Fun is why angler Ricardo Lefranc likes sports fishing - and it's the fun of making friends, momentous catches and memorable destinations that keeps him fishing.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Lefranc, who works as an architect in San Juan, tells, "My family had a beach house and I was always interested in all types of water sports. My father used to take my brothers and I fishing many afternoons during our stays at the house. Most of our fishing was done close to shore for kingfish, but back then blue marlin were abundant and all we had to do was venture a bit further out - two to three miles - with mullets to catch a blue. Watching my father (Roberto), my uncle (Jaime Fullana) and a good friend (Joe Ramirez) catching blue marlin got me hooked. I couldn't wait to catch one of my own. I've never been a good record keeper, but I believe I caught my first blue marlin on a boy's trip to St. Thomas with Jaime Fullana on Bolita."
Out of the spectrum of billfish, Lefranc says blue marlin is his favorite. "No other fish is as exciting to catch. From the bite all the way to the release, the blue marlin gives the best experience overall."
Lefranc does enjoy catching and releasing other types of billfish. For example, he fishes for striped and black marlin, although he finds that blue marlin still tend to put up a better fight. Sail fishing he finds is more of a numbers game and swordfish are great fighters but not exciting biters, while light tackle fishing on 16# or 20# line is something he likes especially for white marlin.
"I enjoy using lighter lines," Lefranc says, "and I plan to keep going down to make the hookup and catch more challenging."
The excitement and greater feel for the fish is why he loves bait and switch as well as stand-up fishing.
"I hope I never have to sit on a fighting chair again," he says. "If I ever get too old for stand-up or bait and switch on the gear I'm using now, I'll just go lighter, but I'm not turning back ..."
Lefranc's best fish story happened on the day of his engagement party.
"That day I went out fishing with Jaime Fullana, Tomas de Gracia and Papo "el negro", the mate," he tells. "I remember Papo saw a frigate bird and decided to turn towards it. The moment we were right under it a huge blue marlin came up to the spread and took Tomas' bait. He fought that marlin for about five hours before it finally broke the line. Papo and I had the leader a few times each on different occasions and that fish would not move! Everyone on board estimated it at over 800 pounds, but what made it more memorable was the fact that we had planned to go out for half a day because that was the day of my engagement and the party started at 7:00 p.m. Well... at 6:30 p.m. we were still 8 miles north of San Juan when the line broke (thank God) and we started our way back. Jaime and I made it two hours late to my engagement party and Tomas never made it! You can imagine everyone's faces when we arrived! I'll never forget it!"
When it comes to Lefranc's best fishing day, days plural, are a more apt description.
"I think the best day has to be the most memorable one, and I've had a few," he says. "I'll never forget releasing 50 sails on a day in Pinas Bay with Jaime Fullana and John Flynn, a 250 pound swordfish (stand-up) on board Evelyn in Venezuela, the day Rene Ramirez pulled the hook on an estimated 900 pound blue marlin on my boat, the day I almost sunk my boat backing down on a blue marlin that Manuel Arroyo was fighting, fishing an "arrivazon" in Venezuela with Jose Miguel Fullana, watching one of my kids release his first blue marlin on 30# line with Gonzalo Ferrer in Puerto Rico and my other kid release his first blue marlin on 20# line in Guatemala with Brad Philipps, and teasing, baiting, catching, releasing and tagging a blue marlin all by myself in Venezuela with Tim Davis at the wheel."
Tournaments are something Lefranc use to fish in, but not as much any more.
"The only tournament I still fish regularly is the San Juan International Billfish Tournament," he says. "I used to love fishing tournaments, but unfortunately money has taken the 'fun' out of it. Now it's all about the money and in many occasions, unfortunately, anglers don't trust other teams and don't get along or say things about other teams that they would not have said if there were no money prizes in tournaments. It's sad to see a great event go to waste because of a rumor about someone who cheated or a discussion among fellow anglers. I grew up fishing 'for fun' and that's the way I want to keep it."
He does continue to annually fish the San Juan International Billfish Tournament (IBT).
"The IBT is an event with one goal, to promote billfishing, conservation and camaraderie in a competitive setting. Of course it would be nice to win the best tournament in the world, but only while having fun!"
Over the years Lefranc has traveled to the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Islas Mujeres Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Madeira, Cabo San Lucas and the Mediterranean to billfish, but his favorite places to fish are San Juan and St. Thomas.
Looking ahead, he says, "This year has been very tough on the construction industry and I have to be careful with my spending, so most of my fishing will be done in San Juan, the USVI's and the BVI's. I already went to Guatemala twice this year and I may go to the Bahamas to fish one leg of the Bahamas Billfish Championship."
As for the future of the sport, Lefranc says, "I think there will be more people traveling to spots where fish are abundant and less people will be buying boats to fish local grounds. Traveling for fishing has become easier and many countries have realized how important it is for the charter business to tag and release and to promote and enforce conservation. I also believe that as fishing gets more scarce people will tend to use lighter tackle and enjoy more their time hooked up with a billfish."