After many months of anticipation I finally had the chance to visit the expansive flats of Cayo Cruz, Cuba. This area of Cuba is truly a flats fishing paradise filled with bonefish, permit, tarpon, barracuda, snapper, and jack. Also on the trip was Echo rep Josh Nugent so needless to say, Echo and Airflo were well represented. One of the unique elements of fishing in this part of Cuba is that the flats are situated within a wildlife preserve and there is very little human activity permitted. In fact, everyday on the journey from our lodge to the fishing grounds we had to go through a military checkpoint and a park ranger station. We stayed in a small town in a very unique lodge. Called Casa Romano, our lodge used to be the residence of the head of one of Cuba’s largest sugar cane processing plants. The Casa is now a rustic but comfortable home for anglers. Because of the remoteness of the lodge and fishing area, we did not see another boat or angler during our stay.
Bonefish are the real stars of the show at Cayo Cruz. The average fish is in the three to five pound range and our group all had shots at fish well over ten pounds. When the conditions are right – sunny skies and light winds and the right tides – it was reasonable to expect shot after shot at bonefish cruising in ankle to knee depth water. Either from a flats boat or on foot, the guides would spot fish at impossibly far distances. After realizing that my casting was not up to par with their eyesight they would pole or stalk the fish (usually small groups of two to five fish) until I could cast to them. I had an old Echo 2 8wt and the new Airflo Ridge Clear Tip Tropical ready. The rod performed great and easily pushed loops through the tropical wind that always seemed present. The Clear Tip line was amazing. I was able to make my leader much shorter than I would usually use for bonefish (eight feet instead of twelve feet) and this made it easier to turn over my fly and make a good presentation. If I could somehow get my fly close to the fish the response was usually immediate and unmistakable. The bonefish would start tracking the fly and as I sped up the strips the fish would get more excited until it pounced on the fly. I even had fish beeline from over twenty feet (oops, bad cast!) and charge and inhale my fly. After that, as long as I remembered not to trout set the fun really started. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of hooking bonefish, the initial run is usually well into your backing and it is not uncommon to see your backing several more times before you bring the fish to hand.
My permit outfit also got a fair amount of work on this trip. Now full disclosure – work does not always equal catching. What is it about this fish anyway? One minute they are tails up happily feeding and frolicking and the next second they are exploding off of the flats at mach speed? I brought an Echo 3 9wt and again I had the new Airflo Ridge Clear Tip Tropical. Man, I cannot say enough great things about this combination. The rod was amazing at generating tight loops and high line speed and this led to better shots at fish. The line shoots great and ads a much-needed stealthy element to fly presentation. I know that I made casts to permit on this trip that just were not possible with other rigs that I have fished. In the end I had many chances at permit but only managed to feed one that I lost after a ten minute fight.
Besides the fishing for bonefish and permit, I also had opportunities to chase tarpon, barracuda, jack, snapper and many other species. What a great trip. With all of the rumors that Cuba will be open soon for anglers from the US as it has been for us Canadians, it is a destination that can’t be overlooked. It truly is a flats fishing paradise.