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Cuba Quest For Bonefish and Tarpon! - Part 1 - Bonefish
Last edited on: Feb 22, 2014 05:06:49 PM by Kevin

Cuba is an interesting fishing destination with a mix of sun, fun and existence living. In a backdrop of a communist country you have amazingly friendly people and absolutely beautiful and productive water. The plentiful bonefish and tarpon will make your heart race and bring a giant smile to your face!

Travel Day 1

April 6, 2013 was the start of a great fishing adventure. I left Calgary after first stocking up on fishing gear and flies at Fish Tales Fly Shop and a few other local shops. I also tied a few patterns to try and I was now confident that I had the gear needed to catch fish on the flats. While the main target where I am headed was bonefish, tarpon was the illusive species on my most wanted list.
The flight was comfortable, staff friendly and fun and with an interesting route that went through central US and along the west coast of Florida. I had a window seat which kept me occupied wondering which rivers and lakes will I visit someday.

The plane arrived around 6 pm in Varadero and I chose this airport over Havana to save money on the flight.

When one arrives at Varadero you leave the plane and a short winding walk down to the main level. You line up to go through immigration. Immigration is a series of booths in which you wait your turn then proceed down the little hallway. They take your photo... hats and glasses must be off. I think the photo is to make sure a Cuba does not try to leave by calling themselves you. Then you got through the door and into the screening area. I went into one line... which turned out to be not moving then went to the second line that was moving slowly. I should note that this also happens to me in lines for groceries, movie tickets and food lines in Canada. My luck continued as the X-ray machine broke and that line was shut down. By then the first line was gigantic but oh well…time to pay my line dues.

Oddly enough not soon after going into the giant line, the women screeners from the broken machine immediately opened another line. I got into that line and they fired bags through including mine! You need all metal off before walking through the metal detectors into the country but I forgot my metal watch was on and the machines still did not beep (strange) and then BAM…I was in Cuba…the land of sun, mojitos, bonefish and tarpon.

…but wait…we then had to line up for the bags to come off the plane. I saw no bags coming out except some that went round and round and our entire plane load of passengers was just standing there watching the baggage carousel. I then noticed a pile of bags stacked neatly in a corner and investigated. Happily that mine was there I then told everyone else which caused a mini tropical stampede.

So by now you probably think the lines up are over…and alas I then lined up for money exchange. I was second in line...not too bad and actually extremely fortunate as I had my bag first and 14 more planes were coming into the airport. It is a slow process to get money exchanged and since the exchange rate is best at the airport I had planned this. They needed your passport to change the money. If you don't want a slightly better exchange rate, check with your hotel to see if they exchange. By the time I was done the line was over 25 and growing. Multi plane loads of people were piling out of the airport, escaping the late Canadian winter storm and rushing to the warmth of the sun. I count this as the start of my luck.

I then caught my ride and off to explore Cuba which helped with a greeter just outside the airport. I had a 2 hour taxi ride to get to the Saratoga Hotel in Havana. Still I felt it was worth it to see more of the country. We saw signs of Canadian oil and gas exploration by Sherritt that has help Cuba in enormously positive ways. I saw bits of the ocean, various communities, food distribution trucks, scenery and lots of people. I saw where people lived and was keenly aware the homes were not to Canadian standards. Still…this is where I first decided I had to experience Cuba and see more before putting any North American judgement into play. My first impression was this place desperately needs US/capitalist investment money.

I arrived in the dark to Havana and had a short exploration of the night life then a quick meal and off to bed. It was a bedlam of people and old cars jockeying for something. There seemed a mix of human energy, chaos, boredom, hope, fun and people just enjoying a warm night in Havana.

Travel Day 2

Today was a simple day getting from Havana to Playa Larga. I found it very interesting seeing the countryside. The lack of investment clearly shows in the way Cuba operates. Oxen pulled plows were common as were very old tractors so old I am surprised they can still function. Fields don’t receive much moisture this time of year as we arrived in the dry season. Fields were parched and irrigation seemed very rare and I find it hard to believe that there is any fertilizer to be found. People struck me as being hardened yet well dressed and healthy. I did not see any beggars either in Havana or along the route. Oddly enough there are lots of Control Points that are manned by the police and I am still wondering if it is more to prevent an attack or a way of controlling movement of Cuban nationals. As tourists in a nice bus we were never stopped. We arrived around 1:30 pm and had time to lounge on the beach and pool and of course get the gear prepped for day 1 of fishing.

