If the lion is the undisputed "King of the Jungle," then, the Tarpon has to be the undisputed "King of the Sea!"
Traveling to Cuba's Jardines De La Reina, Tarpon was a highly targeted species for Tailwaters' 11 fishing guests aboard the Avalon II and certainly the favored species among her guides. For several of us, this beastly king was an accomplishment for our species bucket list, too. Fly fisherman Camilo regaled us with his first landed Tarpon on Thursday 25 June 2015.
On Monday of that week, Bill and Will Seals and Cody and I fished for the Kings of the Sea from the same, deep-water hole. Being the courteous and respectful friends that we are, we each took turns. Bill first, me second, Will third, Cody fourth, and then, we repeated the sharing again exactly as in the first time. Those sea beasts were strong and beautiful.
Bill Jumps and Lands Tarpon #1
As I had done on the first and only Tarpon I had ever hooked previously (April 2010), I again forgot to pay homage to the king, and so, my second hooked Tarpon slid over into the "Jumped" category. However, Keko was an excellent and patient guide, and not too much time elapsed before I had my third-ever hook-up with this might warrior. This time, I paid my respects, and I was allowed to land this Tarpon and two more Tuesday 21 June 2015. They are exhausting creatures with which to do battle, and so I had to resign myself that three landed kings were all I could muster.
My First "Landed" Tarpon
Will Bows and Lands Tarpon #3
Cody Lands Tarpon #4, a PB, as Keko Looks On
My 2nd Landed Tarpon
Cody's 2nd Landed Tarpon of the Day
My 3rd Tarpon of the Day
One of Cody's Five Jumped Wednesday Tarpon
On Wednesday, Keko again put us on Tarpon. Cody masterfully jumped five Tarpon that morning; two were on back-to-back, long and perfect casts. As graceful as Cody's bow was, creating slack in his line, those stubborn Kings battled and won the jousts that day.
My 4th Tarpon of the Trip
As others had done, I decided I wanted to catch Tarpon on the flats, so Keko tied on a beautiful purple and pink Tarpon Toad, spotted one Tarpon chasing sardines, and told me to cast at the 11:30 position. It wasn't long before that 10# TFO TiCrX bent double. It took a little longer to land this Tarpon, but landed it was.
In the afternoon, Cody decided to experiment with angle shots using his new GoPro Hero 4, and so he laid down on the bow in front of me and videoed and photographed my last Tarpon from beginning to end. It was also my personal best, weighing a little more than 40 pounds and fighting for almost 25 minutes. I was grateful for the 12# and calmer waters than Tuesday. All-in-all, it was the Tarpon trip of a lifetime, as I jumped eight Tarpon and landed five of them.
We came to fish for Cuba's southern shore Grand Slam--a Bonefish, a Tarpon, and a Permit. My best three chances for Permit were the first day, (first cast, no less), the third day, and the last. Cody's best chances for Permit were also the third day, where they actively nosed on our fly and followed it, on more than one occasion, before deciding, "an Avalon Fly, meh--why bother?"and turned off quickly. I won't build any anticipation; no one caught any Permit, but we chased them.
As the first and last days of the trip are spent boating five hours
from-and-to the port town of Jucaro, fishing those days are half-days. So our first day was an evening spent Bonefishing on some of the calmest flats I have ever experienced. Tailwaters' original logo sported a freshwater trout and tailing Bonefish. Until 20 June 2015, I had never seen tailing Bones as depicted on their first brand; it was something to see.
The Bonefish were everywhere--solo, clusters of four and five, large schools--just milling about for those small crustaceans. Keko (pronounced KAY-kō), our guide for the trip, selected a tan patterned Gotcha, and it was BonefishOn! for two hours. We got our sea legs, our casting, our sighting set for the trip that first evening, which helped establish what would be some great fishing.
Two days, we caught Bonefish early, so we could move on to the Tarpon and Permit for the
Grand Slam. I also wanted to catch a small Lemon Shark, about 3 feet/1 meter, and Barracuda. The Bonefish splash and make such long runs, that they attract sharks and 'cudas quite often. So, some mornings, we caught Bones to tease in their predators (none were ever sacrificed or hurt). Other mornings, we caught Bones just to catch Bones--on the flats, in the mangroves, incoming tides, outgoing tides, we just caught beautiful Bonefish.
I haven't been to Los Roques, Venezuela for Bonefishing, but I have been to Belize and Hawai'i, and I think that the Cuban Bonefish are some of the Western Hemisphere's best Bonefish.
