Each person has his or her own definition of paradise. What I think of as paradise, someone else might think of as hell. The same could be said of adventure. While others may aspire to hike Everest, I’d prefer to hop on a puddle-jumper, fly into a little tropical oasis, drop a line in some unknown stretch of water and fish till the sun goes down. Wash it all down with a few beers and to me, that’s paradise — and I just found it.
On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic with my wife, another couple and two buddies, we were treated like royalty at a gorgeous villa situated on a timeless, quiet stretch of land on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. Located between the towns of Cabrera and Rio San Juan, the Golden Dolphin Villa provides traveling anglers with an ideal setting, amazing accommodations and plenty of room to kick back and catch a mix of fish.
A Villa Like No Other
When the villa’s owner, Darryl Siemer first described the Golden Dolphin Villa to me, I knew there was no way I would be going down there without the wife — unless I wanted to come home single. We’d made deal a long time ago that has helped us keep the marriage intact. I can go on as many fishing trips as I want as long as she gets to ride along on at least one each year. And I choose those trips very carefully. I don’t want to bring her to a lodge where she’ll have nothing to do but wake up at the crack of dawn and watch me fish all day. She needs a place that offers a bit of luxury — relaxing by the pool, getting a spa treatment, going shopping in town. And the Golden Dolphin Villa has it all.
The villa is a nine-bedroom estate made up of two separate houses perched on a picturesque hilltop with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. One room is better than the next, and fountains and lush landscapes flow all over the property. There is even a regulation-size baseball field on the premises. You can create your own pickup game, challenge the staff or try to hit off some of the local kids, but be warned, while baseball is America’s pastime, it’s the Dominican Republic’s passion. Everywhere you go you see kids playing catch, dreaming of becoming the next David Ortiz or Albert Pujols. Hitting off them is not as easy as you think.
We traveled down to the D.R. with BD’s art director, Derek Redwine, and his wife, Cory. Darryl also joined us, as did photographer Adrian Gray from the International Game Fish Association. We didn’t have much of an agenda in place. Just relax, fish a few days, and try not to get into too much trouble.
“We arrived after dark and the staff greeted us with a freshly made pineapple cocktail served in the actual fruit.”
As I walked up the spiral staircase out front, passing the dolphin fountains, I soaked it all in and words escaped me. I’d never set foot in a place like this. Darryl must’ve read the look of astonishment on my face because he just smiled and said, “I told you.”
We were all blown away by the views, the jungle décor and the layout of the great room, where we’d be sharing all of our meals together on a giant round marble table that would make King Arthur proud. After dinner (fresh dorado) and a couple bottles of wine, we all retired to our rooms. My wife was in heaven. From the king-size bed we watched the moon shine over the ocean far beyond the villa’s grounds.
Time to Fish
Situated on the Atlantic coast, Rio San Juan offers quick access to blue water. The island of Hispaniola, which is split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, is basically the top of a mountain. Head offshore and the depths quickly drop to several thousand fathoms. Golden Dolphin Villa operates two charter boats out of Laguna Gri-Gri, a 15-minute ride from the villa. This spring-fed, freshwater lagoon is lined with the tallest mangroves I’ve ever seen, and I live in Florida where mangroves are more common than tourists. I couldn’t think of a better way to start or end the day then leaving the lagoon in the morning and knowing you’d get to return to it later on.
The north coast of the Dominican Republic is mostly an unfished stretch of water. Some sport boats operate quite a ways down the road in Punta Cana and Puerto Plata, but it’s too far for those boats to fish here. We were all alone out there, which has pluses and minuses. If you find the fish, they’re all yours. But, you don’t have many eyeballs out there prospecting and it’s a big ocean.
To help locate fish, the staff put out a series of 13 FADs or fish-attracting devices (some also call them fish-aggregating devices). The locals call them “fishing stations.” The artificial FADs (made up of a float consisting of a bunch of crushed milk jugs tied into a large rectangular or circular shape) are set out with several thousand feet of rope tied to a giant weight. They’re not anchored. They slowly float around but stay in the same general area.
Capt. Jose “Pico Tin” Aberto grew up in Rio San Juan where the lagoon is located, and fished these waters his entire life, both commercially and recreationally. He really understands the benefits of catch-and-release, and has helped spread the word. According to Pico Tin, dorado make up the bulk of their catch and they’re pretty much a sure thing when you roll up to a FAD.
“The dorado are here all year,” Pico says. “The best time for them is in December, but it can be rough that time of year. The big bulls show up in April and May when we see many birds and schools of bait.”
The fleet also encounters blue marlin in these waters, but they are still working to truly figure out the best time and area to target them. Our mate, Alan, caught a large blue a few weeks before we showed up. It was still the talk of the town, and the young man beamed when I asked him about it. Pico Tin says the bonito show up in huge numbers during the early summer months, from May through the end of July and the blue marlin chase them in. “The bonito come closer to shore then and we find them at the fishing stations,” he says.
They also find wahoo, which bite best in the winter, from January through February, along the 500-foot edge, located just a few hundred yards from the shore. The peak of the yellowfin action is in April and May, but they are also caught all year. A local commercial fisherman caught a 190-pound yellowfin on a small panga-type skiff. According to Pico Tin, it’s the largest tuna recorded in the Dominican Republic.
