Cayo Cruz // Cuba 2018 August 5, 2018 – Posted in: Adventure – Tags: Avalon, Bonefish, Cuba, fly fishing, fly tying, Permit
A fresh glass of Ron Cubáy (on the rocks) arrives at my table in the open air villa. My second tonight. It’s richer and sweeter than any rum I’ve ever tasted. I’ve only been here one day, and already my new friends behind the bar know my appreciation for this dark Cuban spirit. I light the most aromatic cigar I’ve ever had, and set to work. On the vise tonight – the Avalon Fly.
I’d read about the pattern before I made the trip to Cuba, and had several originals from the fly’s designer in the box (a pre-flight gift from my friend and host). But after one day on the water it’s clear I’ll need more to weather the remaining five days of the trip ahead.
I pay my Peso to the desk clerk, buying myself an hour of wifi, and get schooled up on the pattern with a 4 minute video of Chase Pritchett at the vice. As I lay down a fire orange thread base, a saxophone player keeps time. Let It Be. Bueno Senór. Bueno.
Size 6 stainless hook – dumbell eyes – a pinch of orange arctic fox – another pull off the cigar. From here, random spectators stop to watch the American el pescador while I carefully catch in two strands of Black Crystal Flash, the grizzly barred rubber legs, and the pearl diamond braid.
The focus this trip was Bonefish. The expectation free goal was my first Permit – and any of a number of other saltwater species I hadn’t had the privilege of catching previously. Many of these are found in plenty in the waters around Cuba’s northern Cays. This fly will serve well – imitating the small crabs and shrimp prevalent here. Just a few more steps… and this one will be ready for the salt.
A year before, my ubiquitous friends from Avalon encouraged me to make the trip down. And as I turn to watch the salsa dancers now on stage nearby, I quietly raise my glass to Filippo and Christian, knowing this would be an experience I would forever treasure.
With the north shore still in recovery following the devastating Hurricane last season, I stayed in Cayo Coco in the Hotel Mojito – a 4-star resort where a bounty of both food and drink were included in my stay. The freshest fruits, breads, meats, and other fare were my daily indulgence. Every morning started with a fresh Coffee and Tortilla (omlette) – and every night with a diverse spread rivaling any restaurant in the States.
Avalon had arranged a dedicated taxi to shuttle me between the resort and the marina each day. My driver, Yayito, became my first travel companion on this solo mission. My poor Spanish and his poor English left plenty of room for us to mutually learn as we pointed out sights along the road each day. “Dog” – “ahhh… Perro.” A smile… then a quick siesta before I would go into battle.
The marina lay ready – my private depot – with gentlemen ready to make every day my best. Dos Cervéza? Sí. Lemonadá? Gracías Amigo. My guide, Jorge stood ready with a handshake, and lively spirit. OK man – Let’s Go Fishing! Onto the skiff – and hammer down.
He led me through a series of foreign experiences that became natural. From endless flats, to the mangroves, the deep reef to the waters made white by the action of schools of Bones, I saw every color and shade of blue and green that sky and water can carry.
He didn’t yell at me – or cast me down when my cast fell short. He didn’t leave me feeling like I’d let him down … but rather left me at the dock each evening with a feeling of complete accomplishment. There was never a bad day – even when the fishing was hard. “Too Many Fish, Man! Too Many.”
Though I could likely expand this text into a novella with a description of my fishing, I think it best delivered in summary. I caught more Bonefish in my six days than I can count. Many of these in the 5-6 pound range. I lost what would have been the fish of the trip on a hook that bent out strait. I caught countless Jacks, Red Snapper, Spanish Mack, and ‘Cuda – all my firsts. I stalked the flats for tailing Triggerfish – and enticed one in with a series of casts to a distance little more than 10 feet from me. I stood witness, as he leveled out, puffed the sand away from my shrimp pattern, and ate. Though the hook didn’t stick, I got the best part. On the deep reef, I hooked three shark-size Barracuda that came from the depths to destroy my flies within a strip of a next cast. Boating any of these was never a consideration – and each rewarded me with a ripping runs and surface explosions to rival Silver Kings.
In six days I didn’t see a single other boat in the preserve, I saw five Permit. I had strong opportunities at three. One hook in a pant-leg. One fly well-placed that dropped just after the fish changed tack. One near eat spoiled by a stingray. For two of my six days, despite the fact that this was not the season to find them, we hunted the flats for tails. Hour after hour, I was meditative – constantly channeling my focus to perceive black moons gliding through the wind-rippled waters. Perhaps the greatest trophy unwon, was paralleled by the ones I earned through hours of search: Patience, Understanding, and ultimate Recognition that, like so many anglers who seek without expectation for the opportunity to make a good shot, this is a moment to be savored in a later script.
As my guide and friend Jorge prophetically suggested in my first ride out on the Dolphin, this trip did give me a sickness. Undeniably, I’m a carrier of the spirit of the Caribbean – living to be forever plagued by memories of fish caught / lost / never felt – and addiction to the unwavering welcome shown by the Cuban people I had the pleasure of sharing my week with.
The only cure for this disease is a return… with a box full of Avalon flies.
To AVALON – to Filippo and Christian – to Boris – and all the team behind the scenes. You did a HELL of a job! You have made a lifelong friend in me – and I’m proud to share my story and encourage ANY angler to join you.
To Jorge – for teaching me about the joys of Bonefish. For playing Crocodile in the Mangroves, and giving me the opportunity to walk quietly in inches of water for tough fish. For teaching me about Habána Club Siete Annós, and for complimenting my terrible attempt at Johnny Cash. For poling us around miles of flats in search of my first Permit, and for making it your dream to lead me to it. For TOO MANY fish – and a bottle well earned. I look forward to fishing with you again!
To my friends from the Hotel Mojito – at the bar, the restaurant, and the buffet (too numerous to list) – I look forward to staying with you again! Thank you for making me feel at home – for feeding me so well and for taking such good care of me on my journey. Cheers!