What I got wrong about gear for Cuba

I’ll start by laying blame for this right where it should go.  It’s all my own. I made some assumptions that were wrong and for that I ended up a little bit off on what I had with me.  Now, I wasn’t WAY off, just a tad.  Here’s what I got wrong and why on my recent trip down to Cuba with Yellow Dog and Avalon.


For bonefish, I tied a few #6’s and a lot of #4’s and #2’s. That was the wrong order of things.  I should have tied mostly #6’s, maybe some #8’s and a few #4’s. The Peterson’s spawning shrimp was a favorite for the guides as well as the most basic and plain gotcha’s in my box.

For tarpon I tied many 1/0’s and not too many 3/0’s. I also crimped my barbs and at least one guide really didn’t like that move.

For permit I should have tied some of the Avalon flies in a #6 instead of the #2’s and #4’s that I had tied them in.

For barracudas I just should have had MORE of them.  I had three super hair flies and while they were very effective they were very ineffective once they were all gone, which happened faster than I would have liked.


I brought 2 8’s, a 10 and an 11.

I vastly underestimated the size of the tarpon.  I thought I’d see a couple big tarpon and mostly be throwing at the little guys.  Well, the fish were much, much bigger than I had planned on. The Orvis Helios 10 wt. fell back to permit rod and the 11 came to the fore. The 11 was the Redington Predator.  It’s a decent stick.  Workman like. It’s a damn hard stick to blind cast for a few hours though and that was on the program a bit. That said, the 11 wt. did the job. I cast to and landed my 80 pound tarpon on that Redington. Clearly, the Redington did the job.

I should have brought one 8 wt., a 9 for permit and then focused on the 11 and maybe a 12 for my main focus rods.


Yeah… um… bad call on my part. I had a last-minute snafu on getting the right backing and ended up having 20 pound on my tarpon rod… the big one. Now, I managed to land the big girl, but I was left a little shaken and didn’t really trust the big stick much after that.  I had no idea the power of those fish and I could hear the tension on the backing.  I’ll just go ahead and say I’ve never experienced a fish like that before.

So, to recap… 30 pound backing, smaller bonefish and permit flies, larger tarpon flies, more cuda flies, up the 11/12 weight for BIG tarpon and bring a 9 for permit.

I made some gear errors... but it still worked out.

Tomorrow… what I did right.

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  1. Tarpon: 20lb backing, what was the class tippet? The tippet should’ve been 16lb to protect the backing. FL FF’ers regularly use 10wt rods for poons up to 80lb. Then go 11wt for bigger fish.

  2. Lawrence Snyder

    What he said.

  3. Vince is spot on. Tarpon are a whole different ball game than bonefish. I worry way more about my shock, knots, and tippet than I worry about the backing. Most (if not all) of my 20-50 tarpon are landed on a 9 wt. When pulling a 150+ pound poon out from under a bridge…now that’s a different story. A double cork handled 12 wt. and showing no mercy on the pull is the only hope.
    A 9 weight for permit is perfect. Also, on a trip of this magnitude why not bring two (2)?

  4. Yeah, I had 20 pound class tippet and 20 pound backing. You see why it was a bad move? Lesson learned (probably).

    There were fish bigger than 80-85 out there. On the trip Matt fought a fish that would have been easily in the 100+ pound class for 1:15 before it came unbuttoned.

    Having now felt an 80-85 pound tarpon I will be much, much better prepared next time. Good news is that my knots and leaders all held (but that’s part of tomorrow’s post).

  5. Good info Bjorn! Have you considered spectra braid for backing instead of Dacron or Gel Spun? Also, did you really feel compelled to fish class tippet for safety reasons? In hind-sight would you ever consider just running straight 80lb – 100lb to the fly, or are world records a concern? Thanks!

  6. Nice job on the “after fishing” assesment. This is just the kind of information we are always looking for on our “Fly Advisor” section of the Black Fly website. This is a “pay it forward” post for all of the anglers getting ready to go to that destination and in need of current info on what to bring. BUT, this only works if travelers do what you did, file a report when you get back! Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge with the rest of us.

  7. Nice post. What you did wrong can be so helpful to those about to make the trip.

  8. Hey Dylan, it is true that I could have just gone straight 80, but I wanted to do the whole experience… tie the bimini’s, craft the leaders, tie the flies… ya know, really do it all. I brought the leaders and not the extra tippet, so that prevented me from going straight 80 anyway.
    I know some folks just ran straight 80. It is a clear option, just one I chose not to do.
    Thanks Vaughn.

  9. Wait, I don’t understand why you needed bigger hooks for the tarpon? Was that just something the guides said? Your personal assessment? Easier to hook the fish on? I’ve never used anything bigger than a 1/0 and can’t really remember having a problem. Sure makes it easy to set the hook. I also use barbless, every time, and again, no prob. Of the last 1/2 doz fish I’ve hooked none have jumped off… except for a little guy in the 20 lb class that I hooked on a barbed #2 minnow pattern.

    I’m honestly curious here.