One should be aware that there are lots of stray dogs running around. They seem to be looked after and fed. Some dogs are also clearly well cared for pets. I should warn people that every stray dog I saw was covered in at least a few ticks. Therefore take precautions when walking around and do a regular tick check and research how to deal with them should you pick up a hitch hiker.

I learned my first lesson of Cuban travel. I had to start enjoying the holiday so I planned to have a drink by the pool then a swim in the ocean and then off to dinner. I ordered 2 mojitos right away and being hot out…and the drink delicious and cool I polished the two off in about 10 minutes. I then set off for the ocean. As I walked towards the beach in a zig zagging pattern I found my head spinning a bit. 2 drinks never did that to me before. Only after did I realize…a $3 Peso mojito in Cuba has 4 ounces of rum in it. I will remember to go slower next time…maybe. The cool ocean breeze and refreshing water was a welcome sight after being in Canadian snow two days earlier.

Fishing Day 1 - Skinny Water Bones

Day 1 was our first day at Zapata National Park as well as my learning how to fish day. Casting my eight weight rod into the wind is different than my 4 weight on a calm evening with a dry fly for willing trout back in Canada. I was fortunate to hook 3 nice bonefish and a small barracuda and snapper. This was my first experience being poled around a national park in a small boat and trying to adjust to seeing fish takes time.

Manolo my guide helped a lot but in the skinny water (less than 2 feet deep) when you are standing at the front of the boat you have to be alert. I found the boat smallish at first and once in it very stable to fish in and the guide not only strong but very capable of moving us around even in windy conditions. We saw about 15 large bonefish today but it was also my first day of sight fishing bones in skinny water. Very thrilling when you make the right cast and a bone attacks your fly. I was shaking with excitement every time my fly was attacked. In Canada we generally refer to fish biting your lure/fly. Down on the flats they attack them. Nothing in Alberta compares to a bonefish grabbing a fly and ripping line nor a tarpon attacking your fly and going airborne. It is crazy to see a bonefish, then cast to it and watch it dart off…then minutes later see another…cast poorly right on its back have it do a 180 and grab the fly. One thing that applies the whole trip for bonefish is some days any cast will catch any bone and others just the boat moving nearer scares them away. The monster bone that broke me off still stays in my head. The beast swirl on my fly once and I felt him on the strike and then came off. I at once cast again landing a clumsy cast on top of him and he swirled, grabbed the fly in a flash of lightning speed and took off. My line was looped around the reel handle and he was gone before I could gasp. What a thrill none the less.

Everyone has heard about Cuba's legendary bland food and in fact the truth should set you free. There is a local flavor and taste all to their own. Some hotels may put out a quick and easy buffet but consider stepping out away from the norm and visiting some family run off the beaten path restaurants. This was was delicious from the shrimp to the alligator to the yummy rice!

Fishing Day 2 - Bonefish Bonanza!

Day 2 felt like I was starting to get some method behind the madness. I landed 21 nice bonefish. Biggest was 22 inch and the average 18 inch. This day was incredible. We found school after school of willing bonefish. Just needed to cast half decent with the standard trade wind breeze and you had one every time you saw the school. I missed so many but it hardly mattered in the end. I learned what flies to take back next time however! I also saw a few larger lemon sharks…but not interested in the fly and a couple large jacks cruised by and sniffed my fly. A couple small cudas rounded out the day.

I spend some time talking with the tour host Condrado. He was a knowledgeable man, world traveler and strong Castro supporter. I also noted they do have problems but would US investment make some better and some worse? Everyone seems to be living on the edge thanks in part to the system and part to the US sanctions. Cubans have ration cards and get all their daily food, clothing paid for by the government. They don’t have a ton of stuff and are not collectors of stuff and should we North Americans say they should be? There is the underworld seedier side of Cuba that would benefit greatest from US money whereas the sense of family and lack of intense capitalist competition would hurt others. In the end I came out feeling that this is a path the Cubans need to choose versus outside influence. What is failing in Cuba is not just the system but rather outside influences fighting to not make it work. Tourism is key to a country that surprisingly enough is extremely well educated. One guide was a University professor. I would never in a million years chose a communist system for myself or my family and so I ended up in my own mind saying it is just not my decision to make. Part of traveling means you need to take a willingness to not impose your ideals on other cultures and societies. Tolerance should go both ways in my opinion also.

In the end as far as bonefish are concerned I definitely have to recommend the Zapata area for it's beauty, wildlife, friendly and capable guides and excellent fishery!

Quest for Tarpon - Part 2

Special thanks to Slipstream Angling Worldwide for organizing a great trip. Accommodation was good, transportation was great and the trip host was excellent. Guides were awesome and the fish were very cooperative. I will go back again for sure!


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