Hooked on Cuba...Tarpon on the fly!
After visiting Jardines de la Reina in Cuba last year I couldn’t wait to get back there with my surrogate fishing family. We had such an excellent time that we booked the same trip again just a week after we got back, but this time we were heading out in prime Tarpon Season.
Back to bag a Tarpon!
We returned to Cuba at the beginning of April and, after losing a number of small Tarpon last year myself, we all had one thing on our minds... To catch a Tarpon on the fly. Weeks of preparation and frequent trips to Farlows went in to getting all of the kit together and we tied all of our own tarpon flies which saved us a small fortune!
We set off from Gatwick and stayed one night in Havana we before we awoke, bleery eyed, at 4am for a private 6hr transfer to Jucaro. Whilst everyone tried to sleep on the bus, we couldn’t stop talking about what may lie ahead of us in the next weeks fishing adventure.
We arrived at Jucaro and were greeted by smiling faces and bumped into our guides from our last trip; Kako, Bemba and Titi three brothers who made our fishing trip so special last year.
We boarded our boat “The Halcon” where we were greeted with Mojitos by the crew and guides for the week. Our guides were Jansee, Titi, Alexi and Leonardo. The 5hr boat journey out to the Jardines de la Reina is beautiful and gives everyone just enough time to get all of the rods and kit set up for the week.
Our rods of choice
Each of us was equipped with an 8/9# rod for bonefish, 11/12# rod for Tarpon and a 10# rod per boat for Permit. We all had a spinning rod with plenty of lures and poppers for the big Snappers, Jacks and Barracuda.
Once we had moored up, for our first night in the Jardines de la Reina, we had enough time to go for a quick hours fishing before sunset and Mojitos. We all went our separate ways in four Skiffs with two fisherman on each but not straying too far from the boat.
At last it was time to wet the line and get the fly in the water – A quick reminder/lesson on “Double-Haul” Casting from the guide and a stalk along the flats and we were ready for the week ahead with some fish to our names before supper.
Grouper, Jacks and Barracuda...... but still no Tarpon!
The first hour didn’t disappoint within 10 mins I had caught a cracking 8lb Grouper on the fly which was a first for me. On the way back to the boat we stopped off to try a little spinning, casting large poppers over the reef. A couple of Barracuda were landed and we lost 3 enormous Jacks then it was time to head back to the Halcon for supper.
The food on the boat was to die for, fresh fish and lobster were guaranteed every night as well as rice, sashimi, chicken and beef fit for a King - with wine, beer, rum and gin flowing. On our last night we had drinks with the crew and guides with a few salsa lessons thrown in for good measure, all of which resulted in some very heavy heads in the morning.
Our group liked to be up at the crack of dawn and fishing as much as possible – So breakfast was at 7am and we were out on the skiffs at 7:30 for a long boat drive up to the far east of Jardine de la Reina, where we were fishing for the week. The Halcon followed shortly after and moored up in the east in time for lunch.
Tarpon and then gone .......Again!
We started up the coast and stopped off at the first flats to look for Tarpon. Being the gentleman I am, Poppy was first up on the front of the skiff waiting as the guide poled us over the flats. Our guide suddenly stops and says Tarpon 100 metres 1 o’clock Miss. We poled over closer to them and as we hit the 30yrd mark “cast miss, 30yrds 11o’clock” Poppy set to it and casted effortlessly straight in-front of the small school of Tarpon... “wait” our guide said, “Strip, strip, strip, SET THE HOOK!” as the Tarpon inhaled the fly within a split second of striking it had spat the hook. This happened again and when it got to my turn the same thing happened, the Tarpon I hooked went hurtling out of the water and the line went slack... To my bewilderment the guide just said “That’s Tarpon Fishing – You’d expect to land only one in ten fish that you hook.”
I had to keep in mind not to get upset if I hooked a Tarpon and then lost it. I started to expect to lose them so if I did manage to land one then my dream of catching a Tarpon on the fly would come true!
Our next port of call, to everyone’s excitement, was a large flat right on the east tip of the islands and according to the guides this was the best place in the area to see big Tarpon as the tide came out and the fish moved off the flats into the deeper water.
Well worth the wait
The first school I cast at I hooked a very large fish of around 80lbs, I had it on for a minute or so then the line went slack again... I stripped the line in as fast as I could as we followed the school and to my amazement I got another crack at them. Bang straight into another fish as it jumped clean out of the water in front of the boat – I “bowed to the king” and it went off taking me well into my backing. After 40minutes of bullying each other I finally got my first Tarpon landed and onto the boat. A 50lb ancient slab of silver – The greatest sporting experience of my life.
The week only got better from there on in with all eight of us catching Tarpon over 50lbs on the fly with an astonishing hooked to landed ratio of 23 Tarpon landed and only 39 lost. We had everything from father and son double hook ups, to fish lost well north of the mythical 100lb mark – the fishing was truly astonishing.
The biggest tarpon landed was around 80lbs, which was actually caught by myself, but we had plenty of fish in the 50 – 75lb region landed too.
Tarpon was only one of the species we were targeting for the week though and we all had plenty of Bonefishing, with biggest being 9lbs. Some of us enjoyed blissful wading in the shallows targeting single bonefish and big schools of bonefish - One of us had 9 in one morning!
Best fishing in the world
I had some cracking afternoons in the mangrove channels catching Mutton Snapper, Jacks and Barracuda with our best afternoon being 30 fish between two of us in about 2hrs.
I could probably write a book as I have so many fond memories of this magical weeks fishing in Jardines de la Reina. Being around your best friends and loved ones, fishing in a world of your own to me is my idea of heaven on earth.
The fishing carried on getting better and better – the icing on the cake was the last day when myself and Julian caught two Tarpon and lost 9 in the space of a couple of hours... It was the maddest two hours of sport I have ever experienced. We saw everything from Tarpon hunting Baitfish under our boat in 3 ft of water to Tarpon that had pushed Bait up to the side of the rocks in a channel and it was a feeding frenzy with Tarpon, Jacks, Sharks, Snapper all joining in.
Fly Fisher Group with Avalon Cuban Fishing Adventures really know how to put on a week’s sport for any fishing fanatic whether you are a beginner, intermediate or expert this holiday will exceed all of your wildest expectations. The Jardines de la Reina is a world renowned fishing destination, but surprisingly untouched as Avalon are the only company who have fishing over this vast chain of Islands. Being one of the world’s most well-kept and preserved nature reserves the fishing is truly world class and I think you will struggle to find anywhere better on this planet to target so many different species of fish in a week...