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August 10, 2009

Traveling Angler: Puerto Rico

Double your pleasure - inshore and offshore - in Puerto Rico

Here's a tempting thought - tarpon fishing in the morning, followed by a billfish adventure in the afternoon. Such a scenario is possible at numerous destinations around the globe, but not many offer a better opportunity to score this one-two punch than Puerto Rico.

Where: The international airport in San Juan borders the San Juan Lagoon, an intricate ecological web that yields thousands of tarpon each year for visiting anglers. The lagoon then spills north into the Caribbean Sea, where the ocean floor drops precipitously into a blue-water playground replete with hungry pelagics.

What: Tarpon are the main attraction. They roam the lagoon, frequently schooling up in dramatic feeding frenzies during the day. The action can be incredible at times, and robust populations of snook also inhabit these waters. Offshore, sailfish are the most common billfish species, but anglers also tangle with marlin - both whites and blues - as well as wahoo, tuna and dorado.

Why: The tarpon action can get downright silly: Capt. Omar Orraca once released 47 silver kings in a single day. Offshore, a few marlin in the 700- to 800-pound range are encountered each year.

When: Best chance for a 100-pound tarpon and a marlin in the same day: September through November. School-size tarpon averaging 30 pounds inhabit the lagoon year-round. Larger, migrating fish more than 100 pounds move through in October and from February through May. July and August are prime for big marlin, though anglers catch them during the winter months, weather permitting.

How: Tarpon fishing here favors live bait, including anchovies, threadfin herring, sand perch and mullet; all are easily caught in neighboring Torrecilla Lagoon. Offshore, trolling rigged ballyhoo and lures over deep structure and around  currents produces pelagics.

Besides Fishing: Puerto Rico means good food and festive times! Don't forget to travel west from the lagoon region to visit the Old San Juan historic district.

Dinero: Orraca offers combined tarpon/blue-water trips for $1,075 (three hours of tarpon fishing and six for offshore), though half-day tarpon trips are just $350. Convenient, reasonable accommodations around the Isla Verda area are only a short distance from the marina.

Who: Capt. Omar Orraca (787-396-8346; www.fishinginpuertorico.com) pioneered the tarpon  fishery and knows it as well as anyone. Orraca is based out of San Juan's Cangregjos Yacht Club, where he keeps a 24-foot Pathfinder Bay Boat and a 35-foot Bertram. It's only a hop, skip and jump to either the lagoon or the offshore grounds, and Orraca's vessels are equipped with top-of-the-line spinning, conventional and fly gear. His Caribbean Outfitters Fishing Lodge was scheduled for completion by late summer. Alternatively, there's the El San Juan Hotel & Casino (888-579-2632).

The Upsides: The fishing - especially for tarpon - can be red-hot, but equally good is Puerto Rico's incredible convenience: American citizens do not need a passport to visit Puerto Rico, and both the San Juan Lagoon and blue-water grounds lie mere minutes from the international airport.

The Downsides: As with all offshore fisheries, action can sometimes be hit or miss. Try scheduling around the moon. Two to four days after the new moon can produce good results, as can four days before and five days after a full moon.