Fly Fishing the Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve
Originating in the small town of Playa Larga, location of the famous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, this live aboard trip is a Yellow Dog favorite. Ideal for small groups, the Georgiana live aboard has six staterooms with ensuite baths and a maximum group size of 8 anglers for a full week of fishing. In addition, anglers are guaranteed plenty of bow time as there are both single occupancy and double occupancy skiffs utilized during the week of fishing, allowing each angler the opportunity to have a few days of single occupancy fishing.
The Zapata peninsula (Cienaga de Zapata) is one of the largest wetlands in the entire Caribbean, covering 1.5 million acres (approx. 2,200 square miles). The interior of the peninsula is largely inaccessible with very little human impact aside from channels cut into the swamp by pirates in order to access hard woods to make charcoal. The tremendous biodiversity in birds,crocodiles, turtles and fish along with large number of endemic species of both plants and animals in the area led the area being established as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2001. Freshwater from the interior of the peninsula mixes with saltwater along the mangroves along the southern coast, creating the ideal nursery environment for many fish species.
The fishing area offers terrific diversity with skinny water, white-sand bonefish flats, lagoons, turtle grass flats, reef shelves and creeks with terrific diversity in species as well. During the week the Georgiana will move from one mooring spot to a second location to make for short daily runs to fishing spots.
This Georgiana is a 100-foot, custom-built yacht that accommodates groups of eight anglers at a time. The boat features six comfortable cabins (four single cabins and two double occupancy cabins) each outfitted with bunks and private bathrooms. The interior areas of the boat and all staterooms are air-conditioned, and there are numerous outdoor sitting and lounge areas on the upper decks. The boat is the ideal base of operations for exploring the mangrove wilderness, endless flats and wild backcountry of the Zapata Peninsula. The ship is strategically anchored in a well-protected location that allows for easy access to the most productive flats and fishing areas in the reserve. Typically the Georgiana moors in two different locations within the fishery during the week.
Food and Beverages
The galley aboard the Georgiana takes pride in serving a diverse menu of traditional Cuban food, fresh seafood, and various international dishes. Breakfasts are cooked-to-order each morning. Lunches can either be packed for a full day on the flats, or guests have the option to return to the ship mid-day to eat and relax. Fresh fish of the day is utilized for most meals, and salads with fresh vegetables and a variety of fruits are always available. In addition, you’ll have excellent pork and chicken entrees, fresh sashimi and Italian-style pizzas for appetizers. All dinners typically include a great line-up of fresh seafood and are served with wine, local liquors, and desserts.
Typical Length of Stay
The typical package is seven (7) nights / six (6) fishing days. Since the fishing area is so close to Havana, anglers can typically transfer directly to the International Airport upon disembarkation. Additional days and nights in Havana or on other parts of the island can easily be arranged and itineraries can be fully customized.
Non-Angling Activities and Options
The Zapata Peninsula and the area where the Georgiana moors during the week are very secluded and there are no nearby towns or private residences. This is truly an “off-the-grid” locations where you can disconnect and get away from it all. Non-angling activities are limited, and overall this destination is best suited for anglers, nature lovers, snorkelers and birdwatchers. This part of the Matanzas Province is very flat and contains the basins of the Hatiguanico and Hanábana Rivers. The Hanábana empties into Laguna del Tesoro, one of the largest lakes in the country, which features a restored Taino Indian village (with life-size statues of the Indians engaging in their everyday activities) on a series of islets. The Tainos were one of the three groups of Indians who lived in Cuba prior to the Spanish Conquest. The coast is also home to numerous flooded caves and cenotes, making it a popular destination for divers. Playa Girón, the site of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, has an interesting museum with aircraft and other artifacts from the historic battle.
Wi-Fi is NOT available aboard the Georgiana, which means that once you board the ship, you will be offline and totally unplugged (something that is getting harder to find these days). Keep in mind that most U.S. cell phones currently DO NOT work well anywhere in Cuba – you should check with your cell phone provider before departing for your trip to see if they offer international plans that will provide service in Cuba during your trip. Also, satellite phones are strictly prohibited in Cuba and will be confiscated at the airport on arrival. For any emergencies, Yellow Dog can facilitate getting messages to anyone aboard the boat while you are on your trip.
How To Get There
One of the great benefits to this destination is its close proximity to the Havana, which means that anglers can easily transfer to the boat with no need for long bus rides or in-country flights. For Zapata trips, it is possible to skip overnighting in Havana altogether if that is your preference (Yellow Dog is happy to arrange hotels and tours in Havana if your preference is to enjoy the city for a day or two). All trips begin with arrival at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport (HAV). You will then meet the group for a late afternoon transfer to Playa Larga and the famous Bay of Pigs, where you will board the Georgiana. On departure it is possible to catch departure flights on the same day as disembