Puerto Rico truly is an angler's paradise.
When it comes to Caribbean fishing experiences, Puerto Rico is not mentioned as often as other locations. Which is a shame because in addition to the beautiful white sand beaches, the island offers great fishing for a plethora of saltwater game fish species.
Tarpon, marlin, and sailfish are just a few of the species that can be targeted all year round once you tire of sampling rum in Rincon or snorkeling the shallow waters of the bioluminescent bays.
We spoke with Captain Juan Carlos Torruella of Extreme Fishing Puerto Rico on what to know about the world-class angling opportunities available at this U.S. Territory. This is everything you ever needed to know about planning a Puerto Rican fishing adventure.
How to get there.
Travelling to Puerto Rico is easier than you may think. Many people forget it is a U.S. territory which means U.S. Citizens can easily travel to or from the island. No passport required. I flew directly to San Juan from Chicago, and it is about a five-hour flight from there. A long flight, but extremely doable when compared to other international fishing destinations. Flying to the island from somewhere like Miami is even faster, only taking about two hours. The flights are super cheap too when compared to other fishing destinations on nearby islands.
Once there, getting around the island is easy as there are number of driver/cab services available. Rental cars are also extremely plentiful. Torruella told me hotels get booked up quickly in the prime tourist season, which is usually November through May, so plan accordingly. That is the time when most people are trying to escape the cold ice and snows of winter. Oh, and do not worry about the primary language of the island being Spanish. Most locals are bilingual, especially the staff of hotels, restaurants, and the fishing guides. It makes communicating a little easier than at some other international fishing destinations. Oh, and because it is a U.S. Territory, they use the same currency. No cash exchanges needed. Compared to some of the little intricacies of my previous trips to places like Ireland or Scotland, Puerto Rico is an easy trip.
Although it is also worth noting the hurricane season is in late summer. Expect the worst of the storms to happen from mid-August until the end of September. We will talk more about this later when it comes to booking a fishing charter.
What kind of fish can you catch in Puerto Rico?
The list of sport fishing species that call the warm waters and mangrove bays home is quite extensive. Torruella told me the island is one of the best tarpon fishing destinations in the world in and around the island's many lagoons. Torruella takes most of his clients inshore angling in the shallow waters around San Jose, Corozos, and Torrecilla lagoons in the San Juan area. However, the high-flying, silver fighters can be found all around the island. We should note it is all catch-and-release for both tarpon and snook.
"The tarpon here in Puerto Rico are protected by law, so you cannot kill them," Torruella said. "They're more important to us from an economic standpoint having people come to fish than people actually killing them. They're just a great game fish, they fight really hard, and they have this kind of niche market."
Offshore, deep sea fishing is usually for blue marlin, white marlin, and sailfish. These are also catch-and-release. Although Capt. Juan told me there are plenty of options for anyone who wants to catch dinner.
"I get a lot of people who want to actually catch something to eat," Toruella said. "Depending on the time of year we'll go off, catch some snapper, some grouper, kingfish, if the conditions are right and the weather is good, and it's the right time of year, we'll go for yellowfin tuna or the mahi mahi (also known as dorado or dophin)."
Other popular species on the island include barracuda, wahoo, jacks, bonefish and mackerel. There is really something for everyone from the deep water enthusiast looking for a giant of the depths to the die hard fly fishing guru who wants to tangle with some smaller, albeit still tough fighters on light tackle in the shallows.
What is the best time of year to fish Puerto Rico?
"It's actually really cool because in Puerto Rico you can fish 365 days a year," Torruella told me.
That means you can get a quality fishing trip in even in the dead of winter when everything is frozen all around you in the mainland U.S. The island has consistent comfortable temperatures in the 80s during the winter months. Remember, you may need to book both charters and hotels slightly earlier in advance as lots of snowbirds are on the island around that time. Torruella likes the winter for mahi mahi, wahoo, white marlin, and sailfish.
"That's a great time of the year, from late October through January to get all those species here," he said.
