Make it two in a row for Florida angler, Gray Ingram, who won the Dominican Republic International Cap Cana Billfish Shootout on his own boat, the Big OH, last year. Ingram made it a two-peat (two in a row) in this year's May 31st to June 5th tournament fishing aboard friend and fellow angler, Watson Caviness' 59-foot Spencer, Caroline.
"It definitely helped to have fished there before," says Caroline helmsman, Capt. Ronnie Fields, about the secret to the Caroline's success.
Indeed, the 11-boat fleet representing Venezuela, Puerto Rico, the U.S., U.S. Virgin Islands and Dominican Republic, definitely found the 'sweet spot' on the nearby Cabo Engano or 'Hour Glass Bank', collectively releasing 96 white marlin, seven blue marlin and two sailfish.
In the end, for the Caroline team, it was a string of steady catches that won the day.
"We released four whites the first day, five the second day and a blue, and six the third day," says Fields.
It was the blue marlin release the second day that thrust Caroline into a Top Boat lead the team never lost. That doesn't mean there wasn't some last day drama.
"Four boats – us, Prime Time, Blue Bird and 50/50 – could have all won the last day. For example, both Blue Bird and 50/50 released four whites apiece right out of the gate," says Fields. "We ended up going back and forth with Blue Bird almost to the finish. They released nine white marlin that day. But in the end we beat them by 90 points."
White marlin counted for 200 points and blue marlin 500 in this all-release tournament. Use of circle hooks, which do less damage to a marlin when hooked and take a bit of skill to use, added ten points per catch and the Caroline anglers especially profited by this score booster.
Meanwhile, a bit of strategy on the part of Capt. Butch Cox, who drove the 58-foot Paul Mann, Prime Time, boosted his team to third Best Boat, after Blue Bird in second.
Cox explains, "It was after 2pm on that last day and I decided to take a chance and start targeting blue marlin. I figured the odds were better of catching one blue marlin than three white marlin to increase the odds of moving up the scoreboard. The blue marlin are in a little different place on the bank and I headed there."
Prime Time angler, Davis Clapp, indeed caught and released a blue marlin. That catch earned Clapp enough points to take the Top Angler prize.
Shoreside, the Brugal Caribbean Rum Bash at Cap Cana's Juanillo Beach Club, complete with Brugal's professional dance team, was a real highlight, as was the first annual Shootout Cook-Off, sponsored by www.yourmeattooth.com, held on the lay-day. Carlos Garcia and Hans Mangual received the top honors for their team's version of a Cuban favorite, a whole snapper stuffed with squid risotto.
"It was a great tournament," says Caroline's Fields. "Everybody caught fish, the fishing is close by, facilities great and the tournament is well-run. I think we'll see more people come here to fish. It's a great spot."
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.