SEE­ING WHITE IN CAP CANA

THE WHITE MAR­LIN FISH­ING WITHIN A STONE’S THROW OF CAP CAN A IN THE DO­MINI­CAN RE­PUB­LIC CAN BE OUT­STAND­ING; HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO GET IN ON THE AC­TION

Marlin - - CONTENTS | FEATURES - BY GARY CA­PUTI

The white mar­lin fish­ing within a stone’s throw of Cap Cana in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic can be out­stand­ing; here’s what you need to know to get in on the ac­tion By Gary Ca­puti

DDo­mini­can 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-poundtest 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 20or 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 fiveminute 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 midApril 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 wellpub­li­cized. 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.”

NO SUR­PRISES

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 fleet heads into the azure Caribbean Sea from the ma­rina. With deep wa­ter found close to shore, the run to the fish­ing grounds is pleas­antly short, usu­ally less than 30 min­utes. Long be­fore the late-sea­son blue mar­lin FAD fish­ery be­came pop­u­lar, Cap C

Neil Or­ange, one of the most ex­pe­ri­enced cap­tains fish­ing out of the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, says the spring­time ac­tion on white mar­lin is out­stand­ing. “The ac­tion can be fast, and most of the time we’re fish­ing only 3 to 5 miles off the beach, pretty much ri

From op­po­site left: A white mar­lin shows its true colors, with a beau­ti­ful iri­des­cent green stripe along its flanks. Dredge-fish­ing is a nearly un­beat­able way to tar­get these wily bill­fish. While many teams pre­fer nat­u­ral baits, such as mul­let, for...

Tour­na­ment pro­moter Rick Al­varez shifted his In­ter­na­tional Se­ries bill­fish tour­na­ments to the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic from Venezuela once the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion proved un­ten­able there. He, like many oth­ers, be­lieves the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic of­fers an...

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