For centuries, stories of jewels and treasures in the Caribbean attracted those brave enough to ply these waters in search of commerce. Things have settled somewhat since those days of glory, but one thing remains true: There are still jewels and treasures to be found. If you need proof, look no further than the Turks and Caicos Islands. To be sure, hundreds of iconic island paradises can be found in this corner of the world, but few rival the talcum-like sandy beaches, the barrier-reef environment that surrounds much of this island group, and the 60 square miles of pristine flats habitat that hold huge schools of uneducated bonefish.
First Stop: Blue Haven
Landing at night in the capital of Providenciales (known locally as Provo), I knew not what to expect come morning light, but when my eyes focused on the Blue Haven IGY Marina surroundings, I discovered a plethora of mega-yachts that long ago found the happy medium between the prolific offshore fishing grounds and the world-class flats fishery just minutes away from their dock slips. The fact that I met this many mothership operations in one marina told me I had stumbled on a well-kept secret. After a few dockside conversations, the reason for this congregation of such fishing wealth soon became apparent.
A Close Bite
The offshore drop-off is just five minutes from the Blue Haven Marina, and wahoo, yellowfin tuna, dolphin, blue marlin and white marlin are just a few gallons of diesel past that. Located northwest of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and east of the Bahamas, TCI sits in the middle of some well-documented and heavily traveled blue marlin migration routes.
Honestly, I can’t believe it took me so long to discover TCI, but once I did, I found out why I will migrate here again to pursue the huge variety of sport fish that find comfort in the surrounding waters. It’s a year-round fishery. The winter bite centers on wahoo, which are found not only in large numbers, but in sizable stature as well. The cooler waters are their comfort zone this time of year, and a healthy dose of dolphin make these waters their winter range as well. With the onset of warmer water in April and May, yellowfin tuna, blackfin tuna and blue marlin move in, and they will be prevalent all through summer and into fall. November is the shut-off point, after which the offshore fishery reverts back into the winter cycle.
Fishing Aboard Panoply
Just outside of the Blue Haven Marina sits the north wall, where the action can begin within minutes from the channel. We fished with Capt. Russ Kleppinger as our guest angler, aboard Delphine Hartshorn’s 46-foot Bertram Panoply, with Capt. Phillip “Flex” Williams at the helm. It was late April and a transitional period by all standards for these waters. With no promises of success but lots of enthusiasm for a great day on the water, we throttled eastward for an area known as the “humps.”
A few miles from the waypoint, we spotted birds with tuna crashing under them, and a quick troll through had multiple hookups on schoolie-size yellowfin. Subsequent stops resulted in more of the same, a great omen. A 50-pound-class yellowfin was landed, and Kleppinger said fish close to 100 pounds are not unusual. Mixed in with the schooling yellowfin were oceanic skipjack, giving us all the impression that if a blue marlin was in the vicinity, it would be here.
The activity died as quickly as it started, and either the bait that was prevalent dived into the depths or a blue marlin came up for a feeding opportunity. We headed to the humps and gave it a good portion of time to produce a result, but we kept thinking we should have given the tuna a chance to resurface. We kept our eyes peeled back at the western horizon with a tide coming off high. The bird life came back online, and we raced for the action. As soon as we found ourselves surrounded by diving birds, three rods lit up. This time, one of our fighting tunas was eaten by a sizable critter.
Thinking it was a large shark, we didn’t get too excited and figured the fight would be short-lived. Going 90 minutes into it, with no snapped line and a minimal 80-pound leader, our thoughts of a large shark started to shift toward a large blue sulking in the deep and not wanting to show itself. The game ended abruptly when we put the rod in a holder and tried to fashion a more comfortable fighting belt/harness system to go the distance with this fish. A rod failure set the mystery fish free, and our hearts and our hopes were dashed in an instant.
The Day Maker
Trolling back toward the inshore drop-off, we raised a blue marlin within minutes, and a 20-pound dolphin was stuck just minutes after that. With only a day on the water to test this blue-water fishery, I came away extremely impressed and made plans to return in peak season to see what could transpire when the bite really gets established. Thinking we had a great day, our tails went quickly between our legs when the dock was filled with several huge wahoo landed by a visiting sport-fisher that makes an annual pilgrimage to the TCI area specifically to target these fish.
Hartshorn said that on her best day in TCI, she released five blues, with another seven blues raised. Though the structure on the humps is hard to resist, off to the west lies the northwest corner, where lots of marlin, tuna, wahoo and mahi are known to congregate because the current keeps nutrient loads peaked with the constant upwelling found there.
Skinny Water Adventures
Several mothership owners in the marina had flats skiffs on board and make their annual trip to TCI not for the offshore bite, but instead for the exceptional bonefish fishing found in TCI. After a few stories and some photo shares, I made the effort to take in some fly-fishing myself. Fishing with Capt. Ed Missick of Catch the Wave Charters, we raced over to East Caicos and ran up on schools holding hundreds of bones. Fishing the muds is a no-brainer, but the skilled angler will want to seek the bigger and smarter bonefish that hug the shoreline for the ultimate fly-fishing challenge. After catching a few dozen bonefish from 2 to 6 pounds on beaded flies, we tossed small, plastic single-tailed grubs at them with light spinning rods, and the bite was just as productive, making it a great way to spend a day with the wife or the kids if they ever want to catch their first bonefish.
With Turks and Caicos located 580 miles southeast of Miami, and 170 miles northwest of Puerto Playa, Dominican Republic, it is the perfect spot to pull in and sample the blue-water fishery on your trips traversing this area. The Blue Haven Marina is an IGY facility, and manager Adam Foster is well-equipped to help with any questions. The Blue Haven Resort offers great accommodations, with a gourmet supply store to restock the boat should food shortage be an issue.
What I found most appealing was the great attitude of the local people, the culture of the conch, and of course the unsurpassed look and feel of the bleached-white sand that gives TCI some of the most iconic beaches in the world. Should you be looking for a place for a family vacation with fewer crowds than other Caribbean destinations, make the effort to research the Turks and Caicos Islands and see if you find it as appealing as I did on my maiden voyage there.
The islands have several tournaments worthy of note, with the biggest being the Caicos Classic IGFA Billfish Release Tournament in July. A qualifying Offshore World Championship event, this three-day tournament offers great fishing and an opportunity to share these amazing islands with the family for a quality vacation opportunity.
If golf, wine and wahoo are priorities in your life, the Wine Cellar Golf and Fishing Tournament at the end of March and beginning of April allows anglers to compete for daily jackpots, along with potentially great payouts for the biggest mahi and $10,000 for the biggest wahoo.