Over our winter break, our family made the decision to head over to Puerto Rico. Relatively close, yet offering so much, I was ecstatic about the fishing opportunities. The first two days were spent in Old San Juan, where much of our time was spent going around old forts and churches. The Castillo San Felipe del Morro was magnificent!
But on to the fishing-
Walking the the castillo on the first day was only about a mile, so we opted to walk along the southern end of Old San Juan. Along the pathway, I was delighted to spot sergeant major damselfish and atlantic needlefish right by shore! Unfortunately, fishing wasn't allowed. The only spot where it was was by a small pier adjacent to the fort. After touring around, I wasted no time insetting up my gear on the pier. I had brought squid and shrimp from a supermarket, since no bait shops were around.
The pier was small, with the water on its deepest end only about 5-6 feet deep. The water was murky as well, with poor visibility. Nonetheless, I was able to see many colorful sergeant majors dancing around some pipes under the pier. Excited, I dropped down some squid and shrimp. The squid was processed, and the fish hardly even looked at it. On the other hand, the shrimp was met with immediate results. After figuring out the fish's preference, I was receiving strikes often. The first fish I pulled up, however, wasn't a lifer, to my disappointment.
A female hairy blenny: My first Puerto Rico fish.
After releasing the blenny, I dropped my shrimp on a fly fishing hook down by the pipes. It caught the attention of a small but bright sergeant major, which grabbed the bait but promptly spit it out. Not to worry, because as soon as it spit it out a much larger dark fish raced out from under the pier to snatch the bait up! A doggish fight from a bluegill-sized species reminded me just how much stronger saltwater fish were than their freshwater counterparts.
I carefully lifted the interestingly dark specimen up, and there I had it: Species #73, the Sergeant Major Damselfish!
I continued to fish, figuring out the aggressive sergeant majors pretty quickly. I moved near shore, and found a pair of needlefish, much to my excitement. Despite using a variety of tactics and baits, I simply could not get the needlefish to strike. I had one hit on some shrimp skimmed across the surface, a light tap that had the needlefish scurrying away. I tried lures and sabikis, but those were only met with halfhearted follows.
The sun was getting higher and higher in the afternoon, and the dizzying bright hot day was starting to get to me. It was then that I noticed several small, deep-bodied fish racing in and out of the surf. Unsure of their identity, but thinking that they might be blue runners, I cast out a freelined shrimp under a small float, and watched the float get tossed around by the waves near the beach, waiting for fish. As soon as the fish raced in, the float immediately shot down, but hooksets were futile, leaving me with a stripped hook. I downsized to a size sixteen hook, and repeated this process until, finally, i connected to a small fish. In the water, it flashed its side and I was even more confused than before. It shone bright silver, and I thought, Lookdown? Pompano? I brought it up and then knew it was a pompano of sorts, but whether it was a florida pompano or a permit still confused me. I, not being familiar with many saltwater fish species, did a quick consultation and figured that I had in hand a juvenile permit, species #74!
The long dorsal and anal fins gave it away, as did the sharply humped back rather than a gently sloped one. Interestingly enough, the permit is highly regarded as a wary and coveted sport fish. The permit I caught were not wary at all, attacking my bait savagely even with 15 lb braid. Perhaps it had to do with their being juveniles. I caught several more permit until the small school went away, and then I went back to the end of the pier.
I caught a magnificent specimen of a sergeant major...
And then, while letting my shrimp sit on the sandy bottom, I felt a tap and reeled in a small fish which most definitely was not a damselfish. In fact, I had no clue of its identity other than the fact that it was a mojarra of sorts. Later, I identified it as a spotfin mojarra, species #75, uneventfully caught but still an exciting catch nonetheless. That would wrap it up for day one.
Day 2 began early in the morning with me heading out to the same pier. It was disappointing, to say the least. The winds were pretty strong, and they actually blew one of my tackle boxes into the water, with me going for a quick swim in the delightfully warm water to retrieve them. At one point a huge school of sardines came in, being chased by an unseen predator. Using a sabiki, I was largely ignored by sardines who were too busy swimming for their lives. One sardine, however, decided to bite, but as I lifted him up onto the pier, the fell off the hook and slipped away in a crack between the wooden planks on the pier. A shame, indeed. I also saw a scrawled cowfish that wanted nothing to do with me whatsoever. The highlight of that outing was probably a colored up male hairy blenny, complete with red eyes and horns.
In the afternoon, we opted to head to Escambron Beach. There were rocks and small tide pools on the eastern end, so I quickly raced over there. Despite winds howling across the rocks, I managed to set up tanago hook and cane pole without much hassle, finding lots of aggressive gobies in the shallows. Just like that, I had species #76, the frillfin goby!
Fishing in some deeper pools, I saw several brown damselfish, to my excitement, but first I had to weed through several of probably the smallest sergeant major ever caught on hook and line.
Once I got past those however, I caught the brown damselfish wit relative ease. Now came the hard part. To the best of my ability, I identified all the following as dusky damselfish. Now, brownish damselfish are notoriously hard to identify, so please correct me if I'm wrong. Whatever it is, I am sure that it is a new species, so that makes it #77!
I also caught a cardinalfish of sorts, and hooked several wrasse, one of which slipped out of my hand and into the drink. If my luck wasn't bad enough, my phone got saltwater in it in a sudden turn of events (all of which was my fault), costing me the cardinalfish and several brownish damselfish which may have been new species. I'll spare you the details, but I wasn't too happy with myself.