As anglers we all dream of one day finding a fishing paradise where boats are not competing for space on the flats, where fish abound and are totally uninhibited in taking flies. Clear blue skies, crystal clear ocean flats and you. If you don’t believe in paradise stop reading now, if you are intrigued please, continue.
Lying in the lee of Cuba there are archipelago’s stretching roughly north east to south west encompassing Isla de la Juventud, Cayo Largo And Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen, named by Christopher Columbus). All these area’s have been designated by the Cuban authorities as protected marine parks incorporating many thousands of square miles with a strictly enforced no commercial fishing allowed policy. Here, there are chains of desert islands untouched by man, inhabited only by Iguana, Hutea ( a vegetarian rodent) and a few crocs. Mangrove systems cover the islands separated by channels, feeding flats and bays and its all inside one of the longest reef systems in the world which protects the nurseries and feeding grounds for a variety of predators. If this were a mathematical equation these factors would add up to Tarpon.
Due to the diligence and vision of two men, Giuseppe “Pepe” Omegna and Filippo Invernizzi, Avalon Fishing Centers are the only organization with access and permission to operate in all this vast area of water.
Inspired by the desire to create a unique opportunity for visiting anglers they have developed a true angling Eldorado. I have been privileged to fish these locations since their inception and year on year I have witnessed the improvement and increase in Tarpon size and numbers. Today Avalon Fishing Centers in Cuba offers the very best Tarpon fishing for the discerning angler in three distinctively different locations offering hotel or live aboard options to cater for all tastes and requirements.
If there is one fish that captures the imagination of fly fishermen it’s the Tarpon, so contemplate locations where Tarpon roam in a pristine environment, where their only threat is you, the person wearing the polarised specs armed with a fly rod. At Avalon Fishing Centers they are operating in Cuba to ensure your wildest dreams can be realised.
Tarpon fishing in Jardines de la Reina, Cayo Largo and Isla de la Juventud is unpressured due to the vastness of the area and the managed approach of limited numbers of anglers being regulated by Avalon Fishing Centers.
Tarpon here range from small 20lb fish right through to fish well in excess of 100lbs and they all regard the expansive flats as huge dining tables. All the well known usual flies work here, tied up with 100lb tippets because these fish are not shy and generally inhale anything in front of them. There are Tarpon here all year round in all the locations, however, high season is when the very big Tarpon migrate to the flats from March to August in abundance. Add to these lots of Bonefish and Permit and in the case of Isla de la Juventud and Cayo Largo there are also lots of Snook and all this tallies up to world class fisheries. So for anglers who like a challenge this is a fantastic place to try for a Grand Slam (I’ve had 9) or even a Super Grand Slam, you will not have a better opportunity than here.
At all three locations the guides have a wealth of knowledge of flats, tides, moon and fish location and with the enormous amount of ocean at their disposal they can always locate fish and the chances are you may not see another boat all day.
A typical day starts by being served with juice and coffee before going to breakfast. Once breakfast is over your guide will be waiting for you, he has already stowed your rods and equipment plus lunch and copious amounts of drinks on board and then you set off on another Tarpon hunting adventure. On the flats your guide will silently pole until he sees fish, then, positioning the boat into the optimum position for you to make your cast, he will give instructions on how far to lead the fish, how fast to retrieve and then, as they say, the rest is up to you. This procedure will be repeated all day, being interrupted only for lunch and drinks breaks until you arrive back at base for cocktails and pizza to be followed later by an excellent dinner where you and your fellow anglers will recall the stories of the day. Tomorrow you will awake in paradise and have to do it all over again!!
As for tackle I prefer a 12 weight rod teamed up with a very good reel loaded with 350 yards of backing to which is attached a clear intermediate line with a 2ft. to 3ft. 50lb butt leader knotted to it and finished off in a double Surgeons Loop so that I can change flies quickly (I keep flies and leaders already made up in a stretcher case) as sometimes this is needed when the fish are coming thick and fast. This set up probably takes care of 90% of my flats fishing and for the remainder a floating line with similar backing and leader butt just about covers it. There is no need for ultra-long leaders for these unsophisticated fish, the leader butt plus leader to fly need not exceed 9 feet in total.
It is imperative that your reel has a very good, reliable drag system because these Tarpon will test the angler and tackle to the limit. Remember, please make sure all your knots are tied correctly and are sound, if you are unsure or not confident about them, ask your guide to tie them. It’s gut wrenching to see your 100lb tippet looking like a pigs curly tail where your fly used to be and a large Tarpon spooking away with it. I keep as many as 60 flies tied up on leaders in my stretcher case. These consist of 4ft. or 5ft. of 25lb breaking strain hard line (I use Tynex or Mason) terminated in a double Surgeons Loop. This is attached loop to loop to the butt leader and the other end of the hard line is joined to 1ft of 100lb tippet with a Huffnagle knot and the business end is tied to the fly using either my own version of a Rapala knot (similar to Lefty Kreh’s) or a Brubaker knot, if tied correctly these knots won’t let you down. Balanced tackle and the all important ingredient – confidence and you’re all set.
When handling Tarpon for photographs, please try to support all of the fish as you take it from the water. Use your guide or boat partner and lift and slide the fish out of the water supporting the entire length of its body between the two of you. Sit with the Tarpon on your laps or lay the fish on a wet deck next to you for photos. The fish is easier to control like this and is easier to slip it back into the sea should it decide to flip. Do not hold the fish up by its mouth or gills, remember, that in the water, the water supports the weight of the fish which is only a fraction of its weight in water compared to when its lifted out and with all that weight stretching it’s spine and organs it does absolutely nothing to aid the fishes recovery and only encourages the fish to thrash causing it to be dropped, which in a flats boat is very dangerous causing injury to the occupants, death or injury to the fish and lots of smashed up tackle. In fact, it’s best if they are not taken from the water at all because let’s face it, some of the best shots are taken in the water.
Never leave a Tarpon until you are sure it is fully revived, after all it is the most noble quarry, lets treat it with respect, remember it has just given you the ultimate thrill in angling and taking care of them today and tomorrow means they will be bigger next year.
Once hooked, your Tarpon will do everything it can to destroy you, your tackle and your competence as an angler so don’t wear items such as loose forceps clipped to your clothing, zingers, cell phone pouches on your belt or anything that could get caught up in your line as it leaps from the deck, because sooner or later it WILL cost you a fish. The odds are already stacked against you, why increase them.
Anticipate each move the Tarpon makes and work the fish all the time. When the fish is running the reel drag is working, don’t point the rod directly at the fish as it runs, and keep some bend in the rod. That bend is your compensation and buffer for when you have to bow to the leaps or the fish, head shakes as it tries to throw the fly. The instant the Tarpon ceases to run you have to work that fish hard, using all the fibres in the rod to pull the fish back to the boat keeping your rod tip below your waistline “down and dirty”, if your rod is pointing upright it is being used ineffectively and as the fish comes closer to the boat if the rod is pointing skywards it’s a recipe for disaster with fish lost and a broken rod. Fight the fish as quickly as possible to a standstill, I have no time for people who play Tarpon for hours, it does the fish no good at all increasing the chance of fish mortality and is wasting fishing time. Using the tackle described a 100lb fish should be boated in less than 30 minutes.