The alarm sounded at 3:30 am although I hardly got any sleep. One last check to see that I am packed and ready, I throw my stuff on the shuttle and head to the airport. There are 5 of us on this flight and another 7 arriving on different flights. Our destination, Cayo Cruz, Cuba for 6 days of guided fly fishing with Avalon Outdoor.
There are 2 flights, one out of Miami, and the other Fort Lauderdale. If flying from Miami, paperwork and visas must be filled out ahead of time. From Fort Lauderdale, allow an extra hour for filling out paperwork at the airport. Not knowing what to expect upon arrival in Cuba, I found the airport process to be quite easy. Even more surprising, or should I say much to my delight, was how friendly everyone was. From other passengers to the airport staff, everyone seemed genuinely happy to welcome us to Cuba. After a quick and easy money exchange, we met our tour bus driver and away we went on a 2 1/2-hour drive to Cayo Cruz. Much of the journey was through a tropical landscape of palm trees and dirt roads. The few people we saw were on a horse and donkey-drawn carts and bicycles. Unlike Mexico, the roads were clean and trash free. The mainland part of the journey funneled onto a 4-mile man-made dirt roadway that cuts through the saltwater flats. After a somewhat brief but bumpy ride, we approached our destination, hotel Cayo Romano.
*Travel Tip* I suggest getting a travel wallet to hold all the paperwork needed and have it readily available with backups.
Cayo Romano is a brand-new boutique hotel nestled amongst several larger hotels and is the only hotel to offer fishing. It has every modern convenience complete with the main dining room, several bars, multiple pools, beautiful rooms, and a spa. After several days on the flats, a few of us opted to get a massage, it was well worth it. For entertainment, there is a disco and a bowling alley. Shopping opportunities included a convenience store, liquor/cigar store, and a gift shop. Yet to be completed, a cigar bar complete with a humidor and on-site cigar roller. The beach is a short 10 min walk away. Food and drink were included with our package. The Rum was plentiful however the food overall was a bit disappointing. I would have liked to experience more traditional Cuban cuisine such as a good Cuban sandwich or Arroz con Pollo but instead, most of us opted for the familiarity of pasta with red sauce. Being on an island in the Caribbean it would have been nice to have had a variety of fresh fish as well.
*Food Tip* Be sure to bring a box (or 2) of your favorite exercise bars for snacking on the boat or in place of a meal.
Being a naïve American, and having propaganda throw at me, it was easy to assume that the Cuban people might have a distaste for Americans. Boy was I wrong. Having grown up in Miami and not knowing what to believe, it was important to me to get to know the people of Cuba. I engaged in as much conversation as possible. Given the limitations of my inability to speak Spanish, I communicated with hand signals and photographs. Progress was made with staff that spoke English. We talked about Castro, America, the embargo and life in general. Maybe it was island fever, but I found the people to be happy, content and extremely welcoming. They deal with the embargo because they must and would prefer more tourism from America. Their outlook on communism and Castro was a bit surprising and as one person said “I have 2 daughters that walk home from school, one will be a doctor and the other a teacher and the education is free. I have a job; I can feed them, and I know they are safe.” It doesn’t sound all that bad.
In short MINDBLOWING! The fishery is divided into 6 zones with the thought being each couple will fish each zone once. Joel and Boris oversaw the fishing, taking care of your every need. The guide staff varied a bit in experience level, but it was clear that they all loved to fish. Time to the flats ranged from 15 min to 1 hour depending on which zone you fished. Bonefish, Tarpon, Permit, Barracuda, Snapper, Jacks, and Triggerfish are but a few of the fish you can target however, it is safe the say that Permit is the preferred species. The bonefish fishery (and the fishery itself) is like nothing I have ever seen and to quote a buddy of mine on the trip “You will never see bonefishing (all fishing) this good again!” It was like stepping back in time with endless flats loaded with fish that have never seen a fly before. Our group of 12 had 2 permits landed for the week, one of which resulted in a grand slam (Bonefish, Permit, and Tarpon caught by the same angler on the same day.) In addition, we caught more bonefish than you can count and an array of other species. For someone looking to cut their teeth and improve their saltwater fly fishing skills, this is the place. The fish practically jumped on the fly and hooked themselves despite the oft errant cast.
*Bonus* Night fishing for tarpon off the docks that service the hotel.
Rods in 7wt-10wt will cover almost all species. My preferred bonefish rod was a 7wt but I was a little under-gunned when the wind kicked in or the unexpected Permit swam by. I had 3 rods set up every day, a 7wt for bones, 9wt for Permit and 10 wt for Cudas, jacks and reef fish. When it comes to leaders and tippet, these fish aren’t shy, but I still prefer fluorocarbon. For Bonefish, tippet, and leaders in sizes 10lb – 16lb. Permit 16lb – 20lb. Barracuda 40lb wire guard. Tarpon – Straight fluorocarbon tippet in 40-80lb. Reef fish, straight fluorocarbon tippet in 35lb-60lb. When it comes to fly choices, it didn’t seem to matter that much but the preferred and most often used fly was the Flexo Crab. Bonefish – Flexo Crab, Gotcha, Epoxy shrimp. Permit – Flexo Crab. Tarpon – small glass minnow, tarpon toad. Reef Fish – Clouser Minnows. Cuda – Needlefish fly. Bring a good waterproof bag to store all this in.
*Good Will* Several of us brought extra gear ie. Tippet, flip flops, socks, sunglasses, flies, etc. to give to the guides and staff. They were so appreciative.
If you are looking to experience true Cuban Culture, Cayo Cruz is not the place. In my opinion, the island of Cayo Cruz looked a lot like any other destination with modern hotels and a beach. If I didn’t know I was in Cuba, I could have been anywhere. Although it was nice, there is nothing in the way of Cuban history, ancient buildings, vintage cars and well, Cuban people outside of staff. If that is a priority, be sure to allow some time to explore the mainland. Plan ahead of time to explore Camaguey, Havana or any other city of your choice. Visit a cigar factory and go experience some good Cuban cuisine.
*Avalon Outdoors can help plan airport transfers and suggest hotels for your destination.
With the right group and for the right price, I would go back because the fishery was unreal. As with any fishing excursion, have an idea of what species you prefer to target and then choose the right time of the year when that species is more prolific. I did not allow for time to explore Cuba beyond my trip however when I go back, this will be a top priority. Avalon Outdoors did an excellent job seeing to every detail to ensure that the booking process, accommodations, and transfers went as easy as possible. They were first class all the way. The guides were friendly and eager to put you on fish. The hotel staff was very attentive to our needs and the property was spotless. The best part of the trip for me was the 11 other people I went with. Such a dynamic group of people (some of whom were meeting for the first time) brought together by our love of fishing. I have a feeling I will be back.