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HAVANA STREET SCENES

I have been lazy in getting this out, and thought while wasting time in the Houston airport I could actually be productive!! When last in Havana, I made time to walk the back streets as I usually do. This time, my friend Bill Colello and Seattle University soccer coach Pete Fewing had managed to get me a bunch of soccer balls. Flattened, and amongst all my fishing gear, I was able to bring along 10! Finding the right kids is always the hardest job, but in the end it is never that difficult.

A great group of kids, they were playing marbles on this dirty side street when I came across them. Happy, grateful, and polite to be getting a few soccer balls from the USA.

A great group of kids, they were playing marbles on this dirty side street when I came across them. Happy, grateful, and polite to be getting a few soccer balls from the USA.

These great guys worked in a corner bodega, where I was trying to sneak some shots of customers buying their fruit and veggies. They busted me.....and wanted a photo of themselves!

These great guys worked in a corner bodega, where I was trying to sneak some shots of customers buying their fruit and veggies. They busted me.....and wanted a photo of themselves!

Side street flower vendors....... "Tienes una esposa?" "Si" I replied. "Quieres una novia Cubana?!" they asked next!

Side street flower vendors....... "Tienes una esposa?" "Si" I replied. "Quieres una novia Cubana?!" they asked next!

Sunflowers for sale.......

Sunflowers for sale.......

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HOSTED TRIP- AGUA BOA AMAZON

Some of you may have seen this announced in FlyWater's weekly newsletter. I have wanted to go the the Amazon and fish for Peacock Bass for a long time. In talking to many guests about it, the reviews were stellar from the Agua Boa trip. We booked in what is generally regarded as the prime time to find large numbers of fish accessible in low water. 

Our fishing dates are March 9-17, 2018. We already have 3 anglers booked for the trip, with advertising only starting yesterday. That means we have room for another 4 guests before we are full. I would love to have you along. Please let me know if you are interested, or if you have further questions that I can answer in regards to any aspects of this adventure. 

For more information: https://www.flywatertravel.com/blog/2017/07/06/agua-boa-amazon-lodge-hosted-trip/

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Music In Cuba

The amount of great musical talent is Cuba is incredible. The arts are indeed alive in this country. When in Havana about 10 days ago, I brought my group of angler/travelers in to old Havana. We drank the required daiquiri at El Floridita, and then went to Rum Rum restaurant for dinner. After we had ordered, the door to our private dining room opened. A young couple entered and asked if we would like to hear some music. We could not get enough. Duo Iris is still studying in the music program at the University of Havana. I am not sure how they can get better. Enjoy this short video of one of their songs, and link to their Facebook page for more....

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/duoiris.oficial/

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Gardens of the King - Trip Report

Back in the USA, after another great trip to Cuba. I was at Gardens of the King on Cuba's north coast with an absolutely great group. Thanks to Tim, Howard, Brian, Jeremy, Katie and Kate for being so easy going and willing to go with the flow. It sure makes a host's job much easier.

Digs for this trip are at the Iberostar Cayo Ensenchos. This is a 5-6 hour drive from Havana, at the very western end of the Gardens of the King (Jardines del Rey) archipelago. This is an all inclusive resort, with access to several beautiful beaches, many different swimming pools, multiple restaurants, cigar bar, theater, etc. Something for everyone.....

Wow. The beach at Cayo Ensenachos is stunning.

Wow. The beach at Cayo Ensenachos is stunning.

This is a highly regarded Tarpon destination. There are Tarpon here 12 months a year, with numbers and size gaining around the end of March, and on normal years staying good all the way through the middle of October. We had some days with very tough fishing, even though we saw fish rolling. And, we had some great days with good numbers of hooked and landed. Our boat saw most fish averaging in the 40-50 pound range. The largest others reporting hooking was around 100 pounds, with 80 being the largest landed. That works for me!

Thanks to our guide Elyses for this great capture of a fish I was fighting as it jumped near our skiff.

Thanks to our guide Elyses for this great capture of a fish I was fighting as it jumped near our skiff.

