St. Maarten's Deep Sea Action
Explore the waters off one of the Caribbean's most beautiful islands
by Larry Larsen
Bluewater anglers on St. Maarten are more used to catching marlin than sailfish,
but once in a while surprises come along. Just a couple of years ago, for example, they experienced historic sailfish activity. Discovering such a fishery adds to the
offshore excitement in island waters, according to Captain Marc Lariviere, formerly of the Black Fin sportfishing charter operation.
Charter captains on the island reportedly caught more sailfish in the spring of 1997
than they had seen in the past 10 years. In the past couple of years, sailfish have been more present than in those earlier times. Neither Lariviere, who captained the
Black Fin during that period, nor other seasoned skippers, can explain the extraordinary occurrence.
"They just showed up," he says. "Absolutely no one can even remember in the
history of the island having caught so many sailfish. In fact, no one has seen so many sailfish moving into the waters surrounding St. Maarten."
Most of the sailfish caught there today weigh up to about 55 pounds, according to Captain Lariviere. Right
now, the sport fishing boats may catch one or two sails a day while trolling for other large gamefish.
Occasionally, a school of sailfish will take all trolled baits at once. That's happened to the Black Fin a couple of times.
"We were not expecting sailfish, or else we would probably have three or four hooked up at the same time,"
explains Captain Lariviere. "All the lines went off at the same time, but we were expecting blue marlin. They hit
our pink and blue Islander lures rigged in front of a ballyhoo. We fish the same baits for marlin dorado, wahoo,
barracuda and tuna, and in fact, we caught the largest dolphin we've seen on the island in May on that lure - a 70-pound bull dolphin."
"We certainly hope the sailfish make a habit of being around and return each spring," notes the captain.
The captain, a Canadian from Montreal, until recently skippered the Black Fin. The boat typically chases big
fish, such as a 70-pound bull dolphin that they caught one April near the Tuna Shoals about 10-15 miles west of St. Maarten.
To hit the really big fish, you have to travel to the current, according to Captain Lariviere. While the Black
Fin's biggest blue marlin weighed about 350 pounds, larger ones have been taken around the island. They are prepared for the giants with 80-pound test tackle and 12/0
Penn Senator reels. The sportfishing blue marlin island record is around 900 pounds, according to the captain.
"My friend was skippering this boat one summer day when he landed a 600-pounder
after 4 hours of fighting," he says. "The best time for blue marlin generally starts in
March and remains very good all through summer, but you can catch them year round over here. It's just better in the summer."
"The dolphin season is the same time as the blue marlin," explains the captain. "And through the summer we
get a lot of blackfin tunas and some yellowfin. Then, it slows down a bit, and then picks up again in October with the wahoo season."
The wahoo season is about three months, but they are caught year round also. Wahoo up to 65 pounds and
barracuda up to about 20 pounds have also been caught by anglers on the Black Fin. Blackfin tuna averaging
around 20 pounds are frequently caught, but giant yellowfin tuna of 80 pounds or more are a rare catch on the
boat. Monster yellowfin of 150 pounds have been taken from these waters. The most fish they've caught
aboard the boat was 13 one morning and 15 more in the afternoon. A dozen were blackfin tuna that weighed 15 to 18 pounds each and three were wahoos.
Best spots for fishing
The dropoff at La Samana is considered the best spot for blackfin tuna and wahoo. Anglers fish off the
dropoff from its peak at 200 feet, out to where it ends at about 600 feet. The wahoo generally feed at depths
of 200 feet. The dropoff on the west side of the island near Simbars is also a popular area. Productive dropoffs
on the northeast side of the island are 23 miles out, so anglers fish more often on the south side.
Some good reef fishing can be found at a spot called Prosolight Reefs just a half-mile out of Great Bay marina.
It's in about 80-foot water and it comes up to the pinnacle in 12 foot of water. The reef and a sunken ship (wreck) there provide very good fishing.
The Tuna Shoals just behind Saba are excellent fishing waters. Since boats must go about 30 miles out, a full
day is needed to go there. There are big seas there, but big fish as well.
