Just after Easter, Marie and I returned to fish Cayo Largo in Cuba after having had such an exciting time two years ago. We enjoyed another great angling trip, albeit somewhat different compared to two years ago, which just shows the immense variety of the fishing here. So I thought I’d post another blog article on Cayo Largo to inform readers who are considering fishng there.
Last week, Marie and I fished the Coyhaique area in the far Patagonian south of Chile – a veritable fly fishing paradise for those keen on wild brown and rainbow trout. We had a wonderful four days, fishing a wide range of waters and techniques, and catching a lot of fish on the fly in fantastic natural surroundings and scenery.
Marie and I had an excellent time at Cayo Largo, a small island resort south of the main Cuban land mass. After more than a decade of trying, I finally managed to achieve a tropical saltwater Grand Slam of at least one bonefish, one permit and one tarpon in the same day – in fact, I missed out on a Super Slam having lost a 15 lb snook at the end of the day.
April 29th 2011.
Excitement in London and I am not referring to the “big event”.
It’s 6.30am and the taxi is waiting. Bags packed and ready by the door. By 7.30am we were checked in, through security and sitting in the lounge, thanks to R’s new acquired Gold Status on his airline card. The airport was quiet. The buzz was all about the wedding.
CO35 to Houston was delayed. Weather in USA had been bad. Mississippi had been hit by another hurricane. The flight was eventless. Crew were very efficient, in fact too efficient as the meals were delivered and taken away so quickly (Wong Kei comes to mind). Flight arrived an hour late giving us an hour less to get through immigration. New system at Houston, separate queue for transit passengers. Great idea but not so great operation. One problem teenager and immigration officer left us with 20minutes to get on our flight. Racing through security (again) and running the gauntlet, we made it, last ones on. CO764 left on time and landed 10 minutes early. The immigration hall was empty and baggage waiting. Out and into the hotel shuttle bus within a record 15 minutes.
Shower, dinner of mixed tacos and a Margherita especial and straight to bed.
Early breakfast with refreshing freshly blended papaya juice. Met by the lovely Andrea and off to the airport’s private charter area. Military police with guns and dogs everywhere. Our pilot, the tall dark lean and handsome Diego complete with RayBan Aviators, waiting for us. All baggage scanned and hand carried to a twin prop 4 seater. Looking each of us, up and down (what a job!) Diego decides who gets to sit next to him. Sadly I wasn’t his kind – big and heavy – and was thrown next to the luggage in the tail.
The most amazing flight over Yucatan – Cancun, Cozumel and down the flats along Ascencion Bay to our destination Punta Panjaros, a short dusty and bumpy runway. The plane landed and in James Bond style, 5 staff standing in line and a speed boat waiting for us, no more than 10 paces from getting off the plane. A military police boat waiting with yet more dogs. Boarded the boat and raced to Casa Blanca, where again waiting in line, the Lodge staff with cold towels and a deliciously cool lemonade greeted us on the pier. A school of resident bone fish tailing no more than 10 feet away.
Shown to our upgraded cabana suite, we enjoy a full sea view from our verandah. Idyllic!!! R ever excited, rigged up two bonefish rods. A quick lunch and back to the pier before the rest of the guests. First cast with a juicy bonefish bitter, a fly bought in Belize last year, and a take – within 2 hours arrival. What a welcome. The excitement sent the other fishermen racing over and spooked the school with the thrashing of fly lines and one guest jumped into the water to fish. End of a great hour.
We walked along the coral beach, studded with black spiky sea urchins. Spotted 2 tailing Permits in the waves and a big Jack. Left Robert to go for them and proceeded to the white sandy beach. The waves were big and casting out past these rolling monsters was quite a task. Landed a blue runner but saw no other big fish.
Civilised drinks at 6pm with an appetiser of Red Snapper Cerviche and freshly fried crispy tortilla, washed down with Barman Willy’s Margherita (without sugar). A quick check of emails via the lodge satellite. Dinner at 6.30pm and bed at a silly 8pm.
Day 1 fishing: La Luna Pajaros
4am woken up by a very very excited husband who was already up, tying leaders and flies. He then rushed out in his pyjamas to bring the rods in to check. Not exactly romantic better best he keep himself occupied with constructive activity than tossing and turning restlessly. Breakfast at 6am. Of course we were the first in. Huevos Rancheros – the full works, refried beans, eggs homemade salsa and bacon. Big mug of coffee and we hit the pier with 6 rods rigged up by species. Andres is waiting and the skiff leaves the pier at 7am.
First Bonefish at 7.35am. By 10.30am, 6 in the bag. R caught 7 and two pesky Snappers beating the big bones to the fly. ALL on the one lucky Gotcha. A barracuda also chomped his line. We then decided to hunt for some Permit. After an hour of pole-ing the decision was unanimous and we headed back to the shallows for more bones. The weather was fab, slight wind but Andres was absolutely amazing. We only ever had to cast to 10-11 o’clock with the wind behind us. Not one fly in the ear. NO accidents and only a couple of wind knots.
Saw a couple of big Cudas and sharks. The marine life was fantastic. Water crystal clear as with the sky.
The day ended with 19 bone fish and three Snappers.