Tim and I were fishing partners, and learned a lot from our guide Elyses. He has guided at GOK for 18 years, and before that was a biologist for this area for 6 years. He told us the area around GOK was heavily netted for 60 years. In fact he said, 15 years ago, you wouldn't have been able to find a Bonefish or Permit, never mind a Jack or Snapper. Now, new protections are in place. Netting is not allowed, and all fishing is by fly. They are seeing huge differences every year, and Elyses thinks that within 5 years this will be one of the best overall destinations in Cuba. Here are a few other fish we caught.

Our group......host Jon Covich, Howard, Brian, Kate, Katie, Jeremy and Tim

Our group......host Jon Covich, Howard, Brian, Kate, Katie, Jeremy and Tim

The whole gang (minus our man Howard) at dinner in the small Cuban town of Caiberien.

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EASTERN CUBA-Continued

As I had mentioned in the last post, one of my goals was to get to the very northeastern corner of the Cuba, to the town of Baracoa. I had spoken with other travelers about Baracoa, and done some reading on it, and it seemed like a must-see. Getting there is no easy task however. It is protected, on the north coast, by a rugged and time consuming drive through the mining town of Moa. This road had been closed for almost a year due to damage from hurricane Mathew. Most travelers use the southern route, starting in Santiago de Cuba, and then passing by Guantanamo.  Eventually, the route starts its climb, ultimately peaking in the highest mountains in all of Cuba, before descending towards Baracoa.

The route to Baracoa, looking south towards Santiago de Cuba.

The route to Baracoa, looking south towards Santiago de Cuba.

In all, I was kind of disappointed with Baracoa. I know that it has been through a lot the past few years, trying to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Mathew in October of 2016. I have to admit being more intrigued by the drive through the countryside, following the coastline westward. Again, this road is only recently re-opened, and rough. I loved it though. I felt like I was seeing places and people that most tourists never find.

People in Cuba lack in many things. They get the basics through hard work, their monthly rations, and a good deal of black-market trading with one another. And they are amazing at using the things that they have, repairing their cars, building carts and wagons, you name it. For kids, they will use anything for a ball. Soccer in Cuba is getting huge. Although baseball is still popular, soccer is easier. All that kids need to put together a game in the street, is something that rolls. No mitts, no bats, no catchers gear, etc. I now bring soccer balls with me on every trip. While in Eastern Cuba, I sought out the kids really needing a new soccer ball. One of the best I found was in the evening, while driving. I saw a huge field next to me, and in the middle a gang of kids playing a rough game of soccer with a flat ball. I found a place to park, and had to make this long walk across the field. They saw me coming forever, as did their parents who were all gathered in the shade nearby. They were so pleased to have a new ball.....the kids all lined up one by one to shake my hand. It was great. After, the parents waved me over, shaking their heads in approval for the gift, and offering me some rum.

Street soccer in a back street of Ciego de Avila.

Street soccer in a back street of Ciego de Avila.

In short, this was a great, great adventure. As with so many travels, it is the people that you meet that make it so worthwhile, and memorable. To close, one last man that I met near the downtown of Ciego de Avila. He was making his way down the street slowly, carrying a heavy bucket by one arm. I knew I had to get his photo. I stopped him to ask and talk with him. He shook his head about the photo, and said "pero soy muy feo." Can you imagine? Look at this beautiful guy........

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TRAVELS THROUGHOUT EASTERN CUBA

With the 9 trips I have now done to Cuba, I have made a sincere effort to see more than just the fishing. Usually, I try and build in a few extra days so that I can explore neighborhoods in Havana, or travel to a town or two in the countryside. That said, I have never had the opportunity to see any of Cuba east of the fishing locations of Jardines de la Reina and Cayo Cruz.

Just back from a great hosted trip aboard the Halcon in Jardines de la Reina, I made plans to see more of the east. Once off the boat, I picked up my little rental car in Ciego de Avila. It was the beginning of an adventure that was both great, and sometimes daunting.

My stops throughout eastern Cuba, included about 800 road miles.

My stops throughout eastern Cuba, included about 800 road miles.

What people will not understand, not having traveled around the Cuban countryside, is the lack of infrastructure and the wide variety of methods of transportation. The Carreterra Centrale is the highway which runs the entire length of the island. East of Ciego de Avila, however, it is never more than a two lane road. And that road is shared by cars, trucks, buses, tractors, bicycles, hitchhikers, and virtually thousands of carts being pulled by horses or oxen. Imagine going 60 miles an hour down a highway, when you turn a corner and everything has come to a stop because a farm wagon being dragged by oxen is holding up a line of buses and trucks! Then, imagine you are driving at night when the situation is still the same, and there are no streetlights, or even lights on those carts! Crazy.....

