Sunday, April 22, 2018

Cuba- Fly Fishing in the Jardines de la Reina- April 2018

High Flying Tarpon... photo by Doug Jeffries

To my mind, our fishing was simply spectacular!
I couldn't believe the number of permit we found. If we only could do the permit portion of this trip, I would return to the Tortuga any time. When we chose to devote time in the pursuit of this elusive fish, we usually got a shot. Most days, many more than one. We had three permit caught on our trip and each was from 20-30 lbs. Each generated heart stopping moments. Jim Woolett and Fred Abramowitz each had Grand Slams. On each of their Grand Slam days the word of their boated permit crackled on the guide's radio. The words "palameto boated" first Alexey's boat and then a couple days later on Coki's put a big smile on my face. With these words, we knew the quest for a grand Slam was "ON". When they later completed their Grand Slams, we again quickly heard of their success on the radios and we knew "it was on" for a celebration that night.

Fred Abramowitz is a bit excited... photo by Jay Hillerson
Another beautiful permit!

Released by Coki

What better way to celebrate than with Cuban rum...
...and fresh lobster!
In addition to these remarkable days, almost everyone caught or a least jumped tarpon every day. Some of these fish were very big. We pulled many sabalo to the boat that were on the 50-100 lb. range and we had a stunning number of tarpon this size jumped. This average size was a surprise to me. When I heard there were good numbers of baby tarpon in the Jardines, I didn't think a 30-35 lb. "baby." would be the average size. And these tarpon were hot... I mean HOT! When hooked these tarpon usually jumped multiple times. And theses jumps were not lunges, they were vaults high into the sky. I had one fish on my last day which jumped eight times clearing the water's surface by many feet each time. 

Guide Coki releases a typical tarpon

Rolling Tarpon at dawn
C'mon that's a big tarpon! Guide Leo does his best to lift Fred's big one!

And Doug's Merrimam's Georgia Peach Toad produced...

...this nice specimen for our man from Atlanta!

I had a hard time landing this fish and was a sweaty mess by the end. And this tarpon was probably only 60-65 lbs. We saw many fish over 100 lbs. I'm actually thankful I didn't hook up with one of these monsters! At one point the guide told me to cast to a big female leading a group of 12 or so smaller fish that were approaching fast. I disobeyed orders and cast to one of the smaller males trailing the pack. He was nice enough to take my fly and turned out to be a 50 lb. "baby".  So I would rate the tarpon fishing in the Jardines de la Reina as excellent.

The bonefishing was terrific too, but many of us didn't spend much time doing it. One flat I fished with my buddy Doug Jeffries held fish in the 4-7 lb. range. I had one big bone in the 6 lb. range eaten by a 25 lb. cubera snapper. I had the snapper on for quite awhile but couldn't get a good hookset. Hard to get a hook into a Cubera jaw with six lbs. of bonefish blocking the way. The best way to summarize the fishing is to post some of the stories from the trip. I will quite a few stories in the next few days along with a accompanying photos. I'll also be posting more technical info on the fishing including flies, leaders, tippets etc.
But, Let's start with one of my own favorite moments...

DAY 2:
The weather was perfect. Sure, a slight breezes ruffled the water and a few hazy clouds could prove problematic, but it was still a perfect morning. Doug Jeffries and I were fishing with Coki. We would later learn where Coki's true passion lied.
It should have been a good indication to us (and should be to you the reader), when he said as we were stepping into his skiff, "Do you want to look for permit? The tides right... this afternoon we can look or tarpon."

The guides were always ready to go right on time after breakfast.

Doug and I quickly agreed.
Coki stored our gear, then added, "I know some islands about 12k off the north side of the Jardines. We try that?"
"Sure." We both said quickly.
As we reached the deeper water off the Jardines Archipelago, we picked up a slight chop as we veered north. Doug and I could see no land on the horizon so we sat back and relaxed. About 20 minutes later, we began seeing what I thought were the masts of sailboats.
"Shrimpers." Coki said, noticing I has seen them. "They use those booms to dredge the sandy bottoms of the channels at night. They get big prawns." He showed me the size with his thumb and index finger spread as far as they would go.
Soon we could see seven shrimp boats huddled around a big mothership. No doubt they had been off-loading their catch since before dawn. Pelican and gulls closely circled the mothership. Frigate birds soared high overhead looking to pirate a meal if the opportunity arose. I wondered what was below the water looking for a free meal too. 
Soon, Coki cut the motor. We could now see a few low-lying mangrove cays surrounded by pale amber shallows. Coki jumped up on the poling platform and pushed us over coral rubble flats interspersed with deeper channels peppered with staghorn, brain and other stunning corals. It was pristine and beautiful, but Coki was not happy. 

"We need some wind. The wind stirs up the coral, clouds the water and makes it harder for them to see us." Then he added, "They don't come in so much when it is this calm."
I kinda liked it. I knew long casts were imminent so calm conditions seemed like a good idea. Of course, no cast would be necessary if we couldn't find fish.
We worked a few of the cays with no success. Coki was frustrated. I know the feeling well. When you're showing someone a favorite area and nothing is happening, you end up repeating the mantra. "Man, this is such a good spot usually."
Then Coki said it. "Tail... see it?"
"No," I said as I scanned 150 feet ahead of me.
"There... right inside that second dark spot."
That second spot was 100 meters away... I looked carefully... then again... then I saw it. How the hell did Coki ever initially spot that tail. It was a LONG way off!
"Let me get closer. Keep your eye on the spot. When you cast, hit him right on the head. He'll either eat or be gone."
Coki poled quietly over the crunchy coral rubble and got us within 100 feet.
"OK, cast."
Geez, I thought, that is a long cast AND I also have to hit him on the head. I made a couple false casts and shot all the line I could. 
"Good!" Coki's blood was up now. "Strip once slowly." He hissed.
I did. Suddenly, I was hooked up. But, I knew it was not a permit. I surfed a little yellow snapper to the boat and Doug quickly unhooked it. He tossed the snapper over the gunwale and said, "You're good..." Doug is a special partner and I didn't have to say a word. He had me in shape to cast in a remarkably short time.

"Cast again." Coki whispered.
We were 85-90 feet away now. The fly landed right in front of the fish. The big permit looked and moved right at my fly. We all held our breath.  The permit looked, then slowly moved off to deeper water. I made one last "Hail Mary" cast guestimating his location in the six feet of water he was finning away in. My cast was more of a farewell wave than a calculated cast. I knew it was over.
"What did I do wrong?" I asked
"Nothing, it was perfect... that's permit." Coki said as he stepped off the platform. "Let's motor to another area that should have lots of permit on it by now."
There were. Doug and I traded the bow time after time. We came up empty time after time. Doug made some excellent casts and I had a few good shots... It was the most fun I've ever had not catching a fish...

That's permit. 
But when we left to go tarpon fishing that afternoon, I felt my time with permit would come.
It did.

Next: Fred's Big Day

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