Fishing on the North Coast


North Coast, Dominican Republic

TRADITIONAL FISHING METHODS

The fishery on the North Coast of the Dominican Republic is unique in many ways. The proximity of very deep water close to land, and the lack of consistent ocean currents have helped shape the techniques used to produce a variety of pelagic and benthic species.

Cabrera local fish DoradoThe most common pelagic species of fish is the Dorado, also known as Mahi-Mahi, or dolphin fish. They are prolific throughout the oceans of the world, growing at an incredible rate. A five-pound Dorado is only about six months old. Other species targeted in this area are wahoo, locally known as carrite, yellow fin tuna, known as bacora, a corruption of the word albacore, and blue marlin.

The local fisherman’s “tackle box” consists of a large rice sack, full of his home made fishing equipment. The basic rig for catching fish is known as a rollo, pronounced roy-o, and can be made from any cylindrical object that floats. The preferred material is dense Styrofoam, used for fishing buoys, but I have seen them made out of PVC pipes, pieces of bamboo, and even plastic soda bottles. The main qualification of the rollo is that it floats. The rollo is filled with mono-filament line, attached on one end to the floating spool, and a hook or fishing lure attached to the other end. Here again, the rigs range from light, “shy rigs” of 30 or 40# mono-filament, all the way up to 400# test. The fact that the spool holding the line of the Dominican hand line floats is very important, and plays a big role in the manner that the spool is deployed

The rollo is baited up with a slab of fresh bonito or tuna, or even better, a freshly caught live bait, a sardine, blue runner, or rainbow runner, or whatever bait fish are available. Four or five “brazas” of line, (a braza is six feet, as measured by your outstretched arms), is stripped off the roll, and the line is fixed in a slit in the side of the spool. A good fisherman can keep track of four or five baits at the same time as they drift in an area that shows promise. A strike by a Dorado is often signaled when the fish takes off jumping, dragging the emptied spool behind. Other fish simply hit deep and sound, either way the fight is “mano a mano” in its purest form. The local fishermen use two small pieces of bicycle inner tube to protect their hands as they do battle, wrapping the line around their fingers in a specific sequence.

This technique has the distinct advantage of being very stealthy, no motor noise, no disturbances of any kind, just a piece of fresh bait floating by, often accompanied by several chunks of freshly cut chum. Fishing with this technique out-produces just about any other fishing technique I know of.

Each year hundreds of pounds of eating fish are harvested by Dominican fisherman on the North coast, battling it out daily, hand to hand combat, with some of the ocean’s hardest fighting denizens of the deep.
GoCabrera is very grateful to Capt. Randy Rode of Dominican Republic Sport Fishing for providing this article.

BUILDING FISHING STATIONS (FADs) ON THE

NORTH COAST OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Fish attracting devices, commonly known as FADs, have been used by fishermen all over the world for centuries. Over the years the design of an effective fishing station has been modified for maximum effectiveness and minimum cost, using locally available materials. It is a well-documented fact that structure of almost any type holds fish, anywhere in the water column, from the bottom to the surface.

FADs can be constructed of just about any material that is available and the Dominican fisherman are very adept at modifying any otherwise disposable item to suit their purpose.  You won’t find GPS or electronic fish finding devices being used by the local fishing fleet but their improvised equipment and local knowledge overcomes the lack of modern apparatus.

Propane gas tank modified as fishing weightBecause of the proximity of very deep water close to shore on the North Coast, all the fishing stations are of the surface, (floating) type. The three main components of a good FAD are the weight, known as the muerto, the line, asoga, and the floating buoys, known as boyas or balsas, the Spanish words meaning buoys or rafts.  These two words are commonly used to refer to the fishing station in general.

The weight consists of a 100lb used propane tank. The tank is prepared by punching a hole in the bottom in order to fill it with concrete. Another hole is prepared in the middle and a piece of PVC pipe passed through the tank. This will be the attachment point for the rope. The concrete is oftentimes made using beach gravel mixed with cement, to save money, of course

While the concrete is curing, the rope is prepared by checking every foot. It is not uncommon for a section of rope to have bad or weak spots, these must be cut out and re-tied. The rope used is normally 3/8 “criollo”, or traditional, a mix of synthetic and natural fibers, available for $10.00 US for a 600’ roll. Rolls are measured in “brazas”, your two hands outstretched, equal to roughly 6’, or in more nautical terms, a fathom.

The last part of the fishing station consists of anything that floats. Empty plastic soda bottles tied together and placed in a rice sack and covered with a discarded piece of heavy-duty gill net work well, large pieces of styrofoam covered in netting, and various other types of buoys and polyballs found floating in the ocean are used.

The deployment of the balsa is a stressful operation. The 400lb weight must be loaded in a lancha, along with hundreds of brazas of rope, neatly coiled in sections, and then the array of floats and buoys. Many times two boats share the load for safety reasons.

The floating part of the fishing station is thrown overboard first, and then the line is paid out as the lancha makes large, ever-widening circles around the floats. The Home made fishing floatsweight is then rolled overboard, with the crew making quick adjustments in balance to avoid capsizing. The descent of the weight is impressive, whipping the floating line from the surface on a fast one-way trip to the bottom in up to 500 fathoms of water depth (3,000’). Usually the scope of rope used is at least 2:1 or more, meaning many balsas will have more than a mile of rope attached to them.

The final step in making the fishing station is to wait until the current and wind bring the rope tight, and then the fishermen make mental notes of land-ranges, used to locate their equipment. Then palm fronds are tied to several of the floating sections of the FAD, which attract hundreds of baitfish within a few days.

There are hundreds of these type fishing stations placed in the waters surrounding the island, and are visited by thousands of fishermen during the course of a year, producing huge numbers of Dorado, Wahoo, Tuna, Bonito, Marlin, and many other species.

The Dominican Balsa is truly a unique part of the traditional heritage of local commercial fishermen.

GoCabrera is very grateful to Capt. Randy Rode of Dominican Republic Sport Fishing for providing this article.