Long before December 2014 when political relations with Cuba became more relaxed, Cody and I spent 16 months of planning with Tailwaters Fly Fishing Co., worrying about visas, deciding from which country we would disembark to enter Cuba, buying airline tickets, how many extra nights--if any--we would stay in Cuba sightseeing, and how to accurately pack for a 10-day trip to a country that had been off-limits to Americans for 60 years.
Back Row L-R: Jeronimo, Camilo, John, Dick, Will, Brad, Bill
Front Row L-R: Ron, Meredith, me, Cody, Juan
Avalon II with the Tortuga in the background
After arriving in Havana on 19 June, our group of 12 anglers awoke early Saturday morning for a five hour bus ride (tour bus) south and east of Havana along Highway 1 to the port town Jucaro. Upon arrival, we off-loaded the bus and boarded our live-aboard ship, Avalon II. Our passports were checked, luggage loaded, and we settled in for a five hour boat ride to our fishing destination, Cayo Anclitas in the Jardines De La Reina, a Caribbean Sea, mangrove islands archipelago laying east of the Pickle Banks and north of the Cayman Trench. Other ships in the Avalon Group stay anchored and operate as both a fishing and
As slow-growing as mangroves are, the archipelago consists almost entirely of mangroves. Despite some mangrove destruction due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the islands were abundantly teeming with wildlife--Cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Great Egrets, Iguanas, Hutias, a tree rat that looks more like a beaver with marsupial forelegs, and a rich, healthy sea life, including sea crocodiles, and miles of turtle-grass flats and coral reefs. Certainly, this fly fishing destination was unlike any to which I had previously traveled.
Cody and I
were celebrating the graduation of one of the Fab 5 with a trip to Hawai'i, so
we set aside one day to fly fish. We booked a guided trip with Captain
Rick Lee out of Bonefish Hawaii. We fished the east coast of Oahu at Kāneʽohe
Bay between the Chinaman’s Hat and Kualoa Point, Oahu. At the day’s start, we fished the morning
after a full moon, so we were fishing a low, incoming Spring Tide. Spotting Bones was difficult, since we fished
over reefs instead of sandbars, but the winds were calm, clouds were minimal,
temperatures excellent, and conditions were perfectly ideal.
first, and not long after rigging up, Cody casted to Bonefish.Shrimp patterns were the fly of the day.About 15 minutes in to fishing, Rick spotted
a group of four Golden Trevally, and Cody casted about 35 feet.Retrieving so that the shrimp fly jumped and
fell, it was FishOn!Cody hooked into
one of the Goldens in no time and off that Trevally ran.The Trevally’s first run simulated that of a
Bonefish’s first run; however, the Trevally did not make subsequent
Bonefish-esque runs.It did however make
short, deep runs, putting a good bend in Cody’s rod.I had a blast watching Cody add to his
it was my turn to fish, and being all of 5’2”, spotting Bones over the reef was
next to impossible. I just was not tall
enough to get a good angle, so I listened to Rick and casted as close to where
he was calling. I got in a good cast and
had three followers. BAM! a nice
Bonefish picked it up and ran—all 100’ of line and about 150’ of backing zinged off my reel quickly. Rick said it was a good 10 pounder. I reeled in most of the backing, when BAM!
run #2 occurred, which was harder than the first run. Having reeled to just where the fly line was
coming in through the tip guide, the line snapped and landed at my feet. That Bone cut the leader on a reef, leaving
me about 3’. Oh well, it was fun while
next, but as the tide was incoming, retrieves became a little more difficult,
because the boat began to bump off the Bones.
What was a nice tight line, quickly became slack and retrieving produced
no fly movement with the skiff bearing in on the schools and singles.
Frustrated, Cody let me fish, and while I
never saw any fish to which I casted, I put the fly where Rick was telling me,
and it paid off. I landed a nice 6.5
pounder, whose turquoise-tipped fins, I never tire of seeing.
next, and with the rising tides, the Bones were moving away lest they fall to
their predators, which we saw no sharks.
Bored, Cody casted his line, and ended up hooking another species first,
a Trumpetfish. Due to its elongated
mouth, the fly was taken out through its gills instead of its mouth. Until Cody caught it, I had never seen
anchored at Coconut Island, and watched the Navy boys practice touch-n-gos at
The Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay.
High tide blew out the fishing for the rest of the day, as we never saw
another Bonefish even though we moved over the sandbar flats. The low
Spring tides were definitely the productive waters for the day.
Having not fished since retiring, this was a good way to break-in to