This was our second trip to Cayo Coco and I felt much more prepared this time as I knew what to expect and what the best tackle to use, so I was really looking forward to getting back out on the flats. After lots of research I believe this is one of the most economic ways of going tropical salt water fly fishing, we booked an all-inclusive holiday through Thomas Cook and stay at the Melia Cayo Coco a lovely hotel on the beach with fantastic food and great service - the staff are always friendly and always happy to help. As soon as I arrived I spoke to the reception who put me in touch with the local fishing guides and arranged some guided days fishing on the flats at Cayo Paradon (approx 30 min drive from the hotel).
Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side the first few days and we had grey skies and strong winds, not ideal for fishing the flats but the weather was due to improve over the next 7 days which would leave plenty of time for fishing, in the mean time it was time to unwind and enjoy some relaxation in the hotel. After a few days, the weather improved slightly and I couldn't wait any longer and decided to walk up to the local flats near the hotel, it takes around 20 mins walk up the beach up to the flats which can produce some good Bonefish if you hit the tide right and great for practicing spotting and casting at spooky Bonefish. After a couple of hours slowly covering the flats I hadn't seen a single fish andstarted to wonder if I had totally got the tides wrong or if the stormy weather had pushed the fish into the deeper channels, either way it wasn't good. Another fisherman was walking the flats and I had a chat with him he was also struggling and was of the same opinion as me - blame the weather! So, a disappointing first session back on the flats but the weather was improving daily and I had a day booked with Duneski a local guide who is a real Cuban character.
The guides pick you up from the Hotel at 0800 which in Cuban time means around 0830 - 0900, they eventually turn up and we set off to Cayo Paredon, a beautiful part at the northern tip of the Cayos. The weather was good and we were expecting some very high tides which could affect the fishing but the guides were confident we should still catch so we tackled up at the harbour. I set two rods up, a 9ft #9 with a 20lb tippet and a heavy crab type pattern ideal for Permit and large bonefish, I also set up a 9ft #8 with a lighter fly and slightly lighter tippet ideal for fishing the shallow water on the flats. It was fairly early in season and no Tarpon had been caught at this point in the year (Late March) so I didn't bother setting up a heavier rod for any Tarpon we might bump into, this would turn out to be a big mistake!
We set off in the skiff, with a high tide coming in we headed to a point with a deep ocean channel which quickly shallowed up to some vast flats, an ideal place to intercept some Permit. Duneski was confident the Permit would come in on the tide past this point, so we were both watching the water for shadows and movement. We didn't have to wait long before a huge Permit came into casting range, so I cast out a few metres in front on the fish and waited for it to get near then as it approached a long slow draw can sometimes get the fish to take. The Permit had other ideas and are notoriously difficult to catch, this one was no different and simply swan pass my fly as if it wasn't there. We stayed there for another 30mins and had another 3 chances at some Permit but no joy, disappointed we moved off to target some Bonefish. The water was still very cold from the stormy weather hopefully the Bones would be more active.
Cayo Paradon is known for its big Bonefish so we set off in the skiff along a shallow flat and it wasn't long before we saw a big fish right at the limit of my casting range, probably by more luck that skill the fly landed in the right area and I started to pull the fly through the water, the Bonefish soon turned onto my fly started to follow it, pull the fly faster and whack! the fish is on and I am down to my backing in a heartbeat, this is why I came back to Cuba. After three huge runs and my backing being tested three times I got the fish in, a lovely Bonefish approx 6lb, quick photo and back it goes. We continued in the skiff with Duneski well trained eye he was really good at spotting fish and well worth paying the money for a guide. I had a couple more Bonefish and missed a couple much to Duneski horror “How did you not catch that fish, man?”
He spotted a small milky patch of water just off the flats into the deeper channel, this is often made by fish digging out crabs and other crustaceans, cast right into the middle of it and whack another huge Bonefish, again testing my backing a number of times. Another cast into the milky water, resulted in a huge snapper which was really hard fighting, great fun and great eating, this was feeding Duneski’s family tonight! I had lost count on how many fish we had had to the boat, well into double figures and all the fish we had had were big fish. It’s hard work in the heat and casting when the wind is often against you, it’s very tiring, Duneski works you hard as he wants you to catch as many fish as possible and enjoy the day, but the day wasn't done yet. As we were drifting down we spotted some Tarpon into some deeper water, Duneski quickly tied on some leader thicker than my fly line (80lb) onto my #9 rod, I had a small selection of Tarpon flies, Duneski took one look at them and the usual guides sharp intake of breath “these are not normally what we use here” with no other choice its getting tied on. It was a pattern I had tied myself on a Varivas stainless hook, it was a needle fish imitation and I liked the look of it even if Duneski didn’t. A huge Tarpon swam past the skiff and I have to say it was the biggest fish I had ever seen and wondered if the #9 Hardy sintrix would be enough - probably not! Anyways, Duneski had just finished tying up the leader and made a short cast, instantly a Tarpon took the fly and shot off into the air throwing the hook just as quick. We were amongst a shoal of Tarpon, he handed me the rod and I cast towards a fish that had just topped and started stripping after a few strips the line just went solid and shot off, setting the hook is often hit or miss with Tarpon but this time luck was on my side. What followed was approx 40 mins of fighting, tail walking, aching shoulders, adrenaline and nerves. I’ve caught large salmon and trout but nothing comes close to strength of a fish like this. We headed into shallow water to land the fish of a lifetime, Duneski waded out and grabbed the leader and then the fish. Unbelievable, a fish of approx 60lb I was over the moon, we got a few photos and safely released the fish unharmed.
Shaking, sweating and shattered we headed back to the Harbour, I am not sure who was happier Duneski or me, he couldn't wait to tell his fellow guides, I think I was still in shock. What a day, this was my first day of four guided days that I had budgeted for, I couldn't wait for the others if this was anything to go by.
If you want to do this kind of fishing and enjoy a relaxing holiday Cuba is the place to do it, its reasonably priced and a good balance for the family, hopefully the Americans won’t have to much of impact when they have easier access to Cuba, but who knows. Roll on Cuba 2018.