When it comes to tarpon, Torruella catches specimens up to 60-pounds year-round, but he says the bigger ones usually show up around early March through May where they stay in the inlets through August. The larger tarpon usually come back to the shallows in October and November for spawning, which is when you can catch the really big ones. Anglers can also catch blue marlin and sailfish year-round, but Capt. Juan says June through October is prime time and the bite is heavily dictated by the moon phases and tidal patterns.
"That's when you get the majority of the bites," he said. "Seven days before to three to four days after a full moon is when they consistently bite the most."
If you are interested in king mackerel, he recommends the spring since that is when there is a run of this species. They catch them off the reefs from March through June.
Hiring Puerto Rico Fishing Charters
The great thing about Puerto Rico is that all sides of the island have great angling. And there are plenty of charters ready and willing to take you out for a day of adventure. Most of these charters are on the north end island around the greater Old San Juan area. However, there are also plenty on the west coast too. The eastern and southern ends have fewer options.
Wherever you choose to fish, it is not a bad idea to plan months ahead. While some fishing guides may be able to accommodate you calling the same day, you also run the chance of not being able to find anyone because they may be booked solid.
"I suggest at least a couple months in advance if you are going to plan a fishing trip and it's not just spur-of-the-moment," Torruella said.
Most of these charters will ask for a deposit in advance. The good news is, with captains like Torruella, that deposit is good for whenever you can come and fish. So, if the unpredictable weather of the Caribbean throws a wrench in the plans with an unexpected hurricane or tropical storm, you can easily re-schedule.
Costs for a trip largely depend on the type of boat and trip. Torruella charges $375 for hour hours of tarpon fishing. They fish either 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. or 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. because the tarpon bite is best at sunrise or sunset. When it comes to deep sea stuff like trolling for blue marlin, they obviously cost more than a tarpon tour. Torruella's six-hour trips, also called "half-day" trips by some guides, run $795. Or you can go for a full day trip for $975.
Those costs include everything. Gas, food, drinks, and live bait. Although it is probably a good idea to tip your guide at the end of a successful outing too. Make sure to ask your guide how many people you can bring because you can likely cut the costs down by splitting it with friends. More than anything, Torruella says to make sure you communicate and let the guide know exactly what you want out of the trip.
"Call your guide and make sure you're clear on what you want to fish for, what your target species is, and what you want to do," he said. "Make sure you're on the right page with your captain."
Of course, your guide can also recommend a species to target for newbies who are looking to try fishing for the first time. Torruella's clients vary from the seasoned veterans who fish with him every season to beginners who have never held a rod and reel before in their lives. Some of these guides will even help clean and cook your catch for you if you want to be able to say you captured your own seafood dinner.
One nice thing about hiring a licensed charter in Puerto Rico is you do not need a fishing license. The charter captain will have already paid for the necessary fees and permits ahead of time. All you need to do is concentrate on that lure and setting the hook!
Fishing techniques that are popular in Puerto Rico.
Most of the fishing in Puerto Rico is kept simple by most deep seas fishing charters and even the shorter day charters. Live bait is extremely popular for the inshore tarpon opportunities. Although Torruella told me they will cast artificial lures or flies if the conditions are right. Puerto Rico may be the premiere destination on the planet for tarpon fishing on a fly rod. He says the bonefish angling can be a little more challenging mostly because the flats they like to hang out on are usually on the windward side and there is usually a lot of waiting for the right conditions.
"When the weather is nice, there is some really good bonefishing to be done there," Torruella said.
For the deep sea stuff, most boats are using bait and switch techniques with fishing lures on long riggers with teasers closer into the boat. Anglers targeting mahi mahi or tuna usually use trolling baits or live baits. It seems like there may be something for every angler while exploring the clear blue waters off Puerto Rico's coasts.
To top off the great fishing opportunities, the scenery of Puerto Rico is spectacular and the locals on the island are extremely friendly, even to outsiders. If you have been looking for an affordable Caribbean/International fishing destination, Puerto Rico may be the place to visit. For more information on Juan Carlos Torruella's services, see the Extreme Fishing Puerto Rico website. Also check out Discover Puerto Rico for more information on visiting this island paradise.
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