One of the fun things about my last couple trips has been fishing with people really at the start of bonefishing. Back in Andros, it was with Rebecca Garlock and in Cuba it was with Charlie Levine. Now, they were both coming from different places. Rebecca has been fishing the long rod for a while now, but hadn’t really done anything in the salt. Charlie has spent a good number of days in the salt, but mostly in the deep, dark blue stuff with conventional tackle. There were some parallels with the two experiences though. Basically, both were kind of hard on themselves. They felt the pressure to make it all come together. Of course, it all works better when you slow down and, of course, they both got it to happen.
This is me, fishing with Avalon down in Cuba in the Jardines de la Reina. This is back in the mangroves… deep in the mangroves and Matt Hansen was Johnny on the Spot with the video. What you’ll see here is me botch two bonefish in about 4 minutes. It was pretty difficult stuff to fight a fish in, but it was exactly what I wanted to be doing.
Warning… there is some profanity, in case you are worried about your ears bleeding.
I just got this photo from Cuba taken by Matt Hansen. I know exactly what happened here and I think this picture pretty much sums it up.
We were pushing through the back country looking for bones and we had just emerged into a little lagoon. Off to the left flashed an impossibly large bonefish tail. I made the cast right on its nose and it ate almost immediately. It went streaking across the lagoon, pulling off 100 or so feet of line and then it took a slight left detour, brushing up against the clump of mangrove right below where my rod tip is. The fish came off. This fish was my immediate reaction to losing the fish.
It probably would have been my biggest bonefish ever. That tail haunts me.
I had to go home. I didn’t have that much vacation time or idle money and I needed to get back to my girls. However, the trip wasn’t over and the gang that I left added some members and kept going strong.
Luckily, Jim Klug was still there with a camera and he kept on putting it all in pixels (here’s the gallery of that second week).
I got to talk to Miles a little in the lobby of the hotel before I headed back. He was excited about the week ahead. I can understand why. Wish I had been able to stay and head to the Island of Youth with Avalon, but, life was calling. I feel pretty fortunate to have been there for the week I was. It was a very special trip and one I’ll hold close for a long, long time.
I had something happen in Cuba that I’ve never had happen before. I know it happens and it has happened plenty of times to plenty of people. I had a bonefish bit in half on the line by a barracuda.
I didn’t see the cuda around before I hooked the fish. I didn’t think the bonefish was acting weird or wild before the fish hit. I had the bone on and then, all of a sudden, the cuda was there, chewing on the bonefish. When I pulled in the fish, I was left with the front 1/3 or so of the bonefish.
I got to hold it him my hand and look it in the eye.
It was a weird moment. It underscored that this is a blood sport, even when we don’t intend it to be.
While I got a few things wrong, I did make some good decisions and had some of the right stuff with me.
- Having some of the super hair chartreuse flies for cudas was a really good call.
- I had enough Gotchas in different sizes that I could have fished for bones for another three weeks.
- The tarpon bunnies were good patterns and if I had them in a 3/0 I would likely have been feeding tarpon with them.
- The leaders I tied were effective and worked for bonefish and for tarpon. The 80 pound shock tippet was perfect on even the big fish and the bimini twists I tied didn’t fail. I didn’t have a single leader fail or a single knot fail.
- The reels I primarily used were the Ross F1 for the 8 wt, the Orvis Mirage for the 10 wt and the Redington Delta for the 11. I had along a Ross CLA and a Ross Momentum, but they had on specific lines that didn’t get selected by the guides.
- The textured saltwater line for the 8 was a great line.
- The Orvis line was different… it sounded like a textured line and it cast very well.
- I cast a Rio clear sink tip for the 11 and the guides liked it, preferring it to the full floating line each time.
- Both of the 8 weights were lovely rods. The Sage One is light and responsive and did all I asked of it. The prototype was just as lovely and I’d be glad to have either one as my go-to 8.
- The 10, the Orvis Helios was a great rod. I’ve had that one before and I really like it. It might have been a little heavy for Permit, but it would have worked well for that and it was a good rod to have rigged for barracuda.
- The 11 Redington… it was heavy, but when it came time to do the business it got it done. That feels like a pretty important thing to judge by.
I didn’t see much of Cuba. On the way out to Jardines de la Reina it was dark and I was passed out. On the boat, we just saw the staff and the boat and the miles and miles of pristine habitat. On the way back to Havana at the end of the trip I got to see Cuba in the daylight. I wanted to share some of my thoughts from this very brief glimpse at a country most of us haven’t been to.
- At night the city of Havana is about 1/20th as bright as other big cities. They just don’t have the power or light bulbs to sparkle.
