Dominican Republic, April 12, 2017: The first day of the Marina Cap Cana White Marlin Tournament, and I’m fishing aboard Black Pearl with Capt. Elias Darmeville in the tower, Roberto Antonio Pascual masterfully working the cockpit, and Ginger Tatem hanging onto a 20-pound-test outfit firmly connected to a rather large white marlin at the other end. It was her first billfish, ever. We’d been on the water a little over an hour, trolling just 3 miles from the inlet near some underwater structure, when the action started.
Pascual was screaming, “Reel, reel, reel!” and coaching our neophyte angler, and I was clearing rods and snapping pictures as fast as my trigger finger could push the shutter release. All the while, Ginger danced from one corner of the cockpit to the other, following one of the most acrobatic billfish battles I’d ever seen. I lost count of how many times the white jumped in the first few minutes, but it seemed it was never in the water for more than a few seconds before it started another series of wild airborne gyrations. This type of erratic behavior is one of the reasons white marlin are so popular with anglers, regardless of where we encounter them. They might be small compared with other members of the marlin clan, but what they lack in size, they more than make up for in gamesmanship and their ability to generate some serious excitement. Matched against 20- or 30-pound-class tackle, the show they put on is like a movie being played in fast forward. And we were having a ball.
Less than a week before, my plans called for me to be in Morehead City, North Carolina, for some early-season mahi action, but a call from my friend Capt. Frank Crescitelli, of Fin Chaser Charters, forced me to reconsider.
“Can you go to the DR with me to fish the Cap Cana White Marlin Tournament for an episode of my cable TV show?” he blurted out.
“When?” I asked.
“Next week, dude. I’ll be fishing on Dhara. You’ll have Black Pearl to yourself,” he said, his excitement palpable.
“I’m supposed to be going to North Carolina with Ginger next week, Frank.”
“Bring her along. She can be the lady angler on your boat. It’s an amazing place. We’ll have a great time.”
I just couldn’t say no and ever look myself in the mirror again, so I called Ginger and asked her two simple questions: “Is your passport up to date?” and “Do you mind being on TV?” She answered yes and no in the correct order, so arrangements were made, and a few days later we touched down at the airport in Punta Cana, then were whisked away to what I found is one of the most beautiful and sprawling private resorts I’d ever seen.
Cap Cana’s Beauty
The taxi took just 15 minutes to get from the airport to the main entrance. Before us was the 6,500-acre exclusive gated community that is home to the beautiful Marina Cap Cana; the Jack Nicklaus-designed Punta Espada Golf Course; Los Establos Equestrian Center; beautiful hotels, condos and private residences; wonderful restaurants; miles of snow-white-sand beaches; and even an eco-adventure park. Over the next few days, Cap Cana would blow me away with its natural beauty, wonderful facilities, and friendly staff and guests.
Construction of the marina, golf course and initial hotels started in 2003 but ran headlong into the worldwide economic collapse in 2008 just as phase one was nearing completion. Construction and sales came to a temporary halt, but Cap Cana is booming again and phase two is underway, with the ramp-up in construction attracting new residents from the United States, Europe, South America and across the Caribbean.
We stayed at the Punta Palmera Hotel and Residence on the beach, just a five-minute walk from the marina. It offers beautiful views, beachside pools and bright, airy rooms. There are more than a dozen excellent restaurants inside the resort and in nearby Punta Cana. My favorite is La Mona, an open-air bistro on Juanillo Beach featuring nouvelle cuisine that seamlessly blends Italian, Mexican and Japanese recipes into a very special dining experience. And when it’s all served under the pristine moonlit Caribbean sky with the waves lapping the shore a few yards away, it’s a little slice of heaven.
The protected marina is set among the downtown area of the resort surrounded by villas, condos, restaurants and nightclubs, and currently offers 140 full-service slips. Two major storms passed very close last year, including Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico just 76 miles away on the other side of the Mona Passage. The marina was packed with about 200 boats for the storms, and not a single one sustained any damage. With phase two of construction now underway, the potential to double or even triple the current number of slips is in the works, with availability for boats up to megayacht size.
Springtime Is White Marlin Time
Long before the discovery of the amazing late‑season blue marlin fishery centered on the FADs, boats from the United States converged on this area much earlier in the season. They came for the red-hot white marlin run that generally begins in mid-April and only gets better until the main body of migrating fish departs the area toward the end of June. It rivals the fall blue marlin action, with the additional benefits of fishing just a few miles from the inlet and sea conditions that are usually gentler than what’s common on the FADs.
The easternmost area of the island sees the mass migration of white marlin move right up the shoreline. Earlier in the year, these fish were closer to the equator, and as they move northward, a large portion of the stocks transit through the Mona Passage. The vanguard can arrive in late March, although April is more the norm, and waves of whites will transit through over the next three months. Tagging studies and observations seem to indicate that most of these fish will continue their journey farther north and cross the Gulf Stream to take up residence in the mid-Atlantic canyons from late June into mid-September.
“The number of white marlin found just a short run from the inlet at Cap Cana Marina is pretty amazing,” says Rick Alvarez, billfish tournament promoter and angler with decades of experience fishing Caribbean waters. Those of us with long memories remember Alvarez’s association with marlin fishing in Venezuela before the political climate there made sport-fishing tourism considerably less desirable, then eventually impossible. After that, he turned his sights on finding new locales where the fishing rivaled the waters of the La Guaira Bank and the facilities and government were more welcoming. He homed in on the Dominican Republic because it met all of those requirements.