A Fishing FAD
We set out a spread of six to seven lines from the Golden Dolphin’s 28-foot Kevlacat, an Australian-built catamaran powered with twin 250-hp Yamaha four-stroke outboards. The mate set out a mix of billfish chuggers, soft heads, jet heads and a couple of smaller dolphin feathers. Adrian also set back a swimming plug run right down the middle that would dive down to about 15 feet.
We found our first fish of the day at the first FAD. Although oceanic triggerfish weren’t exactly on our list of targeted suspects, we were happy to catch a few and get the skunk out. A few hours later, Derek spotted a dorsal fin sticking out of the surface and sure enough, the right short went down hard. Unfortunately, the reel hardly spit out any line and the mystery fish was gone. We scored a dorado later in the day when a 10-pounder took the swimming plug that Adrian rigged up on wire, hoping for a wahoo bite. After a few underwater photos, the fish went in the hold. A barracuda snatched a large marlin lure later in the day and the last two hours of the trip were spent chasing a giant school of small tuna up and down the beach. We hooked one on the first cast, but the tuna were keyed in on the micro baits and not interested in our bucktail jigs and top-water plugs.
The seas were up the next day, but the bite improved. We slowly motored out of the lagoon, scored a few handfuls of live bait from a local handliner and hit the FADs. Each time we came up on an FAD, Pico Tin would closely inspect it for fish from his position in the tower. Surprisingly, the majority showed few signs of life. A dolphin jumped on a pink squid daisy chain fished way back on the shotgun late in the morning and made for some nice photos. After a few more hours of trolling, we found the fishing station we were hoping for. As the lures went by three nice dorado came skipping away from the bail and pounced on our baits. Derek and Darryl each grabbed a rod as I went for my camera.
“They’re behind the boat,” Pico Tin yelled. “Get a ballyhoo out.”
Alan sent a bait back on a spinner and hooked up another one. Adrian jumped in to get some photos as the mayhem ensued. He snapped a few photos and popped up to the surface and yelled
“Wahoo! There’s a bunch of wahoo!”
We began another mad dash as the boat pitched in the waves and we stepped over each other trying to get a wahoo bait out as we battled the triple-header. I took a rod as Derek got a ballyhoo rigged up and Adrian swam around shooting photos of a pair of dorado. The wahoo didn’t want to play, unfortunately, but the action changed the entire tone of the trip. After the dust settled, we cracked beers and headed home with five dolphin in the box.
The next day, we mixed it up, taking a small skiff into one of the local rivers. We were looking for snook, not an easy target in these waters, but as the scenery and experience overtook me, I stopped caring whether we caught anything or not. Instead, I was the one caught as I hung on Pico Tin’s words as he talked about growing up here and how the fishery has changed. He told stories of fishing the Silver Banks offshore, pointed out his spots and expertly navigated the river entrance, which was about ankle deep. We found ourselves tucked back in the mangroves, flinging live baits up under the low-hanging branches. Derek hooked and landed a small snook, so we knew they were here. I missed one bite and Pico Tin briefly had one on before it spit the hook. We spoke to a crab fisherman and Derek tried to talk Pico Tin into buying a few blue crabs to chase some permit, but the water was “too clean,” Pico said. The day, and the trip in general, ended much too soon. That afternoon we made our way to a local watering hole where the boys did a bit of cliff jumping. Afterwards we hit a local beach bar. Eventually we made it back to the villa where the girls were enjoying some spa treatments.
After a festive evening on the terrace with plenty of new adventures to talk about, we were back in the truck heading to the airport for the return flight to the States. The trip was too short to really dial in the fishery, which is full of potential. When you look at the globe, this portion of the Dominican Republic lies in close proximity to some of the Atlantic’s best marlin spots such as St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and the Turks and Caicos. The marlin are there somewhere, and Pico Tin is working on finding them, but it’s tough as he runs the only local sport fishing operation, but the potential is endless and it can only get better.
Most guests fly into Puerto Plata (POP) the closest international airport accessed from the States. We flew into Santo Domingo, another option about a two-hour drive to the south. A representative from the lodge will meet you at either airport and help you load up your luggage in one of the Golden Dolphin’s cushy trucks (with a stocked cooler). A number of airlines service Santo Domingo from Miami, New York, Atlanta and several other connections. We flew on Jet Blue.
The lodge operates two boats, the 28-foot Kevlacat and a brand-spanking new 32-foot catamaran with a13-foot beam. Both boats feature top-end electronics and safety gear. The boats are wellstocked with the latest tackle. The crew has a nearby office that is stuffed with all manner of rods and reels in various line classes. We brought a collection of trolling lures and swimming plugs, but we really didn’t need to. Make sure to pack light clothing and plenty of sunblock.
The villa itself is available for groups up to 18. It makes an ideal setting for family reunions, several couples, corporate retreats and destination weddings. The villa was built and designed by Renato Visente a Swedish architect, artist, engineer and general adventurer. The Golden Dolphin is his masterpiece. Under his direction all of the intricate metal and woodwork was made by hand on site. The villa has an air of an old European country estate with some Latin flair and every modern convenience. From its manicured grounds and fruit-filled orchard, to its sparkling swimming pool and flowing fountains, every detail is perfect. Each suite has a luxurious bathroom, fireplace and great views. The staff will look after you and make sure you are well fed with a full-time gourmet chef cooking up delicious food for all of your meals. The Golden Dolphin and its staff takes great pride in giving you the ultimate travel experience. For more information, visit The Golden Dolphin Villa.