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CUBA DIARIES: DAYS ON THE WATER

March 28, 2016

A Taste for the Salt

Yellow Dog’s Kristen Tripp recently returned from a fly fishing trip to Cuba. Here’s what she had to say:

“I’ve fished for trout since I was nine in the rivers and streams of the Rocky Mountain West, and love reading water, thinking like a fish and the excitement in feeling the tug of a fish on the line or watching my fly disappear in the mouth of a rising trout. The salt is completely different and as I prepare to travel to Cuba, I am excited about saltwater species, heavy rods, big reels and some big and powerful fish.

Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) may be one of the most pristine saltwater fisheries, reef and mangrove ecosystems left on the planet. Eighty miles long and sixty miles south of mainland Cuba, most of the keys in the Gardens are untouchable – guarded by spiny shores of ‘dientes de perros’ or dog teeth, as referenced by my guide.

The first day out we bounce around searching for tailing bones. My experienced guide Leonardo quickly finds feeding fish and I hook up – getting knuckle-whacked by my reel as it spins wildly, the pleasant zinnnngggg of my reel as the bone runs with my line. I am caught off guard and surprised at the force with which the silvery streak shoots away from the boat. Once into the backing, I adjust the tension, and with a few more runs, have a healthy bonefish in hand.

We watch for rolling tarpon, their bodies rising to take air, dark dorsal fins appearing like dolphins as they cruise. Tarpon become a fascination to me when I hook into one on the first day. The fish promptly starts the performance that tarpon are famous for — head thrashing, gills flaring, aiming for the sky, its silver scales reflecting the bright Caribbean sunlight. The performance ends as quickly as began when the fish throws my ill-set hook from its gaping mouth. I’m enchanted and eager to bring one to hand to more closely investigate these dinosaurs aptly named the ‘Silver King’.

Tight channels through the thick mangroves, guide you to interior lagoons, where upside down jellyfish pulse on the dark bottom. Barracuda, snook and jack cruise the roots, along with baby tarpon and sharks, finding shelter and food in these mazes. Mangroves are the nurseries of the ocean and teem with life. The variety, diversity, size and health of the marine species is extremely refreshing. In a world of many sad environmental stories about degradation and species in decline, the reefs in Jardines de la Reina look like an underwater festival with parades of yellow jack, huge triggerfish and bold grouper amongst a forest of healthy corals and sea fans. Known the world over for world-class diving opportunities, Los Jardines lives up to its name.

A week later, Cayo Largo greets me with poor weather conditions and a fantastic guide – William. An off season, mid-January cold front brought with it clouds, rain and cold temperatures that drove many warm water flats species into deeper waters. No importa! We park the skiff on the edge of a deep channel flowing through the mangroves, and with tenacity and persistence in making cast after blind cast, the tug, tug, tug, set, set, set, then play of the jumping tarpon finally bring me my first tarpon. The fish, exhausted from the fight, patiently allowed a few quick ‘grip and grins’, as I admired its huge scales and peered into its great eye.

After a dose of stoke and a few weeks fishing Cuba’s gardens, it’s safe to say I have a newfound passion of chasing fish in the salt. I can’t wait for another opportunity to chase macabin, palometa and los sabalo’s (bonefish, permit and tarpon) in the many saltwater fisheries that Cuba has to offer.”

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