I saw most of the known towns in this part of Cuba, like Camaguey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba. But much of this region is devoted to agriculture, and is lush and pastoral. While fields of sugar cane were prevalent around Ciego de Avila, crops changed to pineapple, banana, and even squash and potatoes as I moved east. Best of all, there were fields of mango trees, and it was prime time for this best of all fruit. I ate it every day, everywhere I went! Love those mangos.

The best thing I did on this trip was talk with people. My Spanish is getting better. It is still muy malo, but I can have a basic conversation. In every town I visited, I reserved the magic hours of 6-8pm for exploring the back streets. After school and work, and with houses still scorching from the heat of the day, everyone would be outside. There would be groups of men gathered playing dominoes, neighbors talking on their front stoops, and kids playing soccer or stickball in dusty alleyways. With a smile and a Buenas Tardes, everyone would wave you over. "You are Americano? What are you doing here?!!!" Our time together would usually end by sharing a drink of local rum.

Men playing "tiles" on a backstreet in Baracoa.

Men playing "tiles" on a backstreet in Baracoa.

More in a day or two. Just realized that this blog post is getting too long!

 

 

 

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JARDINES de la REINA Hosted Trip Report

Hi Everyone. It has been a while since my last post, largely due to the fact that I have been in Cuba for the past few weeks. More than a year in the making, I led a group of 6 anglers to the beautiful Jardines de la Reina. We stayed aboard the yacht Halcon, one of the smaller boats in the Avalon fleet.

The yacht Halcon, at anchor in Jardines de la Reina.

The yacht Halcon, at anchor in Jardines de la Reina.

 

All told, we had a fantastic trip. The weather was for the most part cooperative, with wind kicking up only a few days making some of the Tarpon fishing challenging. Tarpon were the main reason we had chosen this time of year for JDR. Late April through June are the prime months to find large numbers of migratory fish in this long archipelago located off the southern coast of the Cuban mainland.

We found Tarpon every day, mostly at well-known haunts to our guides, along the beaches of the southeast end of the island chain, and at the very tip known as Punta del Este. Virtually all of this fishing was by sight, usually casting to small groups of fish lazily cruising down the beach. We did see fish over 100 pounds, but I think the biggest landed was between 70- 80, while the majority of the fish were in the 40 pound range.

A nice fish of about 40 pounds getting released at Punta del Este.

A nice fish of about 40 pounds getting released at Punta del Este.

We also had great Permit fishing.......not catching necessarily! Our guest Paul did land the Permit of a lifetime, weighing in at around 30 pounds. I had a one hour session on our first day where my guide Bemba put me in front of 10 fish. On another morning fishing with Warren, we spotted 15 permit before lunch, with one looking to be pushing 40 pounds. With a little luck, and a little more skill!, we could have ended up with an epic Permit week.

Epic, epic Permit water.

Epic, epic Permit water.

Lastly, hats off to our guides, the crew aboard Halcon, and Avalon for their great organization and service. It is hard to express how helpful all staff is in Cuba, and how amazing they are at giving you great food in a country with few resources (and in this case 50 miles off shore!). Our hostess was Aysa. Leave it to say, all of us wanted to pack her in our suitcases and bring her home with us. She is an angel......

Our dear hostess Aysa, in between guests Paul and Richard.

Our dear hostess Aysa, in between guests Paul and Richard.

Our chef, about to serve dinner. He was outstanding!

Our chef, about to serve dinner. He was outstanding!

All in all, a superb trip. Thanks again to the staff of Halcon, and all the people at Avalon who make things come together. Thanks also to FlyWater for their meticulous attention to detail and customer service. And lastly, thanks to all the guests who came on this adventure. It was a pleasure to get to know you all of you.

From the left, Warren, Steve, Paul, Valerie, Bob, Richard, and our lovely Aysa.

From the left, Warren, Steve, Paul, Valerie, Bob, Richard, and our lovely Aysa.

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CAYO CRUZ-APRIL TRIP REPORT

Last year, during Spring Break, I brought my oldest son Teddy to Cuba. This year I did the same thing with our youngest son Greger. The two of us spent a few days in Havana where he got to see the city, take collectivo taxis, and have some Spanish lessons from our Cuban friends.

