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March 19, 2010

Dominican Republic Best Bets

The Dominican Republic's eastern shore is an offshore fishing paradise

Base of Operations
That decision has been aided by the recent development of Cap Cana, a 35,000-acre real estate development just south of the international airport at Punta Cana. The beautiful new full-service marina within the development, combined with numerous upscale lodging options, makes it easy for private boat owners and charter operators alike to set up shop in the D.R. Capt. Ross "Flash" Clark is one of those who has made Cap Cana home the last few seasons.

"That's a big bank sticking out to the east," Clark says, "but so few boats fish there I had it all to myself lots of times. And although you have a lot of bottom to choose from, you don't have to go far. Some of the best white marlin fishing took place right in front of Cabo EngaƱo, just a few miles offshore."

EngaƱo means trick or deceit in Spanish. The point was so named because the marshy land on the cape is very low and hard to see from the ocean. "It looks like the lighthouse there is really sitting in the water," Clark says, but the deep water running close to shore holds bait, so the fish are often close by.

Another veteran of the Caribbean is relocating to Cap Cana as well: Capt. Bubba Carter, who has spent the past several seasons in Venezuela. Carter also points out how close the fish can be. "There's incredible bottom structure right out front of Cap Cana, with major current edges that form over the reef, and there's usually lots of bait around," he says. "There are two major humps just a couple of miles offshore, and on a typical day you don't need to go more than about six miles from the dock." And he agrees with Clark about the lack of pressure. "The most boats you'll see is during a tournament," Carter says, "and then you might have 20."

I got a chance to fish out of Cap Cana this past summer, catching a ride with a local crew on a 46-foot Riviera owned by one of the developers of the marina. My wife, Poppy, and I flew to Punta Cana with our friends, Capt. Tad Burke and his wife, Kate, to see what the D.R. was all about. Our first day dawned windy and rough, so the trip to the reef was slow going, but we had barely put out the spread of artificial lures and squid daisy-chain teasers when we got covered up by large dolphin, a nice way to break the ice.

Trolling the FADs
We trolled to the northwest, down-sea, most of the day, around the point toward Punta Bavaro, another resort area, and Punta Macao. Local fishermen have placed large FADs (fish-aggregating devices) between Macao and Bavaro, and we raised numerous dolphin as we trolled by one FAD after another, but by early afternoon, we still had not seen a billfish. As we began the inevitable slog home, working our way up-sea toward the marina, we finally had a medium-size blue marlin crash a long-rigger lure about 3 p.m., but we failed to get a hook in it.

We saw more billfish the next day but didn't get a bite, although the dolphin fishing was almost as good as the first day, and the seas were much calmer. It wasn't until the third day that a small blue crashed the right long lure and we found ourselves hooked up to the target species at last. Tad Burke strapped on the rod and went to work, bringing the fish to the boat in short order. After a few photos, the mates released the blue and we had what we had come for - a marlin release!