- Cuba must have the most rocking chairs per capita of any country out there. It seemed every little house in the little towns had a rocking chair on the front patio, usually with someone in it.
- It is a good thing Cuba is built on the land, else it might fall into the sea. There is a sense of general disrepair. The highways are rough and sometimes way too narrow. You have to slow down for bikes and horse-drawn carts and this is done within inches.
- You will see a lot of people walking around to get to point B.
- There are the old American cars like you’ve heard, but there are also newer cars. I saw an Audi A4 and a Benz suv, to name a couple.
- Some of the shacks out in the countryside are simply that. Tiny, wooden and lived in.
- In Havana there are places that are just waiting to fall over or fall in. It is like certain floors or buildings passed through some very selective apocalypse.
- Everyone seems to have something to sell or some racket to pitch.
- The colors of the buildings is pretty cool.
- The old American cars spew black exhaust. This is not a place for asthmatics.
- The architecture of Havana is really cool, but it all looks at risk.
- Everyone seems to smoke, even the well dressed women at the nice place for dinner.
- There isn’t as much propaganda as I thought there would be.
- No one wants to talk politics.
- Things in Havana are way more expensive than it seems like they should. You can have a $50 dinner, while the average official salary for a Cuban is something like $20/month.
- The economy seems to be mostly black-market. Everything has a cost and everyone is selling. It seems to be the way they make things work .
- Going through the country side you really get a sense of a very agricultural economy at work. Horses and cows seemed to be everywhere outside the towns (and in some cases in them).
- Saw a little boy on a horse that looked straight out of Montana or Wyoming or old-time Mexico.
Cuba seems to be coming to a crossroads. What I saw looked pretty unsustainable. The buildings are old, the roads are old, the railroad is old and nothing seems to be getting fixed or built. It seems to be a slow burn to some finality.
We started off today getting an unexpected shot at a nice permit… a black tale sticking up through the wave about 40 feet away. I made the cast, had a follow and a little jack grabbed the fly before Mr. Permit could.
After that I broke off a bone, lost one in the mangroves and was starting to get a little frustrated. Then… the day turned around. My boat-mate, Charlie, caught his first fly caught bone, then his second and third. We found a school of bones that just wouldn’t spook and we caught bone after bone.
Then, we went looking for tarpon. We found them. We fished a deep cut with sooooo much life, it was just amazing. There were jacks busting bait and tarpon rolling and cudas crushing little bait fish. It was happening all around us and it was awe inspiring. Felt like being transported back in time to some virgin bit of paradise.
I had a tarpon eat my black death bunny about 20 feet off the boat. I was sure I had a good hook set on him, but he spit the hook on the first jump. I was shaken… literally. Took me a few minutes to get composed (but it was the kind of being ruffled with a big smile on my face). Had a second shot and a good hoot set. The fish took off and then jumped (caught on camera, I’ll get it up when I can) and then came off. I even jumped a third tarpon. A nice tarpon. Maybe 60 pounds. Awesome.
We’ve even seen Franco this evening, the saltwater croc that hangs around the houseboat.
One of the most enjoyable days I’ve had on the water.
I’m here… finally. The night in Cuba got off to a late start. Things don’t move quickly in Cuba and it didn’t help that Jim got held up because he “had a lot of camera equipment.”
We know now a bit about the nightlife in Cuba… which is a bit insane. We rode is some vintage American made cars for taxis and basically stayed up all night and got on the bus at 4:30. I passed out in the lobby and missed the sing along, which I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.
A 3 hour bus ride and a 3 hour boat ride and we got here. Quick lunch and off to the skiffs.
I landed 2 bones and a cuda in the abbreviated day. Soooo nice to be out on the water again.
Avalon Guide Ti Ti had sharp eyes, spotting every fish before I did and spotting some I never saw.
Two tarpon passed by while I was releasing the second bone.
Pics to follow at some point. The internet is pretty slow, so I’ll do what I can.
You hear about all those tornadoes in the Dallas area? Yeah, me too. I was flying through Dallas but figured a) American would let me know well in advance if there was a problem and b) They’d probably clear the planes quickly to fly again.
a – fail
b- not so much
Somehow, it is all going to work out. I’m now going through Chicago, where I get to sleep on the floor tonight, and tomorrow I’ll arrive in Cancun at 11:25. I need to meet the crew at the Cancun airport at noon. So… see? It all works out.
Other good news is that my bag is 48.5 pounds (a whole pound and a half to spare!). All my reels are in that bag, so that’s good.
If my luggage doesn’t make it, I’ll at least have the rods and reels. Beyond that I’ll be a bit screwed, but, that’s just a part of travel and life and at some point you have to be optimistic.
Life’s an adventure.