Last week a group of 11 of us went on an adventure of a lifetime to The Jardines De La Reina. Also known as “The Garden of the Queens”, these chain of islands sit off the Southeastern coast of Cuba and offer some of the most pristine flats in the world. The 840 square mile marine reserve was established in 1996 and in 2010 was designated as a national park.
After a short 45 minute flight from Fort Lauderdale, we landed in Camaguey, Cuba. We decided to spend an extra day in Camaguey to see what mainland Cuba has to offer. We were all blown away by the overall friendliness and hospitality the Cuban people provided us. Everyone loaded up on cigars and rum and explored the vast history Camaguey has to offer. The next morning we took a 2 ½ hour bus ride through the Cuban countryside to the port city of Jucaro where we boarded the Avalon II mothership.
We were there in search of Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit but Tarpon were definitely the primary target. The majority of the Tarpon caught were in the 20-40lb range with a couple around 80 lbs. caught as well. The first three days we saw good numbers of Tarpon, some more than others. The Tarpon in Cuba chase your fly aggressively and very few times did we get refusals. Most of the fish we saw were in smaller schools, but we also found some large schools chasing the bait balls offshore. The 400 grain full sink was needed to target the fish down deeper. Mostly bi-catch using this method, but had a great time doing it. Almost every cast seemed to be a different species of Jack or Snapper, as well as a few Barracudas. One angler in the group even had a shot at a Blue Marlin, but a 5 foot shark came up and stole the fly in front of the Marlin.
The Permit in Cuba are no different than the characteristics that define Permit throughout the world. A couple of anglers decided to chase strictly Permit for a few days. The Permit guide, Keko, promised us 10 good shots a day. The day I went was an experience I will never forget. The first 4 hours was non-stop casting at tailing Permit. Then we had lunch and it just never stopped. I lost count of the amount of shots I had. Being the first time ever even seeing a Permit let alone casting to one, I felt guilty to be honest. A very humbling experience but a moment I’ll never forget. One angler in our group managed to land a permit on the second to last day.
The Bonefishing in Cuba is world class. These fish are forgiving and not spooky. You can miss the hook set 3 or 4 times and the fish will still eat your fly. The Average bonefish was around 5 pounds and many caught in the 6-8lb range. No matter how the day of fishing for Tarpon or Permit went, we would stop and wade to big schools of tailing bonefish and end the day hooking up on a few fish.
The guide staff and crew did an amazing job. A very well run operation. The food on the boat was awesome as well; fresh seafood and authentic Cuban cuisine. If you've never had Jack crevalle ceviche I highly recommend it. Overall a great experience. Highly recommended. Hope to have the opportunity to travel to Cuba again!