We slept in until around 10am. The coffee was so good. We made two pots. Danny made some eggs and tortillas. We sat around as Danny tried calling one of the local fishermen he knew called Big Baby. Big Baby is a very popular guy in town because he works. He has a nice truck, a moto, a boat, and he makes a good living selling fish at the market in Santo Domingo. When Big Baby didn’t pick up, Danny and I showed up at his place. He was sitting with his mom and daughter with a broken phone and a massive hangover. We asked to go fishing. He said no. But Danny asked again and he changed his mind.
It was about noon. Danny and I would go get gas, oil, and beer and meet back at Big Baby’s place at about 1:30pm. By 2pm we were loading his motor into Danny’s truck. Before we leave, Big Baby passes around a warm bottle of rum. We drink and head down to the boat. Big Baby doesn’t keep his boat on a dock or in a marina. These boats are just on the beach. When we arrive, everyone greats us “Que loke”. Baby is like the mayor. Soon, 10 people are helping load is 18’ fishing boat and pushing it over boards down to the water. Danny and I admire the earlier crew’s haul of 3×4’ dorado/Mahi and a 175lb Marlin. They hung it from a spring scale in a tree.
We jump in the boat, not sure what we are in for. We have no poles. Only, a GPS tethered to Baby’s jeans, an old plastic fuel tank full of spools, hooks, and tricks, and a cooler full of beer, water, and rum. The boat moves slowly down the shore before heading out to sea. Baby tells the driver how to drive from his spot in the middle of the boat. The driver stands in the back steadying himself with a rope tethered to the boat in one hand, and the rudder in the other. Danny and I sit on opposite sides straddling the metal bench seats. Once we take off at full speed heading out to sea, we are forced to hang on for our lives. Each time we hit a wave, the boat flys and we smack back down hard. This causes us to smack back down on the metal seats. We groan and Baby laughs as he instinctively bounces up to avoid impacting his nuts and asshole.
Danny misinterprets Baby’s Dominican Spanish to mean 5 minutes when he really meant 5 miles. We slammed our asses on every wave for 5 miles in this boat. It took 20-30 minutes to make it out to our destination. We finally reach the spot marked with a big white buoy. We are so far from the land that you can only see blue in all directions unless the light was hitting the island just right. Deep into the Caribbean Sea Baby throws a 1” jig over one side and his driver the other. Within seconds he hands me the line and says “rapido” and I pull quickly hand over hand and lift an 8” tuna into the boat. Danny pulls one in also. Then, we pull in a few mackerel and some other blue fish. We catch fish on almost every cast. I dip my hands in the water to rinse them off after tossing my fish into the well. Baby says “Pescado” and points to me. I happily say si, but humbly try to explain that the fishing I’ve done is much different than this. Moments later, I learn that these fish are just the bait anyhow.
I can’t even stand up on this boat without holding on. The waves aren’t knocking us around, but it is far from calm. However, as fast as a professional chef dices up an onion, our driver fillets a tuna using a piece of drift wood and a 2’ rusty machete. I seriously can’t stand, and this guy just made chum out of the fish, baited a line and fashioned it to two large empty jugs of soy oil. The chum is thrown over the side and sinks along with the baited hook. Baby passes around the rum.
This was not what I was expecting. This is fucking combat fishing. Just then the boat spins around and I slide out from my corner of the boat and my knee crashes into the bench and starts bleeding. Baby helps me up. After telling him that I’m fine, he says that I have thick skin. We catch 5-6 more bait fish before Baby spots our soy oil jugs dipping below the surface. We drive over and he starts pulling the line out by hand. When the fish gets near the surface, he hands me the line and extends a 4’ broom stick with a rusty hook on one end to yank out our dinner. It is a 3’ long tuna weighing around 10-15 lbs. Baby cracks it in the head with a small wooden bat and baits the line again. Combat fishing. No time to sip beer. Only quick swigs of rum.
Danny passes on the rum and pukes up his lunch over the side of the boat. We had such a nice lunch at the place next door to to the office in Barahona when we went to get gas. We walked in, the lady said “Danilo Presidente”, sit. We didn’t even order. They brought pork, rice and beans and we poured our own beers into their water cups after we drank them. And, now it was gone. He just lost his lunch to the Caribbean Sea.
I was feeling great and trying to keep up with Baby on the fish and the rum. But, I had no clue what was going on. We landed another big fish using the chum and drum method. This time it was a Dorado/Mahi. And, now he has me holding the live bait on the line while it floats down with the chum. No jug. He says if you feel it, pull.
I am working the bait for about 5-10 minutes before I feel a few light nips and on the line. The next nip I feel, I set the hook. And instantly out of the water jumps a 6’ Dorado. Holy Shit! Baby grabs the line and says something in Spanish. He and the driver frantically bait lines and toss them out. Danny and I are completely confused as all the lines get twisted. Minutes later we see 4 maybe 5 dorado jumping all caught on our twisted lines. We found escuela (the school). But we only ended up landing two of them.
I pulled in one, and later Danny pulled in the other. We didn’t understand what happened until later that evening that the first fish that I had caught was the alpha. But, because I had a very thin line, we had to let him run and focus on catching the others. The alpha determines where the school goes. And if you catch him with the thick line, you just let him fight and keep him near until you catch all of his friends. We could have landed 10 big fish. But unfortunately on this afternoon, I caught the alpha with some thin line and he got away.
The day’s take was 3 dorado/mahi each about 4’ long and one big tuna. The Dorado were some of the most beautiful fish I’d ever seen. They were bright with yellow and blue spots and seemed to reflect like chrome and change color when they moved. We pulled the boat on shore around dark. The crew of the boat made our way to a hotel (which was more like a big concrete shack with no power). We dropped off the tuna to be prepared and we all went to go get showered up.
We met back at Baby’s house for beers before dinner. There was a crew of dudes in his driveway loading up about 30-40 fish into the truck and cleaning them. Baby will make a run to the capital when he has about 3000lbs of fish. At this point he had around 2000lbs and one more day before they had to make it to market.
We drank our beers on the way back to the hotel which served up the tuna along with plantains. We laughed around the candle light for hours eating and drinking. I received a complement from Big Baby by him saying that I was Dominican because I didn’t mind eating and drinking with just candle light. I asked Danny to translate that I had mucho respect for them and their fishing skills. Baby said he was happy to show an American fisherman how they do it in the DR. And, I think he was right when he said that it is more fun without poles. For the first night in the DR, I finally got a solid night sleep. Tomorrow I’d be taking the bus from Barahona to Santo Domingo and flying back home.