Fly Fishing Cuba

Photo Courtesy of Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers.

On The Fly Saltwater

Trip of a Lifetime

By Andrew A. Cox

In recent years, I have been blessed to travel to some international fishing destinations.  I remember as a child hearing about the storied fishing in Cuba.  This was bolstered through my interest in reading about Ernest Hemingway and his outdoor pursuits.  I am old enough to remember the ascent of Fidel Castro to power in that country as well as the Cuban missile crisis during the Kennedy presidency.

As travel to Cuba became more difficult over the years, my dream of fishing in Cuba diminished.  I initially wanted to sample the largemouth bass fishing in Cuba.  Later as my interest in saltwater sport fishing expanded, I learned of Cuba’s excellent inshore fishing.

In late Fall, 2019, I had the opportunity to participate in a group fly fishing excursion sponsored through Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers and the Atlanta Fly Fishing Club. This was an angling package that included lodging, meals, and guided fishing in the shallow, inshore waters of Cayo Largo, a protected island off the southern coast of Cuba.  An added bonus of this trip was the opportunity to sample Havana, the capitol city of Cuba several days prior to the angling excursion.  This pre-angling excursion allowed a sampling of the Old World sights of Cuba, its food and restaurants, interact with some of its people, catch a trip to Ernest Hemmingway’s Havana home, and ride in the classic cars in the capitol city.  The city is charming, but run down, much of the classic architecture crumbling away.

The waterfront depicted in Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. Photo by Andrew A. Cox.

The trip required considerable preplanning.  There were various forms to be completed and documents to obtain allowing travel by an American citizen to Cuba even though it is only 90 miles from U.S. shores.  Interestingly, most of these documents and forms are required by the U.S. government for travel by its citizens.  Going through the outfitter, Avalon Fishing, was likely essential to navigating the required documents and visas.  For an average person who is used to simply hoping into an automobile or airplane and traveling to their desired destination, obtaining the required pretravel permissions seemed like an insurmountable issue.  With such preplanning, however, the trip was simple: boarding an airplane at the Atlanta, Georgia airport and flying to the Havana airport.

Flying into the country in its initial descent into the Havana airport, I was struck by the amount of open land comprising the country.  I was also struck by how much of it is not in cultivation for agricultural use other than for pasture or animal husbandry.  Makes you wonder where food comes from in the country.

After a couple of sightseeing days in Havana, I boarded another airplane and made a short flight to Cayo Largo.  Upon arrival, it was evident that this is a part of Cuba designed for tourists and travelers to that country.  Travelers from countries other than the United States have been enjoying Cuba, its hospitality, and outdoor environments for many years.  The resort that we stayed on the island was frequented and well received by European, Canadian, and other world travelers.

Photo courtesy of Avalon Cuban Angling Centers.

The fishing experience was well organized.  Two anglers were assigned to a boat with a different guide each day.  The guides were English speaking but their use of conversational English was limited.  Guides were cordial and helpful.  They were diverse relative to age and each had their unique personal traits that enhanced the fishing experience.  There were no guides encountered on this trip that I would vow to not fish with again, though I formed an opinion of favored and least favored guides. Comfortable flats boats were used.  Each angler was expected to bring their own selection of flies along with other angling essentials such as rods, reels, lines, tippet, leaders, etc.  The base of operations for the fishing operation did not have items for sale though each angler was supplied with an assortment of the operations signature fly, the Avalon Crab fly.  An unusual aspect of the trip was that each morning, anglers selected an assortment of food items from the buffet style breakfast table for lunch items for themselves as well as their guide for the day.

The author with a Cayo Largo bonefish. Photo courtesy of Andrew A. Cox.

The fishing waters are uncrowded, with expanses of undeveloped low-lying shoreline and clear Caribbean waters.  Anglers were successful most days catching bonefish for the most part.  During this angler’s trip, permit were elusive as were tarpon.  I was able to catch a 12- to 15-pound tarpon and my fishing partner for the day also caught a tarpon around 15 to 16 pounds.  These were the only tarpon caught during the weeklong fishing adventure.  Fishing was exclusively with flies and fly tackle consisting of casting to shoreline and back bay areas.  There was some sight fishing for bonefish and tarpon.

Much of Cayo Largo is undeveloped.  Several areas have large Iguanas that are not shy of contact with humans.  At several locales, they would compete with anglers for their shore lunches.  The island has several developed areas containing lodging, tourist amenities such as swimming pools and related areas.  The fishing operation was located in a small village area that contained some shopping areas along with lodging for the resort staff.  Most of the shopping areas were closed.  The lodges were comfortable and provided the usual tourist amenities to include buffet style meals, bars, and poolside amenities.  Daily evening entertainment was provided.  Though designed for tourists, there certainly was not a feeling of being crowded with large numbers of people.  For those enjoying beachside activities, white sand beaches with crystalline water were plentiful.  Several cruise ships were noted off-shore.  Apparently, cruise ship lines provide shore excursions onto the island’s beaches.

I certainly would revisit Cuba and its fishing opportunities.  At a regional fly-fishing show in early 2020, I note that there are several outfitters that provide fishing opportunities to different fishing locales within Cuba.  Some of these provide tackle alternatives other than fly tackle.  The Avalon operation is exclusively fly fishing as are the waters around Cayo Largo.  Setting up a trip with an outfitter assists in selecting necessary tackle, setting up travel arrangements, and negotiating the challenging legal and political paperwork and documentation necessary to travel to the country.  Additionally, the potential visiting angler should consult any Covid 19 related travel restrictions and guidelines relative to travel between the United States and Cuba. This trip fulfilled an angling dream encompassing most of my lifetime as well as providing a different perspective on Cuba as a country, culture, its people, and its diverse environment.

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