I have just about recovered from jet-lag following a really exciting and enjoyable trip to Cuba along with great mate, Rod Barley, whom I first met at Grafham Water more than 40 years ago. Although a really keen angler, Rod had never fly fished for exotic sea species before and I was so looking forward to witnessing his reaction to the adventure.
I was not disappointed!
Our venue, known as ‘Jardines de la Reina’, is about as remote as it gets, involving a 5-hour coach journey from Havana, followed by a further 3 hours in a boat to cover some 60 miles to the floating hotel called ‘La Tortuga’. This luxurious vessel is moored permanently in the shelter of surrounding mangroves and, once there, it quickly becomes obvious that you will want for nothing. The en-suite cabins are of adequate size, comfortable and air-conditioned. Downstairs there is a well-appointed dining room with a bar and outdoor deck at one end and another spacious deck at the other, where you can relax with a beer, mojito or daiquiri cocktail and smoke a Cuban cigar. If that sounds like Paradise, it truly is!
The fishing area is approximately 250 square miles of flat and mangrove, and is accessed by very fast skiffs which slalom through the mangrove channels at unreal speeds. I haven’t experienced such thrills since riding fast motorbikes!
As to the fishing itself, there appeared to be three main options:
- Fishing the flats for cruising bonefish, invariably pointed out by the guide from his raised poling platform
- Casting into the deeper channels for tarpon, sometimes blind and at others targeting visible fish
- In the deeper water offshore at times you may spot many seabirds wheeling and swooping on a ball of hapless baitfish being harassed from below by jacks, kingfish, barracuda and snappers. If you are able to put a fly into the middle of the carnage, success is assured!
Rod’s initiation into bonefishing on the first afternoon was, to me at least, very slightly disappointing, because we found a ‘mud’, which is an area varying in size where numerous bonefish are feeding and stirring up the bottom. To bonefishing afficionados this is slightly ‘below the belt’, in that you are not targeting individual fish but simply casting into the melee and waiting for a pull. In addition, when hooked, the fish can be reluctant to leave the mud, as it is often patrolled by barracuda. As a result, Rod had to wait until the next day to experience the jet-propelled exodus of a bonefish hooked in 18 inches of clear water (and to see his jaw drop as his reel screamed in protest was for me total joy!).
Anyway, back to the first day. After an excellent outdoor lunch of red snapper fillets and rice, we headed for deeper channels near the edge of the mangroves where, every so often, jacks and tarpon were chasing baitfish up onto the shallows and knocking seven bells out of them – very exciting!
Throwing baitfish patterns at them, Rod had an ‘on-and-off’ and I hooked a tarpon of about 40lbs, which streaked off 100 yards, jumped twice and then charged into the mangroves and broke off. That’s fishing!
The organisation on the Tortuga was really smooth, and on our return, no matter what the time, one of the two lovely girls who looked after us so well would appear with an ice-cold, damp flannel and an equally cold mojito cocktail with ice and a straw – who could ask for more?!
Breakfast consisted of large bowls of fruit: mangos, papayas, melons, pineapples and passion fruit, followed by eggs to order, toast and delicious coffee.
For evening meal we enjoyed lobsters almost every night, with the most delicious snapper/kingfish fillets, sauted potatoes or rice, and mouth-watering desserts, followed by more coffee.
To shorten what could be otherwise be quite a long story, during the week (which went by so quickly), we hooked between us 13 tarpon and boated just two each! The biggest was estimated at about 70lbs and took approximately 250 yards of line, leaping repeatedly, before I was eventually able to get it back to the boat.
In addition Rod had some nice jacks of 15 and 20lbs and we caught loads of bonefish, snappers and other species. On our best morning we had eleven bonefish, three red snappers, and had three bonefish (one a seven pounder) bitten off at the side of the boat by barracuda. I must remember the wire traces next time!
I also elected to take an afternoon off to go scuba-diving on the reef edge with Tony, the manager of the Tortuga, and found myself in very close proximity to 20 or 30 reef sharks to about 6 feet in length, about 200 tarpon, and came eye-to-eye with a 300lb goliath grouper! It looked closely at me but obviously decided that I was too big (fat?) to eat… What an experience!
As if this were not enough, on most nights we were visited by Franco – a ‘tame’ saltwater crocodile of about 12 feet in length (and pretty awesome to be so close to). He loved to play with a hunk of chicken dangled down to him on 150lb nylon by Tony before engulfing and disappearing with it! Rod actually reached down and touched his back, but I thought this was maybe one step too far!
All in all a terrific week’s sport, and one that, “if the Lord is willing and the creek don`t rise”, I hope to be repeating!