We then rented a car and saw a bit of the country outside of Havana. Our route took us to Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Ciego de Avila, and then finally to the small rural town of Brasil. We spent 2 days fishing from the land-based La Casona, and then transferred to Avalon's yacht the Avalon Fleet 1 for 2 more days of fishing.

We had some trouble with the weather. Strong winds and heavy rains hampered our fishing and visibility a few of the days. We saw some Tarpon in the channels, but could never get close enough to them for a good cast. That fishing will likely get much better as the weather stabilizes. We did have some excellent days wading the backcountry for Bonefish, and also had excellent Permit chances. In fact, our first day Greger had 3 chances at Permit while we were wading. The last one, he caught. We saw another 15 or so fish that day, and with a little luck could have hooked 2 or 3 more.

Greger and Rafael on some Bonefish in a massive flat in the interior flats of Cayo Cruz.

Greger and Rafael on some Bonefish in a massive flat in the interior flats of Cayo Cruz.

Some of the great habitat of the Crayo Cruz backcountry. Rafa sees a few Bonefish in this small lagoon.

Some of the great habitat of the Crayo Cruz backcountry. Rafa sees a few Bonefish in this small lagoon.

Greger and our guide Rafael with a Permit caught while wading. Greger's first of many I hope.....

Greger and our guide Rafael with a Permit caught while wading. Greger's first of many I hope.....

Big Cuda on one of the oceanside flats

Big Cuda on one of the oceanside flats

 

 

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THE PEOPLE OF CUBA

I am just back from 10 days in Cuba. This year, my youngest son took his Spring Break with me on the island for some Spanish language courses, some adventure travel, and of course for some fishing. More about that later.

From previous posts, it should be obvious that I am a bit of a fanatic for wandering. I love the back streets, I love trying to get where few tourists go, and I am really interested in Cuba and its people. To that end, I am getting better at my Spanish so I can communicate with locals at least in simple terms, and I am always carrying my camera to try and get them on film. Here are a few of the interesting people I found along the way......

Life in Cuba is visible. People have their doors and windows open much of the time (few have A/C) and so you can see a lot of everyday happenings. This beautiful old guy in Havana was doing his best to get a close shave, on the little mirror next to his front door. 

Life in Cuba is visible. People have their doors and windows open much of the time (few have A/C) and so you can see a lot of everyday happenings. This beautiful old guy in Havana was doing his best to get a close shave, on the little mirror next to his front door. 

This might be my favorite people shot of the trip. In the small town of Brasil in the rural countryside, life is pretty tough. I was stopped on the street by some guys wanting me to take their photo, and when I was done I saw all these gals watching from the window of their shabby building. Look at their faces! In can see Joy in one, Shyness in the next, Confidence on another, and Uncertainty in the last. 

This might be my favorite people shot of the trip. In the small town of Brasil in the rural countryside, life is pretty tough. I was stopped on the street by some guys wanting me to take their photo, and when I was done I saw all these gals watching from the window of their shabby building. Look at their faces! In can see Joy in one, Shyness in the next, Confidence on another, and Uncertainty in the last. 

Again in Havana, and again exploring the back streets, my son and I saw this lady staring at us from her doorway. Even without a big camera and lens, we stick out. People will stare at you. Maybe it is the Nike shoes, or maybe that we just don't look like life has aged us so much. Anyway, we said hi, and joked with her, and then got this shot of her great face.

Again in Havana, and again exploring the back streets, my son and I saw this lady staring at us from her doorway. Even without a big camera and lens, we stick out. People will stare at you. Maybe it is the Nike shoes, or maybe that we just don't look like life has aged us so much. Anyway, we said hi, and joked with her, and then got this shot of her great face.

Look at this guy, and you see Cuba. Just off his shift from the sugar cane processing mill, his clothes seem to reflect the colors of the revolution. With the cigar in his hand, and boots that have seen better days, he represents his "Pueblo." 

Look at this guy, and you see Cuba. Just off his shift from the sugar cane processing mill, his clothes seem to reflect the colors of the revolution. With the cigar in his hand, and boots that have seen better days, he represents his "Pueblo." 

