The Dominican Republic (commonly called simply "the D.R." by visitors) occupies the eastern portion of the island of Hispaniola, with Haiti occupying the west, and the D.R.'s eastern shoreline defines the western edge of the Mona Passage, one of the major thoroughfares between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Rico sits 65 nm to the east of Hispaniola and defines the eastern side of the passage.
Major currents flow through the deep channel between the two islands, and the near-constant presence of fresh tropical trade winds can make the passage a rough place, but its proximity to two major bodies of water also makes it an incredible spot for intercepting pelagic game fish. Just as boats cruise through the Mona headed to or from South America, so do dolphin, wahoo, tuna and every species of Atlantic billfish. Geography makes the eastern shore of the D.R. a natural hot spot.
Over the past few years, a strong white marlin fishery has emerged each spring, beginning in March and lasting into July. After the whites move on in the dead of summer, the blues arrive, and the blue marlin fishing gets stronger as the season wears on. Many folks believe that the blues found in such great numbers in the U.S. Virgin Islands' St. Thomas each August migrate west to the D.R. in September. And the dolphin fishing begins in December and stays great throughout the spring and summer, providing reliable action on most days.
Natural Fish Attractors
The area benefits from natural reef formations that create incredible eddies, upwellings and current edges. A jagged piece of natural bottom juts 25 nm to the east of Cabo Engaño, the easternmost point of the D.R., and major rips form as the currents in the passage flow across the reef. A series of large seamounts also adorns the southern edge of the reef, providing many potentially great fishing spots where bait could be trapped in eddies or tidal convergences, and where predators would likely gather.
Looking at the vast, thumb-shaped tract of reef on a chart is enough to arouse any offshore angler's curiosity, and the area has attracted some of the top captains in the world to give it a try. Even though knowledgeable skippers have been talking about the D.R. for years, many others pass it by, preferring better-known destinations like St. Thomas, Puerto Rico or Venezuela. But more and more of them are stopping in, and quite a few are now choosing to spend a substantial part of the year fishing here.
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 Engaño, just a few miles offshore."
Engaño 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!
The Daily Bite
"We didn't catch 'em every day, but we would see marlin just about every time we went out," Clark says. "There are lots of fish here, and if you can locate them, you're most likely going to get a bite." Bubba Carter will get the fish dialed in within a short period of time. And even though both he and Clark talk about how close-in the great fishing can be, they also point out that it's only about 35 nm to the Pichinchu Bank, a shallow reef north of Isla Mona in the middle of the passage, about halfway between Cap Cana and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Pichinchu Bank reportedly goes off in late summer, and it's worth the run down there when conditions permit.
The combination of great fishing and world-class accommodations on land make the D.R. hard to beat. And now that Bubba Carter will be at Cap Cana, a world-class charter operation will be available too. The eastern shore of the Dominican Republic has been a little-known hot spot that only a few knowledgeable blue-water fishermen took advantage of, but that's about to change. Expect to hear more about the D.R. and Cap Cana as the billfish releases mount up.
Up Close: Cap Cana
Cap Cana offers everything from luxurious hotel rooms to large condominiums for rent. There's a staggering assortment of accommodations to choose from, and in addition to fishing, you can enjoy 3.4 miles of beautiful beaches, golf at one of two courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and dining at one of a dozen on-site restaurants. We stayed at the magnificent Caleton Villas, a set of 16 three- and four-bedroom villas with adjacent, luxurious thatch-roof hotel rooms for guests, located next to the Caleton Beach Club and the Nicklaus Signature Punta Espada golf course. Nicklaus also has the Golden Bear Lodge on the property, a combination of condos, suites and upscale hotel rooms, and there's a Ritz-Carlton under development as well.
Cap Cana Marina currently offers 89 slips for boats up to 60 feet and has gas, diesel and all marine services available. In its final phase, the marina will be able to accommodate yachts up to 250 feet long.
Capt. Bubba Carter