When I set foot in a foreign country, I want to feel like I’m worlds away from the States. I don’t want to down a burger at a Hard Rock Cafe, I want to sit down with a local at a taco stand. And if you see me ordering a Big Mac in any place other than the airport, please shoot me.
The desire to experience new cultures and places shapes my fishing trips as much as the fishing itself. Of course I want to visit a country that offers a great bite, but I don’t want to spend four or five days in a place that has the same look and feel as Las Vegas. I don’t want to go to Vegas. I want to go on an adventure!
Adventure is one of those subjective words that’s open to interpretation. While some aspire to hike Mount Everest, I’m fine hopping on a puddle-jumper, flying into a little tropical oasis and dropping a line in some unknown stretch of water. Wash it all down with a few cold ones and, to me, that’s paradise — I just found it.
Located on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, on a sleepy little stretch of farms and beaches, the Golden Dolphin Villa is not exactly your typical fishing lodge. In fact, it’s not a fishing lodge at all. It’s a private villa that happens to be owned by a passionate angler, Mike Siemer. And since Siemer loves to fish, he set up a fishing operation just a few minutes down the road from the house in one of the most unique natural lagoons I’ve ever seen.
Located between the towns of Cabrera and Rio San Juan, the Golden Dolphin Villa is a custom-built, nine-bedroom estate made up of two separate houses perched on a picturesque hilltop with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Each room offers expansive views of the grounds and the ocean. Fountains and lush landscapes enhance the property. There’s even a regulation-size baseball field, with dugouts and the whole bit, that Siemer built right beside the house.
I first heard about the Golden Dolphin from Mike’s son, Darryl Siemer. Based on his description of the place, I knew there was no way I would be going down without the wife — unless I wanted to come home single. We’d made deal a long time ago that has helped us keep the marriage intact. I can go on as many fishing trips as I want as long as she gets to ride along on at least one each year. And I choose those trips very carefully. I don’t want to bring her to a lodge where she’ll have nothing to do but wake up at the crack of dawn and watch me fish all day. She needs a place that offers a bit of luxury, where her options include relaxing by the pool, getting a spa treatment or going shopping in town. The Golden Dolphin Villa made perfect sense. We traveled down with Darryl and our friends Derek and Cory Redwine, as well as photographer Adrian Gray from the IGFA.
Built and designed by Renato Visente, a Swedish architect, artist, engineer and general man about town, The Golden Dolphin was his masterpiece. Under his direction, all of the intricate metal and woodwork was made by hand on site. The villa has the air of an old European country estate with some Latin flair and every modern convenience. We shared each meal together in the main room on a round marble table that would have made King Arthur proud.
Time to Fish
The north coast of the Dominican Republic is mostly untouched, fishing-wise. Some sport boats operate quite a ways to the east in Puerto Plata, but we’d be all alone out in front of the lodge, which has its pluses and minuses. If you find the fish, they’re all yours. But you don’t have many eyeballs out there prospecting — and it’s a big ocean.
The north coast offers about the quickest access to deep water in the Atlantic. The Puerto Rican Trench lies just offshore, and upon leaving Rio San Juan, the depths quickly drop to several thousand fathoms. The landscape and the depths reminded me of fishing out of Kona, Hawaii, except that this water is definitely not like the Pacific’s — there was a good chop on the surface each day.
The Golden Dolphin operates two boats out of Laguna Gri-Gri, a 15-minute ride from the villa. This spring-fed, freshwater lagoon is lined with the tallest mangroves I’ve ever seen, and I live in Florida. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the day than leaving the lagoon in the morning and knowing you’d get to return to it later on. As the lagoon is only a foot or two deep, Siemer runs catamarans for the fishing. These wide boats provide a steady fishing platform and can still make it in and out of the lagoon with ease. The lodge operates two boats, the 28-foot Kevlacat and a brand-spanking-new 32-foot custom catamaran with a 13-foot beam. The boats are well stocked with the latest tackle and electronics. We brought a collection of trolling lures, wire, leader and swimming plugs, but we didn’t need to. All you really need is some light clothing and plenty of sunblock. The captain, Jose “Pico Tin” Aberto, speaks fluent English and is fun to joke with. He grew up fishing these waters, both recreationally and commercially, and can talk for hours about his hometown fishery.
To help locate fish, the staff put out a series of 13 FADs (fish aggregating devices). The locals call them “fishing stations.” The FADs (made up of a float consisting of a bunch of crushed milk jugs tied into a large rectangular or circular shape) are set out with several thousand feet of rope tied to a giant anchor. Like any FAD, these floating stations provide baitfish with a sort of oasis in the middle of the ocean, and in turn, the dorado, wahoo, tuna and marlin show up to feed. Each time we came up on a station, we spotted something, whether it was a massive school of oceanic triggerfish, dorado or wahoo.
Aberto says that dorado make up the bulk of their catch and they’re pretty much a sure thing when you roll up to a FAD. “The dorado are here all year,” he says. “The best time for them is in December, but it can be rough that time of year. The big bulls show up in April and May when we see many birds and schools of bait.”
The boats and local hand-liners who fish off yolas also encounter blue marlin in these waters, but they are still working to figure out the best time and area to target them. A few weeks before we showed up, our mate, Alan, caught a large blue on his yola. It was still the talk of the town, and the young man beamed when I asked him about it. Aberto says the bonito show up in huge numbers during the early summer months, from May through the end of July, and the blue marlin chase them in. “The bonito come closer to shore then, and we find them at the fishing stations,” he says. There is no doubt the marlin move through here, following the deep trench toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Surprisingly, they see very few white marlin and only a handful of sailfish.
They also find wahoo, which bite best in the winter, from January through February, along the 500-foot edge, located just a few hundred yards from the shore. The peak of the yellowfin action is in April and May, but they are also caught all year. A local commercial fisherman caught a 190-pound yellowfin on a yola out of Rio San Juan, which Aberto says is the largest tuna recorded in the Dominican Republic.