World Wide Fishing!

PEACOCK BASS FISHING IN PUERTO RICO

by Jorge J. Santiago-Aviles, Philadelphia, PA

The peach colored water of the La Plate
Impoundment during La Niņa season.


My first view of the lake, coming down the narrow winding road so typical of mountainous Puerto Rico, was that is must be La Niņa, or El Niņo, or one of those global weather phenomena. La Plata lake was high and orange, but not orange orange, or mud orange, it was the color of peach juice. It had been raining daily on the entire island, but with particular intensity, in the north-central region where the town of Naranjito and La Plata impoundment lies. My first reaction was that fishing will be difficult, all the peacock bass will be in the flooded vegetation, and the tilapia deep down. But guys, was I wrong, there were downed trees, floating trees and vegetation, all kind of flotsam around. "Structure" as a bass fisherman will immediately recognize and label.

I drove my small rental car to the boat ramp in the small village of Guadiana. For a late morning in December, the weather was cool, a bit too cold for La Plata in Christmas, but again, must be La Niņa. I opened the car trunk and removed my trusty inflatable. I opened the hood and connected the electric pump, began pumping, and in one minute I had a boat. A good 8 foot dinghy I can take anywhere on the plane or in a rental car. I always row, not only is it good exercise and the lakes in PR are all small, but rowing does not require boat registration and therefore is legal in the island (and most places I have taken it). After setting up two rods, one with a yellow popper and the other with a white streamer, I felt ready for action.

Go anywhere bass boat ideal 
for exploring little known waters.

All lakes in Puerto Rico are artificial; they were built for power generation and flood control. During the decade of the sixties, they were stocked with peacock bass (Ciclasoma Monoculus) from Colombia in South America. This particular variety of peacock bass mature early, reproduce prolifically, and grow to a maximum weight of 10 to 15 pounds (the record in PR, in Caonilla Lake, was 14 pounds). Several decades earlier the same impoundments were stocked with Congolese Tilapia. Of course, we know of the explosive strikes of the Tucunare (peacock bass) and of its aggressiveness, what we may not know is the sportiveness of the Congolese tilapia. They take streamers, presented deep, and if not lined, they will take a dry fly to those who can offer it under the branches of the vegetation covering the lakeshore. A three-pound tilapia on a fine tippet can be the ticket to a lot of fun. We have other warm water species on the island to offer the fly fisherman. We have good size largemouth bass for those who like to venture out early in the morning or later in the afternoon seeking this particular game. Redear sunfish up to a pound share with the tilapia the shaded areas close to vegetation.

The 'typical' catch,  Congolese tilapia about a pound in weight.

This particular afternoon I did very well. The day was a sequence of sunny periods with quick strong showers. The sunny periods brought out the tucunare. As soon as the sun appeared I moved to the bays with water lettuce and hyacinth, and cast along the vegetation parallel to the shoreline. First with the popper using short strips, and if that did not elicit strikes, I changed to the streamer and repeated the same recipe. That day all my strikes except one were with streamer (white seems to be the best color). I found some sort of a pontoon boat, made out of large plastic garbage can like floats, with a wooden deck. It was partially beached behind a fallen tree. I started my casting routine first with poppers followed by streamers. The first cast had no response, they were not particularly difficult casts, the wind was down, and the distance no more than 40 feet, but there was a bit of current and I had to row upstream to reposition the inflatable. The second cast, with the white streamer, elicited a wonderful free-for-all from a school of mid size tucunare. As they usually do, the whole bunch was competing for the streamer and in one hour I caught and released twenty-seven from one to four pounds. It was such a delight, I rowed the dingy upstream to see how many I could catch before moving out of the casting window. Returning to the boat ramp that afternoon I met a group of plug fisherman, who looked at my inflatable seeking the usual ice cooler fisherman in the island use for keeping the catch, not seeing any they asked me how was the fishing. I replied that I caught more than three dozen fish, a couple over four pounds. They looked at each other and said, "Oh Yeah!"

The 'typical' catch, Peacock Bass about a pound in weight.

There are over eight impoundment's scattered through the island where peacock bass are considered the primary game fish. What this means is that with low water you should do better than 40 fish a day, and with high water half of that. The average fish is from one to two pounds. The fresh water fishery in Puerto Rico is not particularly well regulated. There is no fishing license and no minimum size (there is a nominal set of regulations, but they are not enforced), but still the fresh waters in Puerto Rico are under-fished and a great opportunity for the native and visitor. This particular impoundment I was fishing, La Plata, is about a 40 minutes drive from San Juan and does possess pretty good facilities for launching a boat (a necessity to fish mud laden impoundment's and rivers in the island). You can always offer to rent a row (or motor) boat from anyone residing by the impoundment, as most of the residents of the island speak some English.

Author with tucunare The author with his best catch in La Plata impoundment, a healthy and colorful seven pound tucunare. It went for a white streamer using a floating line and a five weight rod. The fish was released, so you may have the chance to a similar nice photograph (and release the fish unharmed of course!)

If you are going to the Caribbean on business or pleasure, most likely you will pass by Puerto Rico. If you do and have a day to spare on the island, by all means, bring your fly rod. A four or five weight will do for the impoundments, bring poppers and white streamers on floating lines (unless you want to go for tilapia with streamers, in which case, a sinking tip is a must). You will be surprised with different fishing opportunities the island of Puerto Rico has to offer the fly fisherman. And did I mention the other impoundment's and the brackish water lagoons? ....well, perhaps in another article. ~ Jorge J. Santiago-Aviles



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