Fly Fishing In Cuba, Saltwater Fly Lines, Catch Bonefish Anywhere

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Fly Fishing In Cuba
Saltwater Fly Lines
Catch Bonefish Anywhere

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Fly Fishing In Cuba

December 17th, President Barak Obama announced an intent to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, and to ease restrictions on U.S. citizens traveling to and from Cuba. From 1961, until the summer of 2014 free travel of U.S. citizens had been severely restricted with fear of fines, or even imprisonment. However, for the past ten years many adventuresome U.S. anglers found a way to fish the waters surrounding Cuba by going through the back door of Mexico or other countries. These anglers were at risk, but Cuban angling destination continued to gather popularity. Patty and I were offered several of these trips, but refused because of potential problems with The State Department. Only law abiding US citizens were restricted. Canadian & European citizens were not restricted.
Last May rumors started to circulate the U.S. Government might allow a certain number of anglers with the right credentials to visit Cuba through a program called the People To People Exchange, but only if they were licensed through a scientific research program such as the Ocean Institute. In June we received an invite to visit Cuba as guest of the Avalon Fishing Group, a company based in Italy with franchise to fish the best waters in Cuba. So Patty and I purchased the proper licenses, visas, and airfare, and went fishing in Cuba. We were perfectly legal, and have Cuban stamps in our passports, which were displayed openly to U.S. Customs Agents in Miami on re-entry into the United States. What follows is an objective report of our experiences in Cuba, both good and bad and a brief history of U.S./Cuban relations as they have appeared to us from both sides of the borders.

Cuba was discovered by Christopher Columbus, October 27, 1492. It's capitol Havana, is a unique city of 2.1 million people.  King Philip II granted La Habana a charter in 1592. Havana became the greatest of all Caribbean sea ports, that provided conquistadors a base to conquer and pillage the Americas. Much Aztec and Inca gold and silver flowed through Havana, a logistical port for treasure ships.

After the gold of conquest petered out, Cuba became the source for nearly 40% of the world’s sugar, and money from agriculture fueled the trade that flowed through Havana. With such wealth the inhabitants of the city were able to construct magnificent buildings and ornate parks with much polished marble and granite. By the 20th century, Havana had become one of the most ornate cities in the world.  Blessed with a tropical climate and so much money, Havana became the in-place for royalty and celebrities alike. The atmosphere was a blend of Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam and Bangkok all rolled into one. Havana became the party town of the Western Hemisphere. That is until the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro (1953-1959), then everything changed.

From the beginning the US and Cuba were embroiled in political conflicts. During the American pre-Civil War era, many politicians from the Southern United States lobbied for Cuba to become a State within The United States. That movement was vigorously opposed by the Northern States, because Cuba was a slave state, and would have shifted political power toward the Southern United States. Slavery was finally abolished in Cuba in 1886. Cuba gained independence from Spain in 1902. What ensued for the next fifty years was a period of nearly constant civil unrest between wealthy white land owners, and the progeny of disenfranchised black slaves. There is little doubt that bungled intervention by U.S. officials at various points did little to ease tensions between the various Cuban factions. Finally what the Cubans call "The Great Revolution", followed by the confiscation of private property by the ensuing communist dictatorship, severed political relations between Cuba and the US for the next fifty years. During that period the US placed economic sanctions on Cuba. These sanctions gained little support from the rest of the world, and the Cuban communist government survived into the present.

Today Cubans are extremely proud of their resistance, to US intervention within their country, as we are proud of our independence from the rest of the world. Casually observing the magnificent architecture of the city of Havana turned to dilapidation by years of neglect from lack of economic base.

I remembered a Russian in Kamchaka, who had summed it all up for me. “Psst”, he said followed by a wink that motioned me to step closer. “The difference my friend is, in the free enterprise system, one man exploits another, in the communist system it is the other way around.”

