I have just returned from Cayo Cruz, Cuba, where I had the pleasure of hosting a party of seven anglers from the UK and US. This was my first flats fishing trip for three years and in common with my fellow anglers, I could barely contain myself as the aircraft flew low over the north Cuban coast, revealing a turquoise and white tapestry of myriad keys and shallow flats. We knew the bonefish were down there, waiting.
The first morning dawned hot and humid with an unforgiving tropical sun radiating from a perfectly blue sky. Orvis caps, buffs and Dri-release tops were quickly donned to provide protection and keep the heat at bay. Permit are unquestionably the flats fisher’s holy grail and I was extremely fortunate to bring permit to the skiff on the first and second days. The first permit came in the midst of an unexpected down pour at 11am. My boat partner for the day Nigel Horsman and our guide Nelson huddled down, waiting for the deluge to pass while I remained on the bow, 9wt rod and a small Avalon fly at the ready. My head was bowed as the rain lashed down and to my surprise the black, sickle-like fin of a permit suddenly broke surface just yards away. Twice the fish gave chase to the fly, before turning away. It was a case of third time lucky as the permit finally nailed the Avalon Shrimp. Following a typically nervous contest, Nelson skilfully tailed the fish and the celebrations began!
A Permit within a few hours on the first morning on a small Avalon fly.
Day 2 was a scorcher and my boat partner Robert Thong and I were guided by Leo to a distant lagoon, where good numbers of permit were witnessed the day before. The fish were still there and in fabulous numbers! Robert, who was first to take up position at the front of the skiff, enjoyed several good shots at permit without luck. Permit fishing is never easy. The majority of permit were exiting the shallow waters of the lagoon with the falling tide and I feared that my chance may have passed until a lone fish was spied by Leo some two hundred meters distant. Leo poled the skiff at speed to intercept the permit and a good twenty meter cast was required to deliver a tan Alphlexo Crab on the money. Luck was with me as the fly landed a foot or so ahead of the fish which immediately turned to grab the fly. The fight which followed was explosive in water which barely covered the permit’s back. Again it was with great relief that I watched the guide expertly tail the fish.
A Permit on the 2nd morning which could not resist a tan Alphlexo Crab.
With several bonefish already caught that morning, Leo suggested that we look for tarpon to complete a Grand Slam and quickly motored to a ‘Blue Hole’ (a deep channel) with that aim. A sinking line was required to prospect for any tarpon lingering in the depths. The first few casts produced hard fighting jacks which were surprisingly strong for their size. Then an all together different beast seized the fly. The fish felt large and demonstrated immense power. Surely a tarpon I hoped but tarpon have a habit of breaking surface and leaping high once hooked and this fish remained stubbornly sub-surface. Eventually I coaxed the fish to the boat. Not the desired tarpon but a Barracuda of 25lb, my very first Cuda on fly.
Day 3 delivered the flats fisher’s nemesis….a ‘cold front’, which introduced heavy rain, plunging temperatures and gale force winds. Cooling water temperatures pretty much cleared the flats of permit and bones and the challenge was on for our guides to find areas where sport could be enjoyed in relative shelter. In the absence of permit, our attention turned to bonefish and tarpon and despite the inclement weather, all members of our party enjoyed some excellent fishing. On one memorable afternoon, my partner for the day Nigel and I experienced wonderful but insane fishing for tarpon deep into the mangroves. When these extremely powerful took the fly we could allow them no fly line in the cramped conditions and simply had to hang on as the fish exploded with energy, jumping repeatedly and even leaping into mangrove bushes in an attempt to escape. Somehow we both managed to bring a fish to the boat. Jungle warfare at its best.
The final day saw a return to light winds and warmth and all boats in our party enjoyed fantastic bonefishing to bring the trip to a conclusion. Flies which enjoyed success with permit were a small Avalon Fly (named after the company which operates fishing in Cuba)and tan Alphlexo Crabs. Bonefish found Veverka Shrimps, EP Shrimps, Squimps and Tan Gotchas with pink silicone legs difficult to resist. H3D fly rods and Hydros reels in 8, 9 and 10wt covered all the species present. A floating fly line saw most of the action, although an intermediate or sinking line is a definite advantage when fishing a ‘blue hole’.
A return trip to Cayo Cruz in 2022 has already been confirmed. I am counting the days!