first team to release three blue marlin and this put them in the Day 1 Top Boat lead.
“We headed four miles offshore, saw some current and saw four blue marlin right off the bat, but they didn’t bite,” explains Pescador’s Capt. Paco Vela. “We stayed in that spot and trolled back and forth and ended the day releasing three blue marlin. I’d say that was a pretty good start to the tournament!”
The angling team aboard Pescador is the same that won the top billfish tag-and-release award as Team Bebo in the 1999 IBT.
In angler standings, Puerto Rico’s Charles Donato, fishing aboard the 65-foot Weaver, Islamar, is in the Day 1 Top Angler lead with two blue marlin releases. Fellow Islamar angler, Donald McLeod, released one blue marlin to give the boat three total, and second place on the boat leaderboard.
“We made history on the Islamar today by putting one of the new IGFA satellite tags in the first blue marlin I caught this morning,” says Donato.
The IBT has the honor and distinction of being the launch tournament for IGFA’s year-long Great Marlin Race. This conservation research program combines high-excitement tournament angling with high-tech science. Angling teams have sponsored a total of 10 pop-up archival satellite tags valued at $4000 each to place in fish released during the tournament. The tags ‘pop-off’ the marlin four months after being placed, float to the surface, and data contained in the tags is picked up by ARGOS satellites. The IBT-placed tag that surfaces furthest from where it was deployed wins the race, making the angler who placed it very happy with the prize of a free entry into the 2012 IBT and recognition by IGFA. Meanwhile, marine scientists gain a wealth of invaluable information about these magnificent marine creatures.
Puerto Rico-based Batichica, a 43-foot Cabo owned by angler Gerald Torrens, was also one of the first teams to place one of the satellite tags.
“We had a double-header come up within the first hour of fishing,” says Torrens. “We lost one and the other was released by our angler, Moises Torrens. That was the blue marlin that we placed the satellite tag. It will be fun to see where we see the fish again.”
Another angler who had a great day was Tim Gillingham, from Perth, Australia. Gillingham fished aboard the 61-foot Custom, Lazy Bones.
“This is the third time I’ve visited Puerto Rico and second time I’ve fished this tournament,” says Gillingham. “My brother and I like to support the IGFA and we bought the trip during the IGFA’s Offshore Championship in Cabo San Lucas in May when the club (Club Nautico de San Juan) donated an entry for IGFA’s fundraising auction.”
Gillingham released one blue marlin estimated at 300-pounds for the day.
“Anytime you can say that you’ve released a blue marlin, it’s a great day,” says Gillingham.
Another international angler who had the thrill of a first-day release was Trevor Somny from Scotland. Somny’s teammate, Mike Benitez, wrapped up the action by releasing the last blue marlin of the day off the 45-foot Hatteras, Sea Born.
“This is one of the most fun tournaments there is,” says Benitez, a veteran who pioneered Puerto Rico’s recreational fishing industry, continues to charter and runs a tackle shop adjacent to Club Nautico de San Juan. Benitez has fished in many IBT’s over the years.
The men weren’t the only ones having fun fishing today.
Puerto Rico’s Cristina Muñoz, fishing aboard the 50-foot Hatteras, Bon Vivant, released a blue marlin after an over two hour fight.
“The fish was very strong and alive,” says Muñoz, who placed third best angler and top lady angler in the 2010 IBT. “I would reel it in and it would take line back out and swim away. We did this constantly. The captain even tried to help by backing down and getting near the fish. I was about to give up, but I finally succeeded in releasing the marlin.”
The second day of tournament fishing takes place tomorrow, September 8, and will continue on September 9 and 10. Organizers have opted to use the lay day as a fishing day due to the threat of bad weather towards the end of the week. More than 30 prizes will be handed out at the Gala Awards Ceremony. The IBT is a qualifier for the prestigious Rolex/IGFA Offshore Championship that takes place each May.