It is extraordinary how times flies and yes, I know that is a cliché. I thought I had been in Cuba very recently and it was only when I checked all of the details did I realise that I actually had not been there for five years.
My last experience had been superb and I wrote a report on my return with a heading saying that “this is far too much fun to be be legal” One of the dangers in going back to somewhere that you have had such a happy time, is that you appoint impossibly high standards and benchmarks for it to live up to and it can sometimes end up being a disappointment. Would that prove to be the case this time?
Our happy band of 14 was to fish from the newly launched Avalon Fleet 3 and once assurances that it had been built were in place, we set off from pretty much all over the world to meet up in Havana.
Havana is busy. It has not witnessed the all-out assault from the US that the Obama years may have promised but a combination of increased US tourism and simply being a fashionable place to go means that decent hotels get booked up early and the restaurants and bars are quite frantic.
In truth this just adds to the buzz of the place and it still retains that wonderful charm and somehow an innocence which is rare to find.
The bus journey to Jucaro, our jump off point for the week, remains six hours of touring through the Cuban countryside. You can’t rush it and there is nothing else to do apart from sit back in air-conditioned comfort whilst passing farms, sugar plantations and colourful villages.
Once in Jucaro all things start to take on a different shape. You drive through a quiet village to come across a bustling port with some seriously big and seriously smart boats waiting for you – it feels as if you have landed in a different world.
We boarded Fleet 3 and set off for Jardines de la Reina, our fishing home for the week.
Fleet 3 is fabulous. 15 single, ensuite cabins with twin beds in each. More than comfortable, more than enough space and brilliantly laid out. We had our fishing deck, our breakfast deck and our after fishing/supper drinking deck, complete with hot tub. It felt more like being on an upmarket ferry than it did a fishing boat.
A word on the staff, food and service before I get on to the main subject. You simply won’t find better in Cuba. Every request was greeted with a huge smile, was acted on immediately and carried out to the letter however, we hardly made any requests as they were ahead of us in every way. To be greeted by a cold towel and a cold mojito after a day on the flats is quite possibly the best thing imaginable.
To the fishing… To my mind, Cuba currently offers the best flats fishing in the world. Some will argue, some will concur but the fact is that it is mind blowing against any benchmark that you care to set.
As with all saltwater fisheries, if they are being honest, the backbone of the fishing is for bonefish. Old hands sometimes dismiss these wonderful fish as if they are a bit boring.
That can be true if you are fishing for 2lbs “schoolies” or fish that are mudding. However, when you are confronted with schools of fish of 4lbs, tailing fish, super technical skinny water fishing and everything from skiff fishing, to wading flats and more, you have something that is sensational and as far away from “boring” bonefishing as you can possibly get.
The tarpon are however, one of the main reasons to go to Cuba and they did not disappoint. We were at the beginning of the main migratory season when the big females return from Florida (this last from mid March to the end of May) so we were mostly fishing for the resident fish. Believe me, they are fun enough!
Stalking tarpon through the mangroves as though stalking tailing bones is an intense experience and jumping them is just the start of the fun. When your 30lbs tarpon lands in the middle of a mangrove clump it makes it harder to land them!
These amazing creatures are wonderfully suited to fly fishing. Get the fly somewhere near them without spooking and they will eat – they are very willing partners. Setting your hook into a mouth which resembles a steel bucket is not easy and we lost way, way more than we landed but that is part of the fun and means that every boated fish is properly celebrated.
They jump, they fight and they never give up – just wonderful and simply stunning.
I could regale you of endless stories of near misses with permit but everyone has heard them before. Sometimes you get lucky with them and sometimes you don’t – just enjoy the ride and accept that if you do land one, the drinks will be on you and you will never be happier to buy round after round.
Add in red snappers, cubera snappers, mutton jacks, horse eye jacks and plenty of other species that fight ridiculously hard, whatever their size, and you have a recipe for fishing nirvana.
The guides are all brilliant. Some are more experienced than others but all are properly good and each and every one would be the most sought after guide in every other destination in the world.
Practically five years of brutal training before they are allowed near guiding clients mean that these guys know it all. Don’t question, don’t second guess, don’t pretend you know more, just follow, listen and learn – you are the only reason you don’t catch the fish they have pointed out to you – a tough but salutary lesson.
The weather will always play its part on a fishing trip and in saltwater perhaps more than others. Don’t get too sucked in to tides, moons, the Mayan calendar or all of the other variables that people profess to make a big difference. If you are in Cuba, with the fishery in the health that it currently is in, all you need is sun and you will have the best fishing of your life.
It is a fabulous location and it is a fabulous fishery, I simply could not recommend it more highly. I asked it to live up to incredibly high standards and it passed them with flying colours while generating even more treasured memories.