Cuba Fishing Report! January 2020
February 5, 2020
Week 1: Cuba Zapata
I'm just back from our first week in the Cuba Zapata! As you can see in the picture of the tailing Bonefish above, the overall weather for our week was exceptional, with clear skies and light winds for most of every day. This being a New moon week, the tide push was significant, with high tide on Day 1 occurring at noon. A couple things to keep in mind with respect to tides and fishing. Fishing on the flats is typically best 1 hour before high tide and 1 hour after, as you intercept Bonefish and Permit that are migrating into the mangroves on the push and back out of the mangroves on the drop. The timing of high tide moves 1 hour later each day and is always on a 12 hour cycle, so by Day 6, our high tide mark was occurring at 6 am and 6 pm. Because of timing of the tides and light angles for this week, we adjusted our fishing schedule to start at 7 am and fish until 5 pm. We felt that gave us the best fishing opportunities, especially for the Permit game. We also adjusted lunch times each day to best utilize the tidal swings. While tides are an important factor to consider in flats fishing, they are not as significant during the middle moon phases, so much less important. I would ALWAYS take good sunshine over tidal timing any day of the week! Another important factor with respect to tidal push is winds. A strong wind from the opposite direction of the tidal push (especially going from the mainland out) will easily negate even the highest tidal push trying to enter the flats. We saw that on our final day of fishing with our first North wind of the week. The anglers this week were well prepared, as all were experienced flats anglers, and most had fished the Zapata before. To give you and idea on the level of anglers along on this trip, the group of 8 anglers filled the rod rack with 34 rigged rods… Each angler was prepared to fish Bonefish, Permit, Tarpon/ snook, and Cuda every day.
Here's our daily report for the week:
Day 1: Temperature 82 degrees, bright sunshine, light wind from the South.
We overnighted on Georgiana in the bay of Pigs. The boat fired up at 600 am to begin the 3.5 hour voyage to the mooring location in the fishing grounds. We woke up and ate a leisurely breakfast en route about 8 am. By the time we dropped anchor at 1030 am everyone had their rods set up and fishing gear organized. We ate lunch on the boat before jumping into guide boats and fished until 6 pm. On the Zapata program, 4 anglers fish as a pair each day as 2:1 with guide, and 4 anglers fish solo as 1:1 with guide. They run well equipped Dolphin skiffs that have 3 years on them now. A popular feature on these boats is the lean bar on the front, that allows you some support while standing, as well as a handle to stand and absorb shock with your knees while running in rough water. This shorter day of fishing on Day 1 allows for a good shakeout day. Everyone is going to have some gear tweaks to make, casting rust to shake off, and flat get back into the saltwater fishing mode. Most of the solo anglers took a highly successful bonefish walk with the guides, while the double skiffs went tarpon fishing. I fished with Mike this day and landed a nice tarpon in open water along with several Cudas on poppers and snappers and jacks. Daily Group tally fish landed: Bonefish: 21, Permit: 0, Tarpon: 3, Cuda: 5, Snook: 2, Jacks/ other: 7
Day 2: Temperature 81 degrees, bright sunshine, moderate wind from South
At the suggestion of the guides, we set schedule for the week to have breakfast at 615 and fish from 7 am until 5 pm. I was in the 1:1 boat with Cachimbo this day, and my focus was Permit. I completed a Super Slam with Cachimbo last year, so I was optimistic. We had a ton of shots, but this was one of those days where the conditions and fish proved better than the angler! I consider a shot blown if you don’t get the fly to the fish, or you spook the fish. Blown shots on this day were definitely a combination of both! Challenging wind angles can certainly play a role in poor casting, but blame doesn’t change the outcome. After a couple missed opportunities due to not casting far enough into the wind, I shortened my leader and went to a lighter fly. That didn’t help me on the next shot when my line hung up on my water bottle cap in the bottom of the boat, or later when my fly landed on the head of a nice Permit… We chased the Black Tailed Devils all day, changing flies and tactics several times to no avail. I would have liked to have a “do over” on some of these shots at the end of the week! Daily Group tally fish landed: Bonefish: 30+, Permit: 0, Tarpon: 2, Cuda: 2, Snook: 1, Jacks/ other: 20+ (blue hole action with snappers and jacks!)
Day 3: Temperature 79 degrees, clouds AM, moderate wind from South.
The morning looked a little daunting with clouds and wind, but it cleared off by 9 am, giving way to another great day of sunshine! Mike W. fished with Raidel this day and had a memorable moment. They were poling the flats in search of Permit (crab in hand), and saw a nice Bonefish cruising. He made a good shot with the crab, hooked the Bonefish, and held on through 3 good runs into his backing. As he brought it in for the third time, the water erupted as a Cuda took a swipe at his fish. He kept reeling and the water exploded again the vicinity. The strange thing was he could see his fish then, and the Cuda’s attack was focused 10’ away from the fish. Raidel then pointed out that the Cuda was biting at the perfection loop junction where his leader meets the floating line. The light reflection as the Bonefish pulled bounced that around enough that it attracted the Cuda. At that point, a third attack was launched which resulted in the Bonefish swimming away and the Cuda biting his weld loop clean off his line. Mike told Raidel, “OK if that’s how he’s going to play, I’ll teach him a lesson.” He then picked up his Cuda rod with a popper and proceeded to hook and land the Cuda. He said it did make him feel better!
Daily Group tally fish landed: Bonefish: 20+, Permit: 0, Tarpon: 2, Cuda: 4, Snook: 0, Jacks/ other 20+ (Blue holes!)
Day 4: Temperature 82 degrees, sunshine and DEAD CALM in morning!
