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Mike Benitez, Legendary Marlin Angler and Charter Operator, Passes
Mike Benitez, a pioneering marlin angler and legend in the sport fishing community, recently passed away. Ricardo LeFranc, a member of Mike’s home port of Club Nautico de San Juan, penned the following memorial:
Our beloved Captain Mike Benitez passed away this Monday, January 3rd in the city of Boston.
In 1951, at the age of 18, Mike started working as a mate on fishing boats after graduating from high school. That same year, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company hired fishing captains experienced in blue marlin fishing to promote the island as a sports fishing destination. Among those captains were Tommy Gifford and Johnny Harms, with whom Mike had the chance to work and learn from as they fished throughout Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Bahamas. A few years later, Mike had saved enough money to build his own boat – a replica of the 36-ft Rybovich Bimini Babe, with plans given to him by Mr. Bob Maytag. This boat, named after his daughter, Rebecca, was the beginning of a long and productive career in fishing charters, which still runs today out of San Juan.
Mike was instrumental in the birth and development of sport fishing in Puerto Rico during the decades of the 1950’s and 60’s, and in 1956 he got the attention of every angler in the world when he caught a 756 pound all tackle world record blue marlin. That feat was covered by fishing magazines and newspapers worldwide, including the New York Times.
Mike was always a key man on the development and growth of Puerto Rico as a sport fishing destination, and was involved in many projects during the 1960’s and 70’s: The International Billfish Tournament at Club Náutico de San Juan, Johnny Harms’ marina in St. Thomas, the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (Boys Scout) and the first tournament at Little Dix. At the time, Mike was fishing the North Drop in St. Thomas during the months of June, July, August and September, routinely hooking 10-12 blue marlins a day.
During the decade of the 1970’s, Mike decided to explore new horizons and discover new fishing destinations. During those years he fished Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina and Louisiana in the United States, as well as Brazil, Venezuela, Panama and Australia, where he caught a 1,162 pound black marlin with captain Peter Wright. That adventurous spirit never ceased, and his search for new fishing grounds and bigger fish eventually led him to the Madeira Islands where he had a fishing charter during the 1990’s.
We will miss him but we will remember him with joy. May the Lord embrace him and give him eternal life.
Club Nautico – San Juan, Puerto Rico