Above is a map of Cuba showing our route from Havana to Jardines de la Reina, our fishing destination. Evidenced by the multitude of classic American cars on the streets, Havana is a city frozen in time. The stagnation of the Cuban economy becomes even more apparent after you leave the city, and travel through the Cuban countryside, where the main conveyance for the common people is by horse drown carts. The main Cuban cross country road is wide and straight, but even in a brand new air conditioned Chinese built bus, the ride was startlingly rough across multiple lanes of poorly maintained pavement. Traffic was sparse. The scenery was mostly of human poverty, and ecological degradation caused by typical sub-tropical agriculture. My main impression was that although the human population by and large looked pretty happy and healthy, I was very glad I didn't live there. On the other side of the ledger, Cubans enjoy free cradle to grave health care, and one of the highest standards of free education in the world.

Havana, Cuba is truly a city lost in time as these paintings disclose. These are the same cars I drove, or lusted after as a teenager. Classic car art is on display for sale in many places. I bought a copy of the 1946 Chevy in the lower left hand corner.

As you view the two pictures below, one thing will become clear, Havana, Cuba is a very clean looking city, maybe the cleanest big city that we have visited anywhere- certainly the cleanest in the 3rd World. My impression is that even the smallest rural towns in Cuba are also exceptionally clean. The food we ate in Cuba also appeared to be safe and well prepared (except for the sandwiches served on the bus).

Cubans love their old cars. Many resourceful owners have turned their vintage cars into taxis, such as this 1956 Dodge Convertible. Can you imagine what it must take to maintain a car like this where there are NO parts, and probably very few tools as well? On examining many of the better vintage cars, most of the paint jobs and body work was far from amateur. Can you imagine smuggling chrome wheels into Cuba country?
Beware of the volunteer tour guide. They all have a plan to empty your wallet as quickly as possible. Cuban people are friendly, but it is mostly fake. Most have only known the USA as a public enemy. Evidence the U.S. fighter bomber proudly on display in the background. It was shot down during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Cubans are proud of their revolution. Is Havana violently dangerous? We didn't see any sign of it, but be careful.
Is Havana a party town? Absolutely, day and night there is music in the cafes and in the streets. Prostitutes abound at night, and the liquor flows freely. Cubans are hungry for success. They are underpaid, but resourceful. Exchange of Cuban Pesos for U.S. dollars is 1 to 1. Visiting Cuba is not inexpensive. Cuba will enter the free market world of tourism on its own terms, and figure out how to make the most of it.
The hotel we stayed in was easy on the eye, and clean. The people who worked there seemed attentive. But, our room had a lumpy mattress and electrical problems. Beware of cameras in your hotel bedroom as well. Lock your money in your safe, or it will disappear and no Cubans will care. We found that we had to be on our guard more in Cuba than Mexico or Belize. That just added to our sense of adventure. To be sure, fishing in Cuba is high adventure in an exotic setting. As with the best of adventures, some things will remain beyond your control.
Bucanero is the favored beer in Cuba, and there was an unlimited supply on the Avalon II. Matter of fact there was nearly an unlimited supply of pleasantries aboard the the Avalon II, a 75' wide-beam motor yacht (pictured at the beginning of this article). The food and service was perfect every day. It was easy to see that the staff on this boat were used to serving discriminating customers.
The dining room aboard the Avalon II is spacious, very clean and with just the right amount of air conditioning. Our group of twelve anglers came from across the United States. All were shop owners or tour guides, all were experienced saltwater anglers. Every one of these guests seemed to be enthusiastic and excited about the experience they had in Cuba.
The upper decks of Avalon II give a different perspective to the surrounding ecosystem. This boat is spacious so that being sociable was easy, but for any reason if a person wanted solitude, that was also easy and very comfortable. There is a water slide attached to the side of the boat, and it was popular with the younger guests. The ship's lights at night also attracted bait fish and shrimp, which in turn attracted marauding tarpon. Several were hooked.
The Avalon II is complete with a full set of American made Dolphin skiffs that are fast, which run in very shallow water. The Jardines de la Reina archipelago is very large, and fast boats give you access to many miles of premium fishing water.
Here Patty is hooked up to a nice bonefish. Jardines de la Riena flats are beyond expansive. They are the best we have ever fished. Literally many flats are miles long, and there is every kind of flats that we have fished anywhere else. Some white sand flats are so large, that a pair of anglers could hunt a flat for a whole day as bonefish moved in and out with the tides. Turtle grass flats are equally prominent with fish feeding at times in three inch deep water, with their entire backs visible. Mud flats were less common, but available. Each type of ecosystem required different flies with different colors and different sink rates. Our success demanded good skills, but when we did things right, we were well rewarded.
There are all sizes of bonefish in Cuba, but the average size is larger than any other destination that we have travelled too. We landed a lot of bonefish in the 4 to 5 pound range. The largest landed by each of us was in the 7 to 9 pound range, and we both hooked several double digit bones. At many destinations bonefish rods in the six to seven weight class are adequate. Not so in Jardines de la Reina. Here you will want a rod that is eight or nine weight. After our first couple of days, we both fished with nine weight rods exclusively for bonefish. They were just more practical than lighter gear.
Our Captain was an expert at finding bonefish. We got lots of shots each day, and our catch rate per day on bonefish was prodigious. And, although there were four grand slams landed by our party, we were not lucky on Permit or Tarpon. Our captain couldn't seem to find them. Part of the reason was the time of year. Our trip was July 4 to July 14, certainly not a good time for Tarpon. April and May is a better time for tarpon, and we were told that during those months fishing for large tarpon in Cuba could arguably be classed as the best in the world. Hard to tell what the story was with Permit, probably the water was too warm. I got two shots at Permit in six days.
Would we go back to Cuba? No doubt at some point we will. It is worth it for the adventure, and the bonefishing alone. Jardines de la Reina is a special place. Avalon II provides a special way to fish it. The Cuban people are themselves special, and hopefully in the future, the animosity that has grown between the U.S. and Cuba will be a thing of the past.
Saltwater Fly Line Directory