Blaise fished with guide Espin this day, and had a memorable moment when they spotted a ray cruising with a large shadow trailing. The fish were coming towards them, as Blaise waited with Permit crab in hand… As the fish came into casting range, Blaise delivered a well placed shot which the fish immediately ate and began peeling line out. Blaise and Espin both saw that instead of a Permit, it was a large Jack that had eaten the fly – which is absolutely fine, as 200 yards of backing went off the reel, and they brought it to hand 20 minutes later. Jacks are aggressive on the eat and great fighting fish, which can be landed on a Bonefish or Permit setup so long as the fly is on their lips and not beyond their teeth. Blaise did hook and lose a Permit later this afternoon on a Flexo crab. Another angler, Morgan, alsl landed a big Cuda on a Bonefish fly that was hooked on the outside of his teeth. When flats fishing and a target presents itself, if you don’t have time to change rods, just make the cast! The worst thing that could happen is the fish doesn’t eat, or you get cutoff and lose a fly. But there’s always a chance that the fish eats and you land it! “You’ll never know if you don’t throw”. Daily Group tally fish landed: Bonefish: 20+, Permit: 0, Tarpon: 3, Cuda: 5, Snook: 1, Jacks/ other 10+
Day 5: Temperature 80 degrees, sunshine, and light wind – more perfect conditions.
Adam fished with guide Raidel this day. They loaded the Bonefish/ Permit rod, Cuda rod, and tarpon snook rod into the boat hoping to use them all. After a productive morning that included a few shots at Permit, and several large Bonefish to hand, they spotted a group of 3 Permit meandering slowly across the flat. Adam landed a first shot a little far from the fish which turned a different direction and didn’t see the fly (as they often do!). He picked the line up and put it back down again landing between the first and second fish. His first reaction was alarm as he thought they’d spook, but quickly turned to excitement, as the second fish in line ate the Colby’s Casablanca raghead on the first strip! He gave a good fist pump as the fish took off and line cleared off the deck. 15 minutes later he held his second ever Permit for a photo. He’d already landed some nice Bones that day, so they then found a couple nice Snook which left them just a tarpon short of the Super Slam! Another angler, Porter, also hooked and lost a Permit this day, when his line got caught on the drag handle of his hatch reel! How does that even happen? It’s Permit fishing…. Very cool day! Daily Group tally fish landed: Bonefish: 20+, Permit: 1, Tarpon: 1, Snook: 3, Cuda: 3, jacks/ other: 6
Day 6: Temperature 78 degrees, strong wind… the most challenging day of the week!
Mike W. fished with guide Epsin today. They began the day poling for Permit. While morning light was low with cloud cover, they spotted a good nervous water push coming their way, got into position, made the cast, and FISH ON! Several hundred yards of backing and reeling and 15 minutes later, Espin tailed a nice Permit for Mike. Mike also got this one on the Casblanca Raghead in Olive color. They then poled the flats for a while longer, eventually getting a nice Bonefish in the tailing near the mangroves, followed by a Snook. Like Adam, Mike came up a Tarpon short of the Super Slam for the day! Adam and Morgan were fishing with guide Cheguy, and they got into the Cuda on poppers, landing 5 or 6 nice ones each. What a great day to end the week on! Daily Group tally fish landed: Bonefish: 10+, Permit: 1, Tarpon: 1, Snook: 2, Cuda: 10+, Jacks/ other: 4
G Loomis NRX+: I threw this rod in the 9 weight for Permit most of the week. Balanced with the SA Infinity line, it proved a perfect balance. Like it’s NRX predecessor, this is a CASTING rod, not a broomstick! It has a soft enough tip that you can truly feel it flex and load, and enough power in the butt to turn flies over with accuracy, even into the teeth of a stiff breeze. I love this rod, and so did the guides who are all excellent casters!
Sage Payload: I fished the 8 weight Payload for several days int eh Mangroves and one day on the Bonefish flats. This rod definitely shines in the tight confines of the mangroves, delivering a baitfish pattern under the canopy with a heavy weight forward fly. The SA Grand Slam line proved a good fit for that. I appreciated the 8’9” length when landing them alongside the boat and needing to pull them out form underneath and lift their head. This rod is a great tool for this job.
Lines: I really liked the SA Amplitude infinity line for throwing small flies (Bonefish and Permit flies) at longer distances, and the SA Amplitude Grand Slam line for casting larger flies and even smaller flies short distances (days when visibility is limited and you know most shots will be within 40’). The buoyancy of these lines is immediately apparent and definitely does allow a quicker pickup for recasting. These lines are available in smoth or lightly textured. The lightly textured lines are said to perform better, but I just don't like the noise in the guides while casting, so prefer the smooth.
Flies: I am narrowing the “Must Have Assortment for Cuba” to the following:
Permit: Much of the Permit fishing in Cuba is shallower than we experience in other locales. Dark bottom dark fly = olive!
Rainy’s Casa Blanca Raghead: Tan and Olive in size 2 and 4
Flexo Crab: size 6
LaGrow’s Crab – heavier eyes for deeper water permit
Tarpon/ Snook: Size 1/0 and 2/0 are fine for baby tarpon, late March – June you should have some 3/0 sizes in box.
Rainy’s Black Death – red collar with feather tail – important for ease of cast!
Rainy's Nice Mullet – tan and chartreuse
Bruiser – purple and black
Other Great ideas:
Simms mesh reel pouch: This reel case is super easy to put on and take off, and big enough to fit over the rod and reel even with line strung! As you can see from the picture - nearly all of our saltwater anglers use these, and a little custom parachute cord strung through makes it easy to pick yours out of the lineup! Don't buy just 1, get them for all of your rods. The Medium is good for 6-8 weights and the large is good for 9-12 weights.
Simms stripping protectors: A saltwater flats trip can be tough on your fingers, and a cut that keeps getting salt in it can make for a long week! These are great and something every angler should keep in their pack.