The idea of spending two weeks with a bunch of fly-fishing dorks didn’t really sound all that appealing to me when I first glanced over the invite. But when I read back through the email, I realized that I had missed the most important part of the message… The invite was for a press trip to CUBA.
I would happily spend two weeks with a bunch of half-rotten social pariahs to go on a trip to Cuba, so a group of fly-fishermen would be a walk in the park.
I began to prepare for the trip, but it wasn’t without a few reservations.
I decided to call Jim Klug of Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures who was putting the trip together. After all, I work for a website previously named Bloodydecks.com. I figured it might be a good idea to make sure that Jim didn’t have me confused with someone who ran Petmybonefish.com.
“You know I’m not really a fly guy, right?” I said to Jim.
“Yeah man, don’t worry about. It’ll be sweet,” he assured me.
“I don’t want to get ostracized or anything.”
“Well, I can’t promise you that,” he joked. “Just keep an open mind and we’ll try to do the same.”
Little did I know that Jim was messing with me and the entire plan was to sabotage my personal beliefs, my political leanings and even my faith. These five fly guys would not stop pestering me until I picked up that long wand and mastered it.
That’s what my brain kept telling me, but in reality, watching a seasoned caster get all zen with the fly rod is pretty cool. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to look like a douche.
I’ve always said that fishing is the great equalizer. Put a rich guy and a poor guy in a little boat and they’ll get on just fine as long as they both love to fish. Same could be said for black and white or fly and conventional. That’s what I hoped for anyway.
To get to Cuba we’d be flying through Cancun, Mexico. The plan was to meet in front of the Cubana Airlines check-in counter about two hours before our scheduled departure. I was the first to show up.
The anticipation was killing me.
Visions of guys wearing salmon-colored fishing shirts with enough pockets for 10 pairs of jeans danced around in my head.
I went up to one guy wearing a big-brimmed sun hat. It was one of those vented numbers that probably functions incredibly well in the tropics, but I would have to kick my own ass if I were ever caught wearing it.
“Excuse me, are you here for the Yellow Dog trip to Cuba?” I asked him.
As he turned around I saw that he was wearing a red, freaking ascot.
“No, but it sounds lovely,” he said with a twinge of a French accent.
“Thank God,” I said and walked away.
A few minutes later a hippie-ish guy with a rod tube came by. He must’ve seen my rod tube as well. I guess it’s sort of a fly-fisherman’s calling card. A few minutes later another writer stopped by and invited us to lunch and beers. No one’s shirt had more than two pockets.
While I openly admitted to everyone that I was an outsider to this fraternity of fly guys, the only one who seemed to make issue of it was me. No one gave a damn. If anything, I was about spend two weeks fishing with five seasoned fly fishermen in one of the fishiest places left in the Northern Hemisphere. Few guys get such a great opportunity to learn the sport.
I’d never caught a bonefish on fly… and I live in Florida. It was kind of funny because on my first day out with the fly rod I was fishing with Bjorn Stromsness who lives in California (where there are very few bones) and writes a blog entirely about bonefish called bonefishonthebrain.com.
Watching Bjorn cast was like watching a gymnast perform a flawless floor exercise — all fluid and effortless. My casting was more like a kid trying to kill a bee with a fly swatter. Hurried, scared and unwieldy.
I got flustered each time my cast fell in a pile of line, but I listend and slowly got better. With the encouragement of Bjorn and the guide, Titi, I improved.
“Relax, my friend,” Titi said when I spooked a school of about 100 boners, watching them jet across the flat like a pack of scared squirrels. “We’ll find another.”
Find them we did. Again, and again.
Finally, the opportunity was just right. Titi and I slid out of the boat and waded over to a school of nice bonefish that were holding on a super-shallow flat. Titi took my right hand and showed me how he wanted me to cast, bringing my arm to the 2 o’clock position then back to 10 o’clock then back to 2 and back to 10…
“Stop. Stop. Stop. Cast,” he said as he moved my arm back and forth. Sage advice, and it worked.
I made a decent cast, the fish ate and I set the hook using a strip set, just as I was told. I let that fish run a good three or four times. I was in no rush for this feeling to end.
Taking my photo with that bonefish was an overwhelmingly proud moment for me. I’ve been fishing for like 30 years, but I just reached a new goal. A goal I never even really knew I had. It reminded me why I love to fish. Cause there’s always something new to try.
I caught many more bonefish on the trip, got some sniffs from tarpon and had a blast using my Penn spinning gear to catch big barracuda on top-water plugs. But of all my experiences in Cuba, I’m sure that the new friends I made will have the most lasting influence.
And, I just ordered a new 8-weight to chase the redfish here in central Florida. Guess my inner fly dork has officially come out.