Carlos Garcia wore a big smile and high-five hand-clapped his fellow anglers, captain and crew aboard the Cabo 40, Peje, just after his vessel docked at St. Thomas' American Yacht Harbor on the last day of fishing in the 35th annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT). With a score of 11 blue marlin releases, six of those by Garcia's fellow angler, Luis Nevarez, Peje had pocketed not only the Top Boat Title, but also Top Angler honors.
What did Garcia credit to his boat's success? "That's our secret," he said, still beaming with the adrenalin of a major tournament win. "But, we do like to teaser fish."
Sport fishing is something that Garcia has grown up enjoying. "My father fished at least two days per week off the Cerro Gordo beach, by Blue Marlin Alley north of San Juan, since I was born. So, you can say I've been in the sport for 52 years now."
He continues, "But it wasn't until about 15 years ago that I bought a boat of my own for competitive sports fishing."
Garcia's first Peje was a 1987 42-foot Chris Craft Commander. It's with this vessel that he launched off on the sports fishing tournament circuit. However, it was another Peje, a 2002-built Cabo 47, aboard which he won the ABMT.
Blue marlin have always been Garcia's favorite fish.
"There is nothing as furious. It is a tough fish that eats with aggressiveness most of the time and fights for its life as no other fish. They can be big or small but there is nothing like a blue marlin for sport fishing in the sea," he says.
Garcia prefers light tackle fishing. Thirty-pound test is he usual choice, but it drops to 20-pound if the blues are running small and he's looking for a greater test of skill and thrill.
"I fish with natural dead ballyhoo most of the time. I use this for the teasers and to pitch bait too," he says. "Until recently, I used J-hooks. But this coming season I will start using circle hooks."
Garcia's best day of fishing happened the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year, when fishing from the La Guaira banks in Venezuela, he and his crew released 9 blue marlin, 6 sailfish, and 3 white marlin for three Grand Slams!
His best fish story, and the freshest in his mind, also comes out of Venezuela. "I had a blue in the 500-pound range that ate my ballyhoo and then furiously ate all the teaser baits before I realized he was hooked on my rod. It was an outstanding performance."
A runner up to this fishing tale is one of a smaller catch that remains in the record books. "One day, coming back to San Juan after bottom fishing in Culebra for a couple of days, we saw some dolphin (mahi-mahi) and we weren't ready for them. So my friend, Luis Infanzón, went into the cabin, found a 20-pound rod, put a bottom fishing circle hook on it with a piece of calamari as bait and threw it in the water. The result? It was a record 82.5-pounder."
Garcia fishes about 50 days a year - taking time from running the Health Insurance Agency he started nearly 30 years ago which today handles over 55 percent of Puerto Rico's health insurance business - to travel to places such as Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala and Mexico, as well as to favorite tournament destinations.
"I'd love to fish Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Hawaii and the rest of the Pacific," he says.
Wife, Christina, a respected and skillful angler in her own right, is Garcia's favorite fishing partner. However, he has many friends with whom he enjoys fishing regularly.
"I consider myself more a boat owner and team leader that gathers together talented people to do the job when it comes to tournament fishing," he says. "However, I'm proud to have won the Best International Angler trophy at Club Nautico de San Juan. This is a cumulative award that is achieved by the angler who captures the most fish during an entire year. This makes luck less of a factor and skill rated more highly."
Garcia, Christina and their friends do enjoy fishing regularly in tournaments. In fact, they start the year with the March moon at the La Guaira Shoot-Out. Then, they travel to the Dominican Republic to compete in the Club Nautico de Santo Domingo's Cabeza de Toro White Marlin Tournament. "I consider this one of the most competitive and difficult tournaments in the world to win, trying to catch elusive white on 20-pound test," Garcia says.
For July and August, Garcia takes Peje to St. Thomas to fish in the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club's July Open and the ABMT.
"Most of the time for the September moon, I fish my club's tournament, the prestigious Club Nautico de San Juan International Billfish Tournament. During the later part of September and October I fish the west coast of Puerto Rico, particularly the Club Deportivo del Oeste International Light Tackle Billfish Tournament," he says.
Garcia adds, "This year, I fished Jimmy's (Loveland) Boquerón Open. It was the fifth and last leg of the Spanish Main Series and Team Peje won! I like Jimmy's idea of the Spanish Main Series. This five-tournament series provides the best fishing grounds in the Caribbean Sea and is an endurance and skills test far beyond a single tournament."
For many years, Garcia's captain was Juan Alberto 'Berto' Marquez, a native of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. This past year, Capt. Victor Gonzalez, from San Juan, ran Peje for its wins in the Punta Cana Open, the ABMT and Spanish Main Series, before heading back to Venezuela.
"I'm now giving the best fishing mate I have ever known, Juan Antonio García, the opportunity to become a captain. Let me tell you, he is doing a great job and I am sure that next year he will prove it to everyone."
In the year ahead, Garcia plans to fish the Spanish Main Series again, starting in Venezuela and ending in Puerto Rico.
Photos - Richard Gibson
"I'll definitely fish the Club Nautico de San Juan International Billfish Tournament and the ABMT and have very high hopes that these tournaments don't present a conflict in term of dates," he says.
In the future, Garcia foresees, "As long as there are people like me who love fishing and spend the money required to be competitive in the sport, there will be an industry. Most of the time tournament organizers believe that crews are more important than owners in determining where to fish. I don't think that is true. I like the big money tournaments, but it's of foremost importance that knowledgeable observers are available for all boats, especially on charter boats."
He adds, "What I don't know is what is going to happen with circle hooks. For me, they take the strike out of the capture process that I consider the most exciting part of the hook up. What I know for sure is that I will be around to see what happens."
Note! Carlos's Peje won "Best of Series" in the 2007 Spanish Main Series, "Top Angler" in the 2007 ABMT/Boy Scout and "Best Boat" in the 2007 ABMT/Boy Scout.