    Also, were the permit just tiny or something? Why #6 hooks? Again, honestly curious.

    Finally, NICE report, man. VERY WELL DONE. Congrats again on the trip. Still hate you but this report does ease the pain a little. Nothing like getting to live vicariously. My sincerest thanks.

  10. It was the guides who didn’t like the 1/0’s and the guides who didn’t like the crimped barbs. I think it may be the meat fishing heritage in those guys where they just feel like anything without a barb is a risk.

    Only saw two permit and they weren’t tiny. I just know that when they saw the 2’s and 4’s for the Avalon flies, they said “Don’t you have anything smaller?” Didn’t target permit, but did run into a couple.

    Thanks for the kind words, man. I try.

  11. Hi Bjorn,
    Great post. Thank you for sharing. I am preparing to do the same trip with Avalon in May.
    I am very excited and have been tying tons. I will make sure to add more 3/0s per your recommendation and scaling down the Avalon fly to a #6.
    I wanted to ask you about lines. The Avalon checklist suggests bringing an intermediate line and a full sinking line for the 12W rod. Is that necessary? Did you have a use for it?
    Also, would you mind sharing your leader formulas for bones, permits and tarpon?
    Thanks again for your help.

  12. Hey Tarpon Fan,
    I’d bring Avalons in a 4 and a 6, just not a 2. I think Davin is right about 1/0’s working just fine, but the guides liked the 3/0’s for sure. They liked black and brown especially, it seemed. Although… they may eat anything, really.

    As for lines, the guides almost always preferred the clear tip (clear int. sink) or full clear (int. sink) line over the regular floating lines when it came to tarpon.

    My leaders for tarpon/bonefish/permit was largely the same, with a few very minor tweaks.

    4′ of 40#, 2′ of 30#, 2′ of 20″ is the base.
    From that, for bones and permit I just tied on another 2 feet or so of #15-16 flouro.
    For the tarpon I’d do a bimini at the end of the 20# and attach 80# flouro shock tippet. Attached the shock to the bimini with a bristol.

    That’s what I used, but as others pointed out, you could just run straight 80# if you don’t want to worry about it.

    Whatever you do… put 30# for your backing. If you run straight 80# your backing is not protected though and it becomes the weak link.

    Hope that helps.

  13. Yes it does. Thank you. I will report back on my trip.
    Take care.

  14. Dylan, to your question “Have you considered spectra braid for backing instead of Dacron or Gel Spun?” – I really will use whatever I have. It’s getting pricey to put backing on all these demo reels. I really need a company to kick down a big spool of the stuff. See if I can’t get that done before the next trip.

  15. Weird about the size preference for permit. I wonder if it was just the size of the fly, or the actual hook they were bothered by. I’d think most #6 hooks would be too weak to handle most permit, unless they were tiny. I mean, permit are a serious fish. Serious. They can hold off just out of range of landing for what seems like forever. I’d hate to horse on one only to have my hook open… and I’ve had plenty of #6’s open on bonefish. Plenty.

    As for the barbs on tarpon flies. Why? I mean, it’s just more metal to try and get through their hard mouths. Was the one you landed on a barbless? If I’m using those Mustad Signature Tarpon hooks I’ll leave the barb on — sometimes — cause it’s so tiny anyways, but even then I mostly smash em. I try to make a habit of doing this at the vise (I tie on a Regal which is spring loaded so first thing I do is put the barb in there and mash it). I find I’m more generous and optimistic to the world in general (and fish, and my own fishing prowess) when I’m tying flies in the comfort of whatever lodging I’m using at the moment, with maybe a dram or two of scotch or rum or tequila sitting within reach and some mellow tunage on the computer with some fishing vids playing on mute for inspiration. Yeah, it’s kind of a production.

    Anyways, just my thoughts.

  16. Yeah, I hear what you are saying. I have a feeling that you are on to something there. I don’t think the barb vs. no-barb is really going to make that much of a difference, but I had one guide who wouldn’t put a barbless fly on. Again, that could be just his meat-fishing background and I’d lean toward that conclusion a bit, really.

    As for the permit fly, I don’t know. I haven’t chased too many and I’ve only caught one, and a small one at that. Maybe the flies were just tied too big, but I know that he searched for an Avalon smaller than I had tied them. That was one guide though, so, maybe the 4 is the ticket.

    It is funny how one guide can have a comment or a preference and it seems to the angler (me, in this case) like it is a hard and fast rule. It is probably anything but.

  17. Soooo true, Bjorn. For example, for years I pretty much avoided flash on any of my bonefish flies for tailers in Cayman. I used neutral colors, realistic eyes, and I even went so far as to design an effective fly that rides hook point down. And it works. Really well. Then my guide partner tells me he’s been whacking em in the same places on a #6 white/black Crazy Charlie tied out of Angel Hair, which is pretty much pure flash. My response was pretty much WTF!? Of course, it just goes to show, guides are people and people are imperfect. That should be the only hard and fast rule.

    Having said that, always listen to the guide 😉

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