The typical wind is about 15 knots, but in the summer, they calm a little.
"I think there's about eight to ten charter boats operating off St. Maarten, but only four of them go out five or
six times a week," points out the captain. "Most of the Blackfin's bookings are from Pelican, Royal Islander, Royal Palm and Flamingo resorts."
A slightly smaller bull dolphin provided another memorable experience on the water recently for the captain.
A 50-pounder was chasing a flying fish when it finally surfaced with the bait in its mouth. The flying fish was
flipping, trying to escape because the dolphin just had it by the tail. A frigate bird, hovering above them for the whole chase, then decided to dive on the flying fish.
"The frigate had the forage fish for a little while." Lariviere laughs. "Both the bird and the dolphin were
fighting over it. For a few seconds both of them had one end of the flying fish in their mouth at the same time. But, the bull dolphin ended up with the fish."
"We see whales occasionally, such as sperm whales, bottlenose and humpback that are about three times
bigger than our boat," he says. "It was mating season when one humpback put on a great show. She jumped
out of the water and landed on her back about 15 times in a row. Then, she stopped, turned on her back and
swam with her belly out and her pectoral fins out, flipped her tail a few times on top of the water and then went away. This is the typical behavior when it's mating season."
Nearby, there is great diving opportunities on the island of Saba, and the popular Diamond Rock is just 200
feet offshore. The minimum depth is around 50 feet, but you can go down to 75 or 80 feet. There's current and
beautiful scenery, such as sponges, sea stars, corals and school of fish so big that you can't see through them.
Thousands of fish in 100-foot thick schools swim in that underwater national park, but there's no fishing allowed
. Sportfishing around there on the dropoff is allowed and it's great, according to the captain.
About The Island
St. Maarten lies 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. It covers 37 square miles, with Dutch Sint Maarten on
the south spanning 16 square miles and French Saint Martin on the north covering 21. Philipsburg on Great Bay
is the capital of St. Maarten and Marigot is the capital of St. Martin. According to the most recent census, 32,000 people live on St. Maarten and 28,000 on St. Martin.
English is spoken everywhere, but Dutch is the official language of St. Maarten, and French the official
language of St. Martin. The weather is sunny and warm year-round, with some cooling from trade winds.
Average temperature during the winter season is 80F and a few degrees warmer and more humid in the
summer. There are occasional showers in late summer and early fall, with average annual rainfall of 45 inches.
Island accommodations range from large, comprehensive resort facilities and condominiums to small, intimate
guest houses and apartments. With 3,000 rooms on the island, there is a property to suit every taste. As the
only completely duty-free island in the Caribbean, St. Maarten/St. Martin offers some of the best shopping in the Caribbean.
Deep-sea fishing is a favorite recreation in St. Maarten, with charters available on a half-day and full-day
basis. The Blackfin is a 31 foot boat that has two 200 hp turbo diesel engines. A half-day charter runs around
$125 per person, or if you want the boat for yourself, it's $450. If you're going for a full day, it's $175 per
person or $795 for the boat. Charters usually include tackle, bait, food and refreshments.
The island's nine casinos are open on the Dutch side. The St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Garden offer
views of animals and plants of the Caribbean and South America. It houses more than 100 animals of 35
species and more than 100 plant species. Of special interest are the golden lion tamarin, the bush dogs, the spectacled owls, the caimans (a relative of the alligator) and the orchid displays.
The St. Maarten 12-Metre Challenge at Great Bay in Philipsburg makes America's Cup yachts available to
visitors for regattas and charters, with Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes 1987 among them. On a recent visit, I had an opportunity to help sail a Canadian
yacht during a race. It was quite a thrill. There is also a yachting school offered for those with greater interest in such.
Air service from Miami to Princess Juliana International Airport in St.
Maarten is provided by American Airlines. Click if you want help with lodging or flights. U.S. citizens need a current passport to enter the country. On the
island, most visitors rely on taxis and rental cars, but public transportation also is available to all points on the island between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. Fares
can be paid in U.S. dollars. For additional information about St. Maarten, call (800) ST MAARTEN (786-2278).