“The fish were always there,” Alvarez told me during a conversation in the marina office, “but it was not well-publicized. Now, between Casa de Campo and Cap Cana, there are more slips and superb facilities, and the influx of boats seasonally has increased dramatically.”
Capt. Neil Orange was a successful tournament captain fishing the circuit from Florida to the Caribbean about six years ago, but he jumped ship and moved to the DR to work for Capt. Keith Bokenhagen. Now he skippers Reel Healin’, with Pascual handling mate duties, and lives there with his family year-round.
“The really good white marlin fishing started a little later than usual this year,” he told me. “In 2016, we were getting 15 to 18 bites a day by mid-April, but 2017 didn’t really get going until later in the month. The FAD fishing here is great in fall and early winter for blues, but the white marlin season in spring is a really neat fishery. The action can be fast, and most of the time we’re fishing 3 to 5 miles off the beach in front of the marina.”
“The Dominican Republic is the new Venezuela,” says Capt. Jimmy Grant, of Waterman. Grant spent many years fishing there and stayed on much later than most captains when the political climate continued to deteriorate. He ran Vintage and Sassy Lady, among other boats, and knew the seasonal fisheries there as well as anyone. He has been fishing from Cap Cana the past four and a half years now.
“The DR has great fishing but even better logistics, and creature comforts that rival the finest resorts anywhere,” he says. In fact, that combination is one reason why Cap Cana hosts a session of Marlin University, where anglers come to learn to become better at the sport. The white marlin fishing is world-class, but the best fishing is seasonal as big numbers of them migrate past the eastern tip of the island. Some years it can be as early as late March. Come April and May, you can get double-digit days and never run more than a half-hour to get them.
“The main spots are a series of rocks (known as One Rock, Two Rocks and Three Rocks) found directly in front of Cap Cana at varying depths, and three holes we call the Hotdog directly offshore of the airport and pretty close to the beach. The Hotdog holds bait regularly, but you have to understand that you’re dealing with migrating fish that rarely hang in for long before heading out before another wave comes through. They are usually hungry and very aggressive too.
“We fish here just like we do back home in Ocean City, Maryland,” Grant continues. “I prefer using mullet or ballyhoo dredges for the whites — actually for the blues too — and run four dink ballyhoo in the spread with a few pitch-bait rods ready. There are blues around during the white marlin run, larger ones than we see on FADs in fall, and even some sails, so you do have the opportunity to put together a grand slam.”
Read Next: Cap Cana: Where the Bite Is
As Grant said, the techniques used for white marlin in the DR are not much different from those used during white marlin season in the States, but some of the local captains set up a little differently. During my fishing days, while Elias was running Black Pearl from the marina to the rock piles, Pascual was getting the cockpit set up. He pulled out a pair of dredges, but these were rigged with a combination of mudflaps under nylon skirts on the inside with red metal-flake plastic squids on the outside. For teasers, he readied a pair of green-and-yellow squid daisy chains. The typical four-rod spread consisted of two rigger baits and two flat lines, with each running small ballyhoo behind tiny chugger heads or nylon dusters armed with circle hooks. The light stand-up outfits were spooled with 20-pound-test, per tournament rules, but Pascual told me that for most tournaments and everyday fishing, they prefer to use 30-pound mono. Considering that we encountered some larger whites during the tournament, including one that looked to be pushing 90 pounds that ran under the boat and clipped the line on the running gear, I would have felt more comfortable with the extra 10 pounds of breaking strength, but rules are rules.
I can’t stress enough how enjoyable it is to run only a couple of miles from the slip to the fish, troll within sight of Cap Cana’s soft-sand beaches, and take a mere 20 minutes to get back to the slip when it’s time to return. I’m accustomed to fishing for white marlin from New Jersey to Virginia, where we leave the dock well before first light and run for three or four hours or more to get to where the water was right yesterday, while hoping it hasn’t moved too far today. We’ll fish 10 hours or more and then endure the long run home. Even on a fast, comfortable boat with all the creature comforts, it makes for quite a long day. Going white marlin fishing back home is a commitment. Fishing out of Cap Cana is a pleasure you can enjoy on the spur of the moment and be back in time for cocktails. The resort provides a playground for the whole family in a safe, clean and classy environment.
I hope to return soon.
About the Author: Gary Caputi is a noted author and angler with more than 35 years of experience chasing bluewater species on four continents. His passion for bluewater sport fishing is reflected in the hundreds of articles he has written over the years.
Cap Cana Tournament Schedule
Cap Cana White Marlin Tournament
Abordo Charity Fishing Derby
Caribbean Billfish Tournament
Cap Cana Classic
International Cap Cana
The Punta Cana International Airport is only a 15-minute drive by car or taxi from Cap Cana. It is serviced by a variety of airlines and charter services, and offers facilities for private planes.
Secrets at Cap Cana
Eden Rock, Cap Cana
AlSol Tiara Collection
Sanctuary Cap Cana
AlSol Luxury Village
AlSol Del Mar Suites
Cavalier Steak House
La Tasca de la Mona
Other Things to Do
Marlin University, May 16-21
Anejos Tobacco and Rum Museum
World-class golf at Punta Espada
Los Esablos Equestrian Center
Eco-adventures at Scape Park (hiking, zip-lining, cave exploring, nature walks, mountain biking)
Horseback riding and trail adventures