Flyfishing at Jardines de la Reina - Cuba
by Franco Fumulo, Italian Editor
We expect to have Italian and Spanish versions up soon too.
The places that hold lots of bonefish usually attract lots of fishermen. But along the coast of Cuba's island there are thousands of flats that seldom or never get fished. It is a labyrinth of channels, mangrove-islands, gin-clear water, white sand, turquoise shallows, some blue-hole. I could tell you, but I know, I hope that it is impossible. You have to go, to be there.
Cuban Bones offer a good reason to visit.
PHOTO: FRANCO FUMULO
In the Caribbean, three hundred kilometers south of Tropic of Cancer and over two thousands north of equator, you find Los Jardines de la Reina (Garden of the Queen). You find at your disposal 150 miles of virgin flats, hundreds of "cayos" (islands) of various dimensions. Many good places for diving, snorkeling, swimming and miles of secluded beaches. There are 180 miles of barrier reef. The fishing grounds are an average of 10 minutes from the lodge. The setting is ideal for wildlife-bird watching and nature photography: eagles, iguana, flamingos etc. You arrive from La Habana, after some hundreds of kilometers. Or you flight directly at Ciego de Avila, that it is saying at an hour from Jucaro, the harbor from where you leave for archipelago.
Your target is about a hundred of islands (more if you count each all the small "cayo" that you see on the surface). God, truly your target isn't that you see out from water but what stay into the water, your goals are the hundreds of canals, the coves where to search Jack, Tarpon and Bonefish. The right season or, how they say," la temporada" is, more or less, the whole year. You have to avoid September and October for wind, hurricanes and nasty time. In July and August the fishing is incredible, but the temperature is hot, around 90/100 Fahrenheit, with only a impression of a light breeze. Here the wind, often a trouble for the saltwater anglers, here is not a problem because there are many sheltered waters that ever allow to fish.
In saltwater flyfishing there are inevitably many frustrations. Particularly when you follow a large Bonefish that swims against tide in "wrong direction" for over 200 meters. Or when it is feeding "tailing" but always hardly within cast range, and after, finally when it is at right distance, it is frightened by the shade of a gull that passes. But this is the game, these are the elements of challenge. Sometimes I have followed fishes for an hour before have them at distance for a shot.
Sometimes you haven't huge score per day as number of fishes, but this kind of fishing always gives incredible satisfactions for the type of "hunting", of stalking, of fighting against the instinctive defenses of your antagonists. But at Jardines the fishing is always mythical like fabulous is environment that surrounds you. The huge spread of white sand, bushes, little islands of mangroves between dazzling flats and turquoise canals. And then gin-clear water, blue-holes .....everything superlative. Simply here you have got the essence of the because we fish. Glance loses itself until sky that melts to horizon with sea. A sense of lonely communion with nature that given peace and calmness that you never have tested before. And fishes.... You cast perfectly on a Bonefish that is approaching: muzzle on bottom, tail that sails in surface, situation from manual and you see the fish swimming slowly towards the fly, after it turns. You give a first strip, and after another series that make move the fly of a pair of inches each time. The fish turns itself once again, it accelerates pointing like a bull the" muleta". When the Bone is in front of the immovable fly it gaze at it, you see the tail shaking frantically. You move it, the fish moves, give another strip, it follows, practically it has got the snout between the feathers. Game of cat and mouse goes forward until that fish is at five meters from your rod-tip. You are kneeled, curled up, immovable, only pupils move behind the Polaroid. Suddenly he sees you, and it shoots thrilled like if it had seen a bomb with fuse lit. Your eyes follow for a short while the wave of the fin. You start searching or waiting for another... there are legions: shoals of small (two/four pound), couples or single of eight/ten pounds. Or you find Jack Crevelle and many chromated Tarpon pursuing frantic your fly and hunt it until the tip-top. They arrive from the anywhere like a Ferrari and you can see ten, twenty, hundred all around to boat. Faster you strip your lure many more attacks you will have. With a little of practice is possible placing the fly close to the Jack's snout, then you have to strip with fast and long hits. The strike will uproot literally the rod off your hands. With them the liturgy of the fly's choice, a classic for us fresh-water fishermen, it doesn't occur. It is enough that it stay in water, yellow and voluminous.
Fly fishing for Tarpon is spectacular, but it is difficult. You need good weather (calm and sunny) and lots of Tarpon. Like here. When I see a Tarpon's shoal, sometimes three or four, sometimes fifty, I never cast at the head's one, I prefer rather get a shot to a lateral. Fly hasn't never moving towards to the fish but rather run away. You need good reflexes: when you individualize the target the fly has to be already in air and presentation has to happen after an only false cast, never however after more than two. With rising tide, fishes that travel very fast, the boat that is moving, a long serious of false cast is a luxury that you can't have. Here ideal equipment for bones is a seven weight, nine feet rod. If you are a caster better than I am, you can use a six-weight, but with some wind it's better an eight or nine-weight. So, if you don't want to spend a fortune in good rods or leaving the hotel loaded like a mule take only the seven-weight. The Tarpon that you meet normally are exemplary between ten and sixty pounds: suitable fishes for a nine feet, 10 weight rod.
With the same equipment you can try Barracuda, Jacks and Permit, when you find them. Sometimes you see, in some canals, Tarpon of hundred pounds and over and therefore, if you want to hope hook and land them, it would occur a heavy paraphernalia: lines 12 or 13. I, that I am greedy and optimist, always fish with a nine foot, twelve-weight.