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CANCELLATION! 2 SPOTS NOW OPEN AT GARDENS OF THE KING

  • Dates: June 24th-July2nd, 2017
  • Rate: $4560 per person based on double occupancy
  • Includes 1 night in Havana, transfers to and from GOK, 7 nights all inclusive at Iberostar Ensenachos, and 6 full days guided fishing in shared skiffs
  • Does not include flights to and from Cuba, incidentals while in Havana, Cuban Tourist Card) $100 Conservation Fee, and staff gratuities. 

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LAST CHANCE! CAYO CRUZ 2018 SPECIALS $3500 PP

We advertised this unique opportunity a few weeks ago, and it has been a rousing success. The prices are very hard to resist, and as a result almost all the dates offered during this special period have been taken. I checked in with the outfitter this morning, and they are down to 2 weeks of availability. Call or contact me if you would like to take advantage of this great offer.

AVAILABLE DATES:

January 27th-February 3, 2018     10 open spots $3500 PP double occupancy!

February 24th-March 3rd, 2018     12 open spots $3500 PP double occupancy!

Cayo Cruz is located at the eastern end of the Gardens of the King archipelago bordering the north coast of Cuba. This whole area has long been pristine and protected. Some anglers in the know come here just for the great shots at Permit, often swimming in the company of rays. Others also know that the average Bonefish from this area is large.....many fish are between 5 and 7 pounds. And still others wait for the annual tarpon migration, when big fish fill the channels and cuts between the islands, and are susceptible to the fly.

Right now, anglers have 2 choices when fishing Cayo Cruz. They can, all through the year, stay at La Casona in the small town of Brasil, and make the daily hour long voyage to and from the flats. Or, through Spring and Summer, they can board the Avalon 1 yacht which anchors near some of the best tarpon channels.

All of that will change this Fall. New resorts have been under construction at Cayo Cruz, and will be open for business as of October 1, 2017. With five star ratings, guests will not only be comfortable, they will also be two minutes from the marina where they will board their flats skiffs each morning. With these new arrangements,  the outfitter is offering promotional rates for Cayo Cruz that are very attractive. Contact me soon.....these weeks should fill quickly.

7 nights/6 days fishing

Program is Saturday to Saturday, and includes transfers to and from Cayo Coco to Cayo Cruz, all room and board (4 drinks per angler each day in boat)

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BEST CUBA FLIES

Yummy Tarpon Toads

All right, I know that this is going to be up for debate, but cut me a little slack! I get a lot of questions about tackle for anglers heading to Cuba, and we of course talk a lot about fly patterns. These 3 flies are in my opinion, must haves for most of Cuba, when pursuing Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon.

Ververka Mantis Shrimp (poorly tied  by me, and missing crustacean eyes)

I cannot get beyond this fly. In past Bonefish trips to other parts of the world, I had fished all the usuals, with the Gotcha as probably my top choice in flies. A few years ago I was fishing Zapata, and after some unwillingness from the fish, my guide asked to see my fly box. He found a Ververka Mantis Shrimp crowded in amongst everything else and said "Put this on, and don't take it off." I didn't. Fish after fish ate it, and it has been my go-to Bonefish fly ever since.

The famous Avalon Permit Fly

Anyone going to Cuba will be recommended to have a selection of the Avalon Permit Fly in their arsenal. This fly was designed by Mauro Ginevri, the longtime manager of the Avalon fishing operation on Cayo Largo. Mauro wanted a fly that sank quickly and would orient itself hook up when presented and when stripped. Most effective on Cuba's Southern Coast, many many Permit have fallen victim to this shrimp imitation. Crab patterns seem more effective in destinations on the north coast such as Cayo Cruz, as well as the dark-bottomed shorelines of Zapata.

The Fly Fishing the Run, Tarpon Toad

The Tarpon Toad is a very popular pattern, and seems to work just about everywhere. I was introduced to this color combination by Cristian Pablo Rodriguez, who owns and operates Fly Fishing the Run. We were pursuing Tarpon on the flats around Gardens of the King, and his fly was very quickly the hot color combination. Having Toads in a variety of colors is, of course, a wise idea. Black and Purple, Black and Red, Tan and Olive, and straight Chartreuse can all be effective combinations. That said, I have a tough time leaving the FFTR version in my fly box. 

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