On a few, albeit all-too-rare occasions, I am absolutely convinced that you are destined to catch a certain fish before the boat has even left the dock. A case in point: the white marlin I caught recently in the Dominican Republic. The day had started off slowly, with just one fish showing the briefest interest in the left teaser, and then just as I happened to be standing next to the left long, the line snapped free from the rigger clip. I grabbed the rod, free-spooled for a few seconds, eased the drag lever forward, and smiled to myself as I felt the line come tight. Moments later, my fish was in the air.
This had been the first day of a trip planned several years previously with Capt. Angel Muntaner of Caribbean Fishing Adventures. We had been fishing for tarpon, casting flies in the tannin-stained waters of the Torrecilla Lagoon, a vast and sheltered waterway that abuts Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan. Muntaner had mentioned that he and his father spend a lot of time each year fishing in the Dominican Republic, explaining that for several months of the year, his father relocates his 50-foot Ronin, Angela, to Marina Cap Cana. It sounded like fun.
Crews fishing in the DR regularly release large numbers of both white and blue marlin, along with the occasional Atlantic sailfish, longbill spearfish, and even swordfish. Muntaner told me that on December 11, 2016, Capt. Miguel Tirado fished out of Marina Cap Cana aboard the Puerto Rico-based Blue Bird and released an astonishing 23 blue marlin, establishing a new single-day record for the Atlantic. In 2020, Marina Cap Cana was chosen by the Billfish Report as the No. 1 spot in the world for sport fishing that year, the award being based on several different criteria such as fish numbers, the variety of billfish species, average fish size, and fishing reports. Unsurprisingly, when Muntaner extended an invitation for me to come and fish with them, I accepted immediately, but then the pandemic hit. In May 2022, I finally arrived in that idyllic Caribbean paradise from my home in the United Kingdom.
And while Muntaner is under the age of 30, don’t make the mistake of thinking that he is a rookie. He fished his first bluewater tournament at just 7 years old. It was a big event hosted at Marina Cap Cana and televised on ESPN, and he was part of a team that included his father, Angel “Tito” Muntaner, himself a renowned tournament angler. The young Muntaner caught both a white and a blue marlin, winning the gleaming Rolex he wears with pride today. “From that day onward, I was hooked on tournament fishing,” he told me as we headed out that first morning. “I fished offshore at every opportunity I could. I pleaded with my father to allow me to join him on one of his annual trips to fish in Costa Rica, and eventually he conceded, but with one proviso: Dad insisted that throughout the trip I was to hold my rod at all times, that there would be no sleeping if things went quiet. I had to remain alert, always ready for a bite. One day we were fishing on different boats, and I wasn’t sure which one my father was on. So I made sure that every time we were close to any other boat, I was always clearly visible standing in the cockpit, holding my rod,” he said.
The previous evening, Muntaner and a few of the other Puerto Rican crews we were hanging with had told me that while they do catch a few whites in the deep water off Puerto Rico, they see nothing remotely like the numbers of these pretty little billfish that they do in the DR. I asked Muntaner why these waters were so prolific for whites. His reply: “A 15-mile plateau of shallow, broken ground sits right on the Dominican Republic’s northeast shoulder like an epaulet. The depth averages just 100 to 300 feet, which would generally be regarded as being shallow for marlin, but these conditions are clearly perfect for whites, and the area holds lots of bait. Due to the close proximity and accessibility of this fishery, a lot of scientific research has taken place, and it has been confirmed that white marlin aggregate here to spawn.” Interesting.
So, when is the best time to visit? “There are almost always a few whites around, but the widely accepted season runs from March through June, with the best fishing generally occurring in April and May,” Muntaner said. “Some years the fish arrive early, other years a little later, but if you plan to fish here in those prime months, you can be confident that the white marlin will be here. And despite fishing in such shallow water close to shore, don’t be surprised if a blue pops up in your spread either.”
Blue marlin are also caught year-round. The optimal time for big blues off Marina Cap Cana—fish that can average 400 pounds or so—are the peak summer months of June through August. From September until January, the numbers of blues increase, but these are mostly smaller fish in the 75- to 150-pound range, perfect for the light-tackle tournaments held during this period, and also great for anyone looking to catch a blue on fly.
I had been told that we would be fishing as close as 1 or 2 miles out, yet even so, it came as a surprise when barely 10 or 15 minutes after we had cleared the buoyed channel leading out of the marina, Muntaner eased back the throttles to his preferred trolling speed of 7 knots, and lowered the outriggers while the crew deployed the spread. Our flat-line baits were adorned with 3-inch Squidnation Slammers, which add a little extra action and color. Muntaner fishes 6/0 circle hooks on 20-pound-class tackle for whites but always has a 30-pound outfit rigged and ready with a larger bait such as a mackerel to be pitched to a blue.
Dredges are also a key component in the DR, as with nearly every other offshore fishery in the world. “When fishing a tournament for white marlin, we often incorporate mullet in the dredges, with a ballyhoo swimming immediately behind it on the flat line,” Muntaner said. “Invariably that’s the bait that gets hit first, often without any prior indication that we have raised a fish.”