Now there are lines with special profile and with "compounds" particulars for who fishes in sea with tropical climates, here the most important is that they are floating ones and weight-forward.
For Tarpon, I normally use flies from 3/0 to 5/0 tied on fish-hooks like the 3407 Mustad or on the Tiemco. I use shining "streamers" in the early morning and in the evening, and dark ones during the day. This to create a contrast with water and bottom. For light rod loads on a good saltwater-reel 200 yards of 20 lb. backing, for the heavy one 250 yards of 30 lbs. Some fisherman use leaders with wire, but with this your cast will be bad, and dangerous: I utilize a shock leader of one and half foot of 30 or 40 pound test. I prefer make my leaders with knots, so I can make some small change when, for example, is windy or I need smaller tippet.
My standard leader is line-30-20-16-12lb test, plus shock tippet. For Bonefish line-30-20-16-1-8lb test. Nail-knot (good and checked) between line and leader, then all blood-knots and Albright knot for the shock leader. This system avoids to do strange knots or, worse, to learn of new ones.
Arrangement to Jardines is on a comfortable floating hotel, with air conditioned. Pleasantness in fishing not essential, but that they contribute at making you well. Food that is used is mainly at base of tropical fruits and fish: snappers and groupers caught by fishermen, crayfishes and lobsters caught by guides and crew. Tarpon and Bonefish are all released: it would be how eating a brush of iron with taste of dog-food. For the great diurnal thirst you find each drink, for that of the night the storeroom is supplied with excellent Rum. From this structure, anchored in different areas of the archipelago, anglers goes on board of small boats for the various places and preys. When you arrive "in zone" (since 5 at 30 minutes) the guide stops the engine and starts to pole quietly between flats and canals. You stay at bow, eyes gazed in front of you, tight ears at what the guide says, rod in a hand, the coils of the line unrolled on the deck, leader and fly in the other hand. If you decide to fish "wading" you put on wading shoes and take a pair of leaders and seven/eight flies in marsupium (or in the hat). You make yourself leave to the beginning of a flat and you fish for one or two hours, walking in knee-deep water. You see the cloud of a stingray that tries to hide, a group of small Cubera pursued by a Barracuda in a canal, a box-fish or a turtle. And, at the end, you find your guide that wait for you at the other side, maybe with a cool beer.
More information about lodge and fishing package.
A transfer from La Habana to Moron is necessary to the ones that arrive or wish to stay some days in the capital. The meeting is in the afternoon of Wednesday at hotel Moron. Habana is worth staying some day (Hemingway's places, Tropicana Show etc.).
Accommodations: The floating hotel (110feet - two floors) where you sleep is anchored into totally pristine wilderness.
There are 7 rooms, 2 rooms with four beds, 4 with 3 beds and 1 with 2 beds. We limit our capacity to 20 anglers, so everybody can have lots of personal attention. Totally air conditioned with private bath every room, kitchen, living room and solarium. Houseboat and yachts are always anchored in calm water, in channels or lagoons away only a few minutes from the fishing zones. A second small houseboat is devoted to storage space and accomodatitions for the staff. Food: a mix of international, Italian and Creole cuisine, 3 fine meals a day, fish, pork, shrimp, chicken, lobster, potatoes, tomatoes, pineapple, banana, avocado etc.. There are drinks (beer, wine, rum, coke ...) but are not included in the package.
Crew and guides: 2 Italian "manager" English speaking: they are expert of spinning, fly fishing, surf-casting, trolling etc.. - 3 men and a professional cook in the houseboat - 10 professional guides (very very good). They know places and fishing, speak a little English (only about fishing). The small launches are of 15/18 feet equipped with outboard motor - 25/55hp - pole, and radio. There are also two 21" with 55 Hp motor, a 41" and one 33"
Species: lot of fishes, either permanent or migratory. Wading is possible because the excellent visibility and flats knee-deep with the bottom of hard sand. All the year long IN CHANNELS AND FLATS: bonefish (thousands of them, 4/12 lbs.), permit, tarpons (6/25 lbs. in the flats - 30/120 lbs. in the channels), huge barracuda, jack Crevelle, cubera, red, grey and mutton snapper, few snook. IN OPEN SEA: jack horse eyes, sailfish, tuna, sharks, Wahoo, king fish, dolphin and African pompano. From April-May on, till the end of the year some marlin approaches the coast. Sometime You can see whale-sharks and manta.
Standard Rates: (fly fishing, spinning and trolling) US $ per week (real rate, without tax-increase as in Belize or Venezuela etc) : Fisherman : 1500 Cabin Quadruple - 1550 Cabin Triple - 1600 Cabin Double Non Fishing Partner : 1000 - 1050 - 1100
Fishermen sharing in two : one boat and one guide. One boat/one guide per person 300 USD added per week. Included round trip from Ciego's Airport to Jardines, 5 nights on the houseboat, two night at hotel, FB, four full fishin' days and two half days, guides and launches with motor. Not included: Fishing tackle, lures and other purchase made at the Lodge, Cuban visa (in Italy about $15 US), boarding tax before departure ($15 US), drinks, tips, personal items. Optional : There are two boats of 29/45 feet for trolling or scuba-diving.