There they were tucked way under the Mangroves. Pelicans and Terns were diving through the branches to score an easy meal in the concentrated schools of sardines hugging the shoreline. The fish were feeding on the baitfish that were coming out from the shore cover with the outgoing tide. This was the moment I imagined Cuban fishing was all about. I shortened up my leader down from 15 feet to 8 feet. No time for a Fuse, I tied on a 60 lb “suicide rig” with a size 2/0 Puglisie Black and Purple Peanut Butter and casted it sidearm under the Mangrove. My guide Juanquil muttered “low and slow, low and slow…” which actually means long and slow. Like stripers, it’s all in the tease. Strip slow to get them to rush the fly and then strip fast to make them commit. The long silver monster slid out from under the brush and started to accelerate at the fly. I sped up my retrieve to stay ahead of the fish and then it happened. In a burst of speed that no strip could outrun, the Tarpon inhaled the fly and turned. I hand set to stick the point and hammered it in as hard as i could with a second, third, abd fourth set before the fish tore off and made its first of 6 jumps. After two great runs and a run under the boat, she was ready as I slid her head up to the bow. The fish was still fighting as he lifted the fish out of the water and handed her to me. “Stick your finger in its ass” he said. Really? With my right hand gripping her huge mouth, I fumbled around looking for a hole behind the fin. “NO, its over here” he pointed. I slid it in and the tarpon relaxed like Ide just slipped it a Rufi. My first Cuban Tarpon .
I have to admit that I’ve never heard of sedating a Tarpon with my finger in its butt. If you gently stroke a trout under its belly, you can lift it out of the water. If you turn a bonefish upside down, it stops fighting. If you cover the eyes on a striper, they calm down. But this was a first for me. I told Juan that I wouldn’t wash the finger till we caught another and he laughed and said it will happen. I caught another one that day and while fighting the fish, all I could think of was the finger again. Tarpon perversion had taken over. The next day that I fished with him, I started calling all the tarpon “she”. I told Juanquil that if Im going to put a finger in its butt, it better be a girl because that’s my preferred pronoun. Every time I saw Juanquil after that day, I would hold my finger in the air and he would start laughing.
What makes fishing different to me than Christmas Island, the Florida Keys or the Bahamas is the variety of fishing that is available fishing around the archipelagos in the Garden of the Queens. Deep water and Mangrove tarpon from 18 inches to 100+ pounds are available within minutes of each other. Permit, Jack Creval and Barracuda shots can happen at anytime. Plus you can have your bonefish in any conditions you like. Huge quantities of bonefish can be caught in the massive muds around the islands that are visible from a mile away at times. In the right tides you can spend your time on tailing bones over coral or turtle grass. There wasn’t as much wading as in other places and I was glad I brought some lighter all purpose shoes instead of my dedicated flats boots. The guides were mostly wading in Crocks. On my first day, my first Cuban bonefish was caught wading some coral flats. My first Cuban bonefish turned out to be 7 lb short and fat bonefish. As it turned out, that was the biggest one of the whole trip for me and I forgot the camera in the boat. I let Les my partner pick the fish we would hunt that day , but after his first tarpon on day two, that’s all he could think about and we spent most of our days hunting tarpon and fishing for bones permit, jacks or barracuda if we accidently ran into them tarpon fishing which was often.
It is not fair to judge the quality of a fishing trip by the sheer number of fish actually landed. A running total of fish caught was posted daily on a whiteboard. The totals for the week for 16 anglers were 308 Bonefish, 40 Tarpon, 60 Jacks, 7 Barracuda, 60 snappers and zero permit. What isn’t reflected on the board is how many shots we had and how many tarpon were jumped and not landed. Jumping nice sized tarpon all day with lots of shots and not leadering a fish is a pretty outstanding day in my book even though I would be a bit frustrated with my skills. How often do you get to practice catching tarpon when you live in San Jose, California. There were lots of unique moments on this trip for me. Teaching Les how to fish for tarpon when I am still learning myself was a big challenge. A bit selfish but the better I could make Less would mean the more time I would have to catch fish. I am so impressed with Les landing 4 tarpon this trip, that words can’t describe. He even has great line management skills when he isnt fishing. Les was a great partner and we had the best time together. We will have stories to tell for years to come.
Because so many of our group were recovering from Covid. Most of us had a chance to fish single during the week . I also had a chance to fish with Victor on day 4. Les was stoked to fish for tarpon all day as a single so it worked out. In fact on his first day, he caught two tarpon which was much better than most. I love fishing with Victor, He’s got skills and I have lots to learn from him. We both caught tarpon that day but Victor landed a 4 foot barracuda without wire, I hooked an Alligator and we found a school of big Jacks in a channel and doubled up on them for an hour. It was a great day that I will always remember fishing with a good friend.
Everyday, the guides retire to their favorite lunch spots in the shade of the mangroves for lunch. Usually two boats join for lunch which is fun . The fish and wildlife come to the boats at lunch looking for a handouts and you get a chance to catch up with friends and compare mornings.