Every fishing trip to Cuba begins and ends with some time in Havana, a wonderful city with fine restaurants, hip-shaking music and colorful locals.
The locals are happy to let you take their photo for a few coins. Tipping goes a long way in Cuba as these people are paid very little by the government.
Want to ride in style? Many of the taxi cabs are pristine classics. We rode in a ’57 Chevy convertible and an old Dodge powered by a Russian diesel engine. There are also rickshaws, horse and carriages and local buses to get you around town.
Home for a week! The Tortuga is a 110-foot houseboat stationed in the Jardines de la Reina, some 50 miles off the southern coast of Cuba.
The marine reserve is home to several of the Caribbean’s largest frigate bird rookeries. You’d see hundreds of frigates circling high above the flats.
Havana’s Cathedral Square is a great spot to throw back a cold Mojito and watch the street performers. The Pope has held service at the old church in the background.
The skill of the Cuban guides and their love of fishing really impressed us. They also have a great sense of humor and enjoy telling stories about their girlfriends.
This wooden map of the Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen, hangs on the aft deck of the Tortuga. The Jardines are made up of more than 600 cays and mangrove islands.
Big barracuda are one of the top predators on the flats. These monsters must’ve never seen a top-water plug. They’d hit that popper at warp speed!
Most of the anglers who head to the Jardines favor the fly over conventional or spinning gear. With massive populations of tarpon, bonefish and permit, it’s no surprise.
We all looked forward to dinner on the Tortuga as the staff brought out plate after plate of fresh seafood, rice and vegetables.
Miles of storm-damaged mangroves provide an interesting backdrop and lots of structure to work around when flats fishing.
Bonefish groupings ranged from small pairs to massive schools that resembled bait balls. I’m always amazed at the ability of the guides to spot silver flashes from hundreds of meters away.
Many different snappers thrive in the mangroves and will snatch up a fly or soft-plastic grub. This mutton was a nice surprise.
The Jardines have some of the most gorgeous, thriving corals I’ve ever seen and every time we drifted over a coral head, we found some grouper or cubera snappers.
While you won’t find any snook at the Jardines, you will find them in other areas around southern Cuba. This fish was caught in a mangrove channel near the Island of Youth or Isla de la Juventad.
Each morning the guides took us to an area known as Boca Grande to battle monster tarpon. This triple-digit fish, hooked on a 12-weight fly rod, fought for an hour before busting the hook and taking off.
An early morning tarpon goes richter after the hookup. Landing one on conventional gear is tough, but landing a big tarpon on fly is a huge accomplishment.
That tail is the tarpon’s main source of horsepower. The strength, jumps and tenacity in these fish make them a premiere game fish.
The payoff! Tom Bie (left) is all smiles after landing this gorgeous tarpon on a 12-weight.
Fly-fishermen love their flies. Boxes were overstuffed with shrimp patterns, crabs, tarpon flies and more. Most of us left our gear behind for the guides because it is so hard for them to get good tackle.
If a big school of tailing bonefish doesn’t get your heart pumping, you might be dead. It’s a beautiful sight that never gets old.
Many of the flats you find in Cuba resemble the Florida Keys, but the big difference is you’re all alone when fishing in Cuba. There’s no other pressure whatsoever.
After a long day fishing the flats, the staff greets you with an ice cold cocktail. The Havana Club rum kept us going well into the night.
The staff catches all of the seafood daily. You can eat spiny lobster for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The sheer beauty of this undeveloped, untarnished ecosystem never ceased to amaze us. Each day brought something new.
Angler Chris Santanella (left) had to change flies in a flash to get a cast on this beast of a jack that zipped through our bonefish flat.
Jack crevalle are one of the most under-rated game fish out there. They’re powerful and a blast to target on surface lures.
If there was ever a perfect fish to target while saltwater fly-fishing, it’s the bonefish. There’s a lot of power packed into that small package.
While the Bahamas and Florida feature fantastic bonefishing, I’d prefer the Cuban bones any day.
The guides are participating in a bonefish tagging study to find out whether or not these bonefish migrate out of Cuban waters.
Bonefish are known to spook easily, but not these fish. We found one school that stayed put and we released 10 fish on fly in about 30 minutes.
Many Americans head to Cuba each year to fish. It’s safe and easy thanks to companies such as Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers (cubanfishingcenters.com) and Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures (yellowdogflyfishing.com) that take care of all the planning and paperwork.
34 penn tackle
In 1963 Penn introduced a reel that has grown to be one, if not the most popular â€œwork horseâ€ reels on the market, the Spinfisher. Fifty years later, Penn has significantly upgraded this reel with a new water-tight design, more powerful Slammer Drag and full metal body. Penn is giving away a new Spinfisher V every weekday for 50 days leading up to the release.