Most people have heard of the never-ending saltwater flats in Cuba, but most Americans have only dreamed of casting a fly on them. I have been one of those dreamers for many years after hearing of a friend getting there through “other channels.” Stories of bonefish averaging 4 pounds, and snook over 20 pounds were just the beginning of a yearning to cast at a Cuban Permit, the famed “el Palometa.” Thoughts of mangroves teeming with baby tarpon only created a stronger yearning to see their bigger, more mature ancestors that migrate to those flats certain times of year. For me it was always, “someday.”
Building the Dream
Days before our departure, it still didn’t seem real that I would soon be living a dream for 6 days. Three of us from The Blue Quill Angler were headed to Cayo Largo, Cuba, a catch and release, fly fishing only marine park, for a week of guided fishing with Avalon Fishing Centers. It was real.
I tied every fly I could possibly imagine I might need, including the famous Avalon Permit Fly in one size, two colors, and three weight styles from light to heavy. I packed four rods, two each of 8 and 10 weights, five reels with floating and sinking lines, and enough heavy fluorocarbon leaders and tippet to catch every fish there, which I intended to accomplish.
Three flights, three taxis, and one night in a Havana hotel landed us at the Villa Marinara fishing lodge on the southwest end of Cayo Largo. Avalon fishing manager, Yosviani, greeted us with a smile, coffee and a dozen Avalon flies to get us on our way.
Fishing will start at 8am tomorrow morning so day 1 is a perfect day to rest up and, of course, take in the all-inclusive food and drink, mostly the Cuban rum!
By breakfast the next morning, the fishing schedule is populated with tide charts and guide assignments. Lunch is on the table, rods are rigged, and guides are ready to go.
My guide the first day is Cuban native, Keinlert. At 27 years old, Keinlert pushes a skiff and spots fish like a 40-year veteran. Much to his dismay, I don’t get to practice my double haul much during our Colorado winters. By mid-morning, I have dusted off and began throwing flies to the fish and not at the fish, now we are ready to work.
The sun is high and the water is clear as I stand, anxiously awaiting the next silver flash. That is when I realize; this flat really does not end. As I ponder hundreds of yards in the distance trying to see the end of the flat, I am caught off guard when 25 feet out at 1 o’clock, the perfect spot for a quick back cast, are two black tails. Their heads are down, my perfect opportunity, and only a few hours into the trip.
“Cast now my friend,” Says Keinlert.
Only seconds pass and my fly is sailing through the air, getting closer, closer, closer, until it lands nice and soft as to not spook the fish…
“My friend, I thought we were done trying to kill the fish with the fly!” Says Keinlert as my fly hits the permit square in the back. Disappointment settles in as we watch the two wakes speed away from us in shallow water, but it wouldn’t be right for my first ever cast at a permit to end in victory anyhow.
“My friend, please catch that bonefish at 10 o’clock, 10 meters, instead.”
As our boat skims across the crystal clear blue water, Keinlert points out a spot of milky colored water. The boat stops. “Cast to 11 o’clock at 20 meter my friend. Wait… wait… wait… strip, strip, strike!”
I clear my line and listen to my reel scream into the backing as the bonefish runs, comes all the way to the boat and screams to my backing again.
These milky spots on the flats are “muds” created by a school of bonefish feeding and can be seen from hundreds of yards away. It seems possible to catch every fish in the school in the muds, but it doesn’t compare to sight fishing for bonefish.
Frank, another young Cuban native guide whom burns with the desire to fish, is our guide today. As he stands high above us, he scans the flat and says, “I see something, but it’s far and very shallow, we will walk.” I slip my wading shoes on as Frank proceeds with bare feet. After a short walk, we are casting. A small bit of nervous water soon exposes a silver tail, then another. Suddenly, there are tails breaking the surface all over. My fly lands and the school erupt with a shallow fury and scatters. Rookie move. I change to a smaller, lighter fly in hopes for a softer landing in the ankle to shin deep water.
A wake is approaching from the right. I take aim and drop the fly 6 feet in front of the fish. No splash, check. Wait… wait… strip, strip. The wake picks up speed in the direction of my fly and the silver tail emerges, set! My reel screams as the fish tears through the shallow water sending a spray of water high in the air behind him.
After a few minutes of tug-o-war, I am holding 6 pounds of pure, silvery muscle, contrasted by the black, tiger-like stripes that run down his back throughout the length of his torpedo shaped body. His forked tail describes his speed, his shape describes his agility, while the dumbfounded look on his face reveals the secrets of his appetite!
As my last bonefish of the trip swims free from my hand, I find myself pondering all those dreams of fly fishing in Cuba; they have come to fruition. After six days of pure fly fishing ecstasy, I am forced to taxi, fly, taxi, taxi, fly, fly, fly back to the cold wintery, mountains of Colorado, only to dream of my next opportunity to fish the lush waters of Cuba.