Oh yes, the pirates of! Even before the Hollywood franchise, most Westerners associated the Caribbean Sea with rough types who missed a leg here or an arm there, fired broadsides, brandished cutlasses, and buried loads of silver and gold on nameless islets when they had to make their frigates and galleons lighter so that they could escape that flotilla the government sent after them. Hundreds of gullible folk still part with their money in exchange for “sure tips” regarding the precise location of another pirate’s treasure island. But there’s a surer treasure and pleasure to be had in the Caribbean: fish and fishing!
The Caribbean Sea is a big (nearly 1 million square miles of surface area) body of salt water located between North, Central, and South America. While it’s generally relatively shallow, there are a number of really deep areas in it, the deepest point in the Cayman Trench being over 25,000 feet below the surface. It features a tropical climate, with surface water temperatures around 80 F / 27 C, give or take 3 degrees. Nutrient-rich water and a variety of ecosystems, including sand and vegetation beds, coral reefs, volcanic islands, mangroves, trenches and flats, provide an excellent habitat for literally incalculable species of fish.
The north-eastern border of the Caribbean is marked by the Bahamas. Those islands mostly lie on the relatively shallow shelf, and feature the familiar long sandy beaches. These beaches continue into hard sandy bottoms excellently suited for species such as bonefish, and for flats fishing and saltwater flyfishing. Lots of charter boats are also at your disposal for deep sea fishing, and the islands at the edge of this group, including the Turks und Caicos Islands, have great depths nearby.
The border then continues, clockwise, with the group of islands called the Greater Antilles, including Cuba, Hispaniola (shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico. Two other groups of islands that belong to the Greater Antilles archipelago, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, are actually located inside the Caribbean Sea, and separate it into the deeper northern part, where Cayman Trench, the sea’s deepest point, is located, and bigger but somewhat shallower southern part. With deep sea within hours of sailing, it makes the Cayman Islands one of the best points ever for a deep sea fishing enthusiast.
Further on clockwise from the Greater Antilles one finds the British and US Virgin islands, which also present a great home base for a fishing enthusiast, especially one who is focused on deep sea fishing. The two features that make it an offshore fishing paradise are the Puerto Rico Trench, the second deepest in the Caribbean, and the Anegada Passage between the Virgin Islands and the Lesser Antilles, one of the two passages through which the waters of the Atlantic Ocean enter the Caribbean Sea, and a migration route for the nomadic pelagic fish.
The Lesser Antilles are a chain of mostly volcanic islands, including St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines, and Santa Lucia, believed to be a great winter destination. Some of the deepest waters in the Caribbean are to be found around this island. Barbados, lying a little off, is not technically in the Caribbean, but most of the fishing and travel guides list it with this group as well. This arch of islands continues until Trinidad and Tobago, which is the southern borders of the Caribbean.
The western shore of the Caribbean Sea belongs to continental nations: Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico. This shore is protected by the Great Mayan Reef, the second longest coral reef in the world. It is threatened by the warming sea, as some of the symbionts of the corals can’t live in overly warmed water, but is still a unique ecosystem with amazing opportunities for fishing, snorkeling, and other water activities.
You don’t often see Central American countries listed among top fishing destinations, but as a matter of fact there’s outstanding fishing to be had out there, too. For instance, the Los Roques Archipelago in Venezuela and the coasts of Belize are famous for saltwater fishing for permit, bonefish, and other species. Costa Rica is a great destination for tarpon fishing, and Panama for tuna. The waters around Guatemala are some of the calmest in the area, which makes it a great deep sea fishing destination. And the fishery in the Quintana Roo province of Mexico, around the Yucatan Peninsula, where the trade winds create a phenomenon called upwelling, that forces deep-sea water reach up to the surface, improving nutritional status, is in a class by itself.
From the earliest times life on the Caribbean revolved around fishing. Early French travelers reported that one of the strongest insults among the Caribs – the indigenous people that gave the sea its name – was an expression meaning “you don’t even know how to fish”. Those who could fish, by contrast, enjoyed a privileged status. According to Price, even during the plantation period the slaves who were most skilled at fishing were relieved from all other duties, stood at the top of the slave hierarchy, and had such freedom that they were practically slaves in the name only. Modern corporations could learn something from those planters, huh?
Handlining and spearfishing were the most popular methods of fishing among the indigenous populations, however, there are some very early reports of trolling being used as well. Today almost all fishing types and techniques – obviously, except ice fishing – can be enjoyed in the Caribbean. Two stand out, however: deep sea offshore fishing and saltwater fly-fishing.
Saltwater fly-fishing is a relatively new phenomenon, which is ever growing in popularity. As, obviously, fly-fishers target surface-dwelling fish, it is practiced on relatively shallow water, or over reefs and wrecks located near the surface of the water. Many anglers prefer to fish on flats where you can wade waist-deep in the water, targeting such species as bonefish, permit, and barracuda. The Caribbean offers a near perfect environment for this type of fishing, but between clear sun and bright skies you should never forget a cap or a hat, quality polarized sunglasses, UV-protecting clothes and gallons of sun shield.
Ever since Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” entered the mandatory reading lists of all English curriculums on this planet, everybody knows what deep sea fishing is. Swordfish, white and blue marlin, yellowfin and blackfin tuna, dorado and dolphin (mahi-mahi), as well as an assortment of sharks, are the most prized trophies. The Caribbean is one of the original and still one of the best destinations for this type of fishing, and you no longer need to be a millionaire or a local to enjoy it: charter boats that offer offshore fishing trips are located in all popular Caribbean resorts, and are within budget for most holidaymakers.
The waters of the Caribbean Sea are subject to no less than 26 countries and territories, which have different fishing regulations. You should check for fishing seasons, whether you need a fishing license, and if you can use specific equipment and techniques: for instance, spearfishing is illegal in such places as the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Antigua and Barbuda, and you can’t use cast nets to fish for bait in the Bahamas. There may be limits on possession of certain species of fish, and in some places no more than six rods and reels per boat can be in use at a given time. When planning your own fishing trip, be sure to find out the borders of numerous marine protected areas. Put an extra effort in learning the regulations if you come in your own boat; on the other hand, if you book a charter trip, the captain will have you covered regarding all regulations and rules.
Most holidaymakers prefer to visit the Caribbean in the winter months, that is, during the dry season, when you could feel safe both from the rains and from the notorious hurricanes, which most often occur in August-September, but can strike a month or two before or after that. Dedicated fishing enthusiasts are seldom deterred by such considerations, and will follow the species of their dreams regardless of the weather forecast, as long as it bites. And, while generally speaking, overall fishing is good at any time of the year, some species may be more abundant in a given locality than others.
This especially applies to the pelagic fishes such as sailfish and billfish, the nomads of the deep seas. So, the blue marlin, for instance, abounds in the southern part of the sea around Grenada and Barbados (although the latter technically doesn’t belong to the Caribbean) in the spring months, but moves over to the Virgin Islands by the summer. Such homebound species as the groupers, by contrast, will be hanging around their favorite reef or wreck at any given time. But the general rule that there’s no such thing as a bad time for fishing in the Caribbean applies. Have a look at the offers available directly from trusted captains and guides on our online marketplace and see for yourself.
Head image credit: Jamaica Charter Boat