To celebrate we braved a bottle of XA cabernet sauvignon 2006 Baja California (13.7% alcohol). Actually, it was pretty OK. Good balance, mellow ripe berries and drinkable now. Some pepper notes. Simple and lacking in tannins but in this heat, it works. Bottle cooled in ice to tame the alcohol which otherwise was a little perky. Easy drinking and I guess I am being fleeced for it on this private island. The other choice was a Beringer white zinfendel 2005, wine the colour of oloroso and a white sauvignon blanc, also looking a little oxidised. Not that desperate yet!
Tomorrow night, if brave, there is the XA vino blanco Chenin Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc 2008. Could be dodgy.
Day 2 fishing: Santa Rosa
A more leisurely wake up call at 5.15am. Breakfast at 6am. Hmm… Windy. Andres was waiting by the skiff. 7.05 we were on our way to Santa Rosa, speeding on the crests into the lagoon. Fascinating journey through minute channels in the mangrove swamps. At one point the channel was so narrow, we tunnelled through tugging and pushing branches to steer the boat. Low water, so low we all had to get out and push the skiff through a channel. 40 minutes later rods in water, aiming at very spooky 3-4 lb bones. Windy day. Tough fishing with few shots. One bone each and off we went Tarpon hunting, through more mangrove swamps. Loads of horseshoe crabs mating happily unaware of us splashing away trying to attract the tarpon. Amazing marine life. Turtle grass, oysters, clams and barracudas patrolling. Snappers, needlefish and snook.
15 or so baby tarpon later, still hooked-less. They were not hungry. The number of flies lined up passing their noses and still nothing. We were hungry even if they weren’t. A picnic lunch of Barbequed chicken, diet coke and dessert of the Mexican answer to the custard cream – Emperador’s sabor Vainilla Cremosa, of course, sin grassa trans.
More bone fishing in the afternoon before retracking our journey back to the lodge. A hard day.
Day 3 fishing: Tarpon Mangroves in the Laguna Santa Rosa area
Made our own picnic with fresh roasted turkey and salad. Empanadas to start and loads of diet coke.
Combat hunting for tarpon. Must have seen about 20. Robert had one on and lost it.
2 bigger bones 2.5 to 3lb. Engine failure on skiff. Interesting night at the lodge. Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Mexican evening with a feast laid out. Tequila slammers and serious barbeque. The best ever guacomole and chicken temales. Beans, rice, stuffed chilli. First permit caught in the lodge this week.
Traditions, initiations – whatever you call them. First permit caught entitles you to a pickled scorpion – no choice, washed down with a tall glass of tequila and lime. Squeeze, suck, swallow. Shuyler catches a 14.5lb permit on a rattling crab fly. After dinner the orange morsel appears on a slice of lime balanced over a large tall shot of tequila. I did feel for the poor guy!
Day4 fishing: Permit and Cayo Cedro
Didn’t sleep all night thinking of what I would have to do if I caught a permit. Decided to do a deal with Andres extra tip to shut up if a permit was caught. Then Willy the barman offered to eat the scorpion for me. He was probably feeling more lucky than I!
3 real shots at Permit. Thank goodness it wasn’t brought in. Almost. It took a good nibble at the sqrimp fly (squid/shrimp fly).
1 bones, 1 snapper, 2 jacks, 1 lady fish on a roll cast, and a 10.5lb barracuda later, we had fun.
Day 5: Tarpon at Gaytanes Island
Started as a Permit day.
We had a good day with R getting his 15lb tarpon and then two little bones by 9am. Spent the rest of the day chasing permit, cudas and more bones. He did get one shot into a school of permit at 3pm but nothing interested enough to take. Caught a further blue jack and we limped back, one take short of the grand slam.
Lunch on iguana island…. (smallest island of Tres Marias) I popped off behind some coconut trees and when I got back to the beach had a shock of my life with scary looking amphibians looking at me. 11 hungry iguanas joined us for lunch and begging for food. Thankful, (a) I hadn’t realised what iguana island really meant before I desparately raced off, and (b) no visitors were around peeking by the coconut trees!!! I then understood why Andres did not suggest a picnic on land – we ate on the boat.
15lb tarpon 8:30 am, 2 small bones by 9am, 3lb blue jack 3pm, school of permit 3:15pm
Day 6: Cayo Culebra : Hunt for Permit, Bones and Snook
Last day’s fishing. Early start hunting for permit with little success. Almost a relief knowing that the scorpion eating tradition would not have to be solemnised on this trip. Couple of hours pulling bones wading of a flat, was fun. We even had a double hook up and a photo to prove it. Explored a new lagoon, so shallow, we had to wade to it. Another school of bones and a barracuda on guard. one cast and the cuda jumped for the snook fly. Unsuccessful snook hunting but 14 bonefish, 2 barracudas and a 3lb snapper later we were contented.
Surf and turf consisting of a piece of fillet and 3 mega shrimp for dinner. All dinner rolls made fresh daily. deliciously soft and fluffy.
Another fishing trip over. My last huevos rancheros assembled by Phillippe. Fab. Casa Blanca in the Yucatan was indeed an experience worth recommending to anyone. Looking forward to my chance of sitting next to Diego . Hmm. Not to be, but worth the up down inspection by Fernando. After a week of fish and food, he was even more handsome than Diego.
Still, didn’t get to sit next to him. Sigh!