There aren’t many secret spots left in the sport-fishing world, but surprisingly Aruba fishing has flown under the radar for years. It just might have some of the best billfishing you’ve never heard about.
Aruba, along with Curacao and Sint Maarten, are constituent nations that are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are also referred to as the ABC Islands and form the Netherlands Antilles in the southern Caribbean. The island itself is roughly 20 miles by six miles in size, and even though it’s just 18 miles from Venezuela, it’s worlds away from what you might expect. Arubans are very friendly and welcoming. While there, you will hear English, Dutch, Spanish and a local dialect known as Papiamento, found only in the ABC Islands. The climate is also very different here because Aruba lies below the hurricane latitudes. The big storms that frequently wreak havoc in the Caribbean pass well to the north of Aruba. Subsequently, the island is rocky, arid and strewn with cactus.
North for Marlin, South for Sails
I first visited Aruba in 2009 and met Eric Mansur, owner of Varadero Aruba Marina. He also recently took delivery of a beautiful custom 58-foot Paul Mann named Alina. Like many Arubans, he prefers to run his own boat without a full-time professional captain. “We have great fishing year-round,” he reports. “Blue marlin can be caught all year, but the fall is the best time for a shot at a grand slam when the whites and sails move in. We normally target sailfish on the bank, where you can find baitballs along with false albacore and small dorados mixed in. For whites and blues, we usually go to the northern side of the island to fish bottom edges and current changes.” Mansur prefers to use a standard spread of circle-hooked ballyhoo along with a pair of dredges and squid chains.
Milton Pichardo runs a 35-foot Bertram charter boat called Teaser. He, along with his brother Kenny from the boat Kenny’s Toy, form one of the top charter operations in Aruba. He says that September through November are great for sailfishing, but January through April are terrific months for targeting blue and white marlin on the northern or eastern sides of the island, where the water drops off to over 1,000 feet just 3 miles offshore. “For sailfish, we are usually fishing on the south side of the island on the bank between 160 and 220 feet of water, from 5 to 14 miles offshore,” he says. “We’ll pull naked ballyhoo and a couple with small chuggers on either 30- or 50-pound tackle.” He also prefers the Squidnation artificial dredges and daisy chains.
You know a restaurant has fresh seafood when they operate their own charter boat. That’s the case with Herbert Merryweather’s Driftwood operation; their downtown restaurant is a stone’s throw away from the charter dock where their two boats, Driftwood and Living Easy, are docked. In addition to the great billfishing, Merryweather says the winter months are well-known as prime wahoo season. These striped speedsters can be caught in amazing numbers. The average size is relatively small, around 20 to 25 pounds, but the unofficial island record totals over 90 fish in a single day, so the quantity definitely makes up for the size. He says that September through February are prime for hunting blue marlin.
In 2010, Joan Vernon relocated her popular Presidential Caribbean Cup tournament from Venezuela to Aruba due in part to helping showcase the amazing billfishing action. During the 2014 event, the fleet of 20 boats set a tournament record with 17 blue marlin, 12 white marlin and 45 sailfish released in three days of fishing, all on 30-pound tackle and non-offset circle hooks. Ola, another local charter boat, won the event with five blue marlin, two white marlin and a sailfish, with bonus points for a grand slam on day two — one of two slams recorded during the tournament.
Plenty of Options Nearshore or on Land
Back ashore, there are plenty of entertainment options. Aruba has some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean, along with beautiful white sand beaches — a big draw with the planeloads of pale Dutch tourists who arrive during the winter months. The island’s flats and mangroves offer snook, tarpon and bonefish in good numbers, so be sure to pack an inshore rod if you can. Want to see the sights but don’t feel like getting wet? A submarine can take you and your family down to 150 feet to visit several wrecks found in a protected areas off limits to fishing. Once the sun sets, the night life picks up, offering a wide selection of bars and restaurants, plus a few big casinos for those who want to gamble. The capital city of Oranjestad is centrally located, with most of the big-name resort hotels clustered along the beaches just outside town.
Unlike some destinations where the fishing is the only attraction, Aruba is a great choice for an all-around family vacation. It’s safe, clean and beautifully scenic. And with outstanding fishing, it just might be the next Caribbean hot spot.
Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA) is located just a short drive from Oranjestad. It offers international service to the United States and most countries in the Caribbean and Europe, with direct flights from the Netherlands. Be sure to arrive early for your departure flight since American residents clear through U.S. Customs and Immigration in Aruba rather than back in the States. For those arriving by boat, there are two private clubs and at least two commercial marinas to choose from. The Renaissance Marina in downtown Oranjestad is within easy walking distance from everything. However, many visiting captains prefer the services offered by Eric Mansur’s Varadero Marina, only a short drive away. The Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino in Oranjestad is a popular choice for lodging, due to its central location. The charter docks are also right across the street, and there’s plenty to do within walking distance of the hotel.
A number of charter operations are available in Aruba, but many specialize in half-day trips for the cruise-ship clients. If you want a full day of marlin fishing, be sure to discuss that in advance with your captain prior to booking your trip. Three top operations are Teaser Charters (teaserfishingaruba.com), Driftwood Sportfishing (driftwoodfishingcharters.com) and Ola Sportfishing (olasportfishingaruba.com).