What to Expect When Fly Fishing Cuba

There’s a reason you keep hearing about fly fishing in Cuba. A place where the flats extend as far as you can see, and low tides provide as many bonefish tails as you can chase. A place where you can target permit, bonefish, tarpon, snook, mutton snappers, and barracuda among many others, and often all in the same day. 3 of us from the Blue Quill Angler had the opportunity to spend 6 days fly fishing Cayo Largo, an island a little over 40 miles south of the main island of Cuba. Our expectations were high from all of the hype and the stories we had heard, but how could they not be after hearing about these endless flats? After fishing 6 days in Cayo Largo, I can tell you first hand that the fishing not only lived up to the hype and then some, but it completely surpassed our expectations.

The waters around Cayo Largo are a designated marine park, strictly protected by the Cuban government, which prohibits: bait fishing, spin fishing, commercial fishing, netting, and skiffs from other companies. This marine park isn’t small either, offering anglers almost 100 square miles of exclusive, private fly fishing.

All of the fishing around Cayo Largo is managed by Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers, as there are no other guide services allowed and fishing on your own is off-limits. Avalon breaks the fishing area into 6 different beats, with no more than 6 boats (12 anglers) fishing per day. Anglers will have the option of fishing up to 3 beats per day, while the other 3 are ‘rested’ for the day. Keep in mind that the fishing area is massive, chances are you won’t see other boats in your group all day. This management ensures that not one area gets fished too hard, and more importantly the fish are not getting pressure every day. Meaning a good presentation will fool the majority of the game fish around.

What we really appreciated about this fishery is the diverse type of water that you get to fish – daily. We fished flats like I’ve never seen before, where giant schools of bonefish created ‘muds’ that were bigger than Wal-Mart Superstores! It’s also typical to see big rays cruising these flats, and often a permit or 3 behind these majestic swimmers. We fished the crystal clear water of lagoons, chasing the black tail of the permit, while also sight fishing bonefish in the 5-8 lb class. We fished mangroves, where the snook and tarpon line the edges of the branches. We fished right off white sandy beaches, where big snook, bonefish and tarpon can be found hunting for their next meal. We fished channels for everything from snappers and barracudas, to tarpon and permit. In case I haven’t made my point, there are many different ways you get to target fish in Cayo Largo. This isn’t even mentioning throwing topwater poppers for snook, or wade fishing ankle deep water and seeing groups of tailing bonefish all around (which was my favorite). You know you are in a special place when you’re disappointed when an 8-pound bonefish eats your fly, only because he took it before the permit that was chasing it!

Not only are there a lot of fish to target in Cuba, the size of their fish is impressive. The 3 of us landed well over 75 bonefish in our trip, and the average was about 4-5 pounds. We caught many near the 8-pound class, and had a few chances at fish that looked to be close to 10 pounds. The permit we were seeing varied in size, with the average being about 15-20 pounds. We certainly saw permit near 30 pounds, and a few smaller ones in the 5-10-pound class. The snook averaged about 3-5 pounds, although a guy in our group landed a 15+ pound snook fishing a beach. The baby tarpon we saw were in the 10-20-pound class, which were a ton of fun deep in the mangroves. The warmer months produce tarpon in the 50-60-pound class, with some reaching up to 100 pounds.

The fishing in Cuba speaks for itself, but traveling presents a few questions about getting into the country. In late 2016, commercial airlines began flying directly from the United States to Havana, Cuba. Although Americans have been fly fishing Cuba for years (via Canada or Mexico), this milestone has made the frontier much more accessible for the American fly fisherman. We were able to fly from Denver to Fort Lauderdale, then hop on another Southwest plane and fly directly to Havana. Getting through customs was not an issue, assuming you had a visa and medical insurance (both provided by the airlines). The following day, Avalon had arranged a plane to take us from Havana to the island of Cayo Largo. All of the coordination of this leg of the trip was completely taken care of by Avalon, as they set up transportation for us from our hotel to the airport, had vouchers for us to board the Cuban airline, and they were at the airport to greet us when we arrived in Cayo Largo.

In Cayo Largo, we stayed at an all-inclusive hotel that’s five minutes from the marina. The hotel is complete with restaurants, bars, pools, shops, and shows at night. We took full advantage every day of the open bar and acquired quite a liking to the Cuban rum. Paired with an authentic Cuban cigar, while swapping fishing stories from the day, life does not get better! We also learned that there are plenty of counterfeit cigars in Cuba, and learned what to look for to identify a fake. Luckily, the tobacco shops in the hotel are reputable shops and fake cigars are not nearly the issue that they are in Havana. When eating meals, we had a choice to go to any restaurant we wanted, or to the main cafeteria which was buffet style. The food in the cafeteria was part of our all-inclusive deal, but unfortunately the food was not anything special. We had to keep in mind that all of the food had to be flown into the island from the mainland Cuba. The restaurants served higher quality food, but you had to pay extra for those meals. Plates at these restaurants varied between 10-20 dollars per meal. The currency in Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is roughly a 1-1 conversion rate with the US dollar.

If you have a chance to go to Cuba, take it! Experiences might vary a little depending where you end up fishing, but I can tell you that you won’t forget it. The Blue Quill Angler is heading back to Cayo Largo June 9-16, 2017 and I cannot wait! The guides were telling us that a normal day in June, an angler can expect around 10 chances at permit. We still have a few spots still available in June, so contact Chris Steinbeck (chris@bluequillangler.com) if you have any questions about our next trip to Cayo Largo.