Puerto Rico is not one of the first places you probably think of when words like “bonefish” or “tarpon” are bandied about. However, there are bonefish there and there is a history of bonefishing that many are not aware of. One guy who knows a bit about the fishery there is local guide/gringo Chris Goldmark. He’s been guiding the waters of Culebra (one of the islands of Puerto Rico) sine 1991… meaning I was still in High School when he started.
Chris, Puerto Rico and bonefish… can you give a lay of the land in terms of where they are and what the fishery is like?
Bone fish populations in PR are largely limited to the two eastern islands of Culebra and Vieques with a few scattered pockets of fish around the “Big“ island. This was not always the case. The flats of La Parguera on the south west coast of PR once hosted one of the largest and healthiest populations of Bone fish found anywhere in the entire Caribbean basin. These flats were for the most part gill netted to extinction in the 80’s and early 90’s when the demand for Bone fish for bait was at an all time high.
Today both Culebra and Vieques have healthy populations of Bones although not in the great numbers of years past. Culebra still boasts of having some of the largest fish in the Caribbean.
How did you end up in PR as a bonefishing guide? Seems an unlikely landing spot.
Back in the late 80’s, I was visiting Mike Vergis the founding father of the famous tarpon fishery in San Juan . We ended up, after a few drinks and a ferry ride, in a bar in Culebra. I fell in love with the island and brought my wife with me for a weeks visit the following year. Half way through our stay she informed me that she had taken a job and that I could stay or leave but she was definitely not going home. Apparently in the early stages of a marriage common sense seems to hover on the fringes of that pink zone….I stayed, No regrets.
What’s the oddest or most interesting thing you’ve seen out on the flats of PR?
The Puerto Ricans are a serious party culture. I say this totally respectfully. I was guiding a gentleman back in the early nineties during a major Puerto Rican holiday in Culebra, something I rarely do today because of excessive boat traffic etc. We were wading one of the major flats and came upon a family who had set up beach chairs in a semi circle on the sand and marl complete with coolers ,umbrellas and a boom box. My client and I skirted the party but upon looking back I noticed a Bone fish pop a tail 10 feet from a drunk passed out in a beach chair. Suddenly six more tails popped up and I instructed my man to cast appropriately. Hooked up!! The fish, about an 8 lb Bone goes completely insane . The drunks start chasing the fish, the fly line becomes snagged on a cooler, three party goers fall face down on the flat and of course the fish breaks off. So much for stealth. Salude!
Gillnets are still present in PR waters. Can you give an idea of the impact those nets are having and what needs to happen to get the nets out of the water?
Bone fish are not normally targeted specifically by gill netters but they often become a significant by catch when fishermen set on schools of Bar Jacks and Chapin (box fish) which inhabit a lot of the same areas as the Bones. PR needs to recognize the value of Bone fish, Permit and Tarpon to the tourist economy. They haven’t come to grips with that yet. Myself and one of PR,s most famous Tarpon guides, Francisco Rosario from Boqueron on the west coast, as well as Fernando Monllor one of the top fly fishers in Puerto Rico have done the usual lobbying, petitioning ,the whole thing. We keep pointing to Belize and saying when are you guys going to get it!! Things move very slowly in Puerto Rico. There are a lot of holidays.
Not being one of the better known fisheries, do you get people coming to PR specifically for the bonefishing or do you more have people who are doing it as part of a family vacation?
Both. I have many clients who come to specifically to target the big Bones Culebra is famous for. I also have a lot of first time clients who are just down on vacation and want to learn how to fly fish and experience what the flats are all about.
Are there any fly shops in PR or are you forced to rely on internet shopping?
There are no fly shops in PR. I tie all my own and buy off the internet or from the “compleat Angler” in Darien ,CT.
You have a favorite place to eat? A place to recommend to traveling anglers for cheap and decent lodging?
“Mamacitas” my wife has been the dinner chef there for 19 years also for lunch “El Batay” owned and operated by one of my best friends and soon to be Mayor, Tomas Ayala. Lodging..Villa Boheme and Jim
Galasso for rentals 787 742 6752
What’s your favorite rod/reel at the moment?
My favorite rod is a 7 wt Gatti or any Gatti or Sage blank finished by master rod builder George Costa. www.fathammy.com …..Reels. I am the connoisseur of cheep reels. My favorites the Okuma SLV and the Pflueger Trion. Both are around $100 and will handle double digit Bone Fish as well as any reel built by a Hungarian, That’s a tough one too. I’m half Hungarian.
Think PR will, at some point, be the 51st State?
Not likely any time soon. The first thing you learn living in Puerto Rico especially as a Norte Americano is to be very careful discussing politicas. I believe I have answered the question.