Fishing in tropical saltwater requires fly lines that are specifically designed to perform at warmer temperatures than lines that are designed to fish in temperate climates. These lines also need to be made out of more durable materials, and with tapers that will deliver aggressive casts with great accuracy. We have fished all of the lines listed below, and they have all passed critical examination, under rigorous field conditions.

Lines: RIO, Royal Wulff, Scientific Anglers, Cortland

Liquid Crystal


Bonefish QuickShooter

Outbound Short




Tarpon Short

Scientific Anglers
Grand Slam

Royal Wulff
Tropic Blue

Royal Wulff
Two -Tone

Royal Wulff
Catch Bonefish Anywhere Fly Set

It is said that bonefish are capitalistic, non-discriminant feeders; maybe somewhere- but not in most of the waters we have fished. Water depth and fly weight, plus the color of the bottom separate flies into several different categories. This set of flies is designed to simplify catching bonefish, no matter where you fish: Cuba, Bahamas, Belize, Hawaii, or Christmas Island.
The set includes:
(3) #4 Teeny Bonefish Flies: This is the pattern for medium depth water over light colored bottoms.
(3) #6 Pink Puff: This is the bail-out fly that seems to make even the pickiest of fish bite, the one fly never to be without.
(3) #4 Gotcha: Another fly for light colored bottoms, and fishes well where there is sparse to medium vegetation and coral.
(3) #2 E.P. Spawning Shrimp: A deadly fly in deeper water, especially where there is dense vegetation and/or coral- strip fast.
(3) #6 Natural Crab, Green: Possibly the best fly ever, over shallow turtle grass. Fish it slowly. It seldom fails, but is fragile.
(3) #6 Mini Crystal Shrimp: Very reliable in shallow water over dead coral, light colored sand. A killer fly on the edges with waves.
(3) #8 Bonefish Bitters, Hermit Crab: Can be fished shallow or deep by timing your fish. Let it lay on the bottom, or twitch.

Item Description Price To Top
BONESET-A Catch Bonefish Anywhere Fly Set, with logo fly box $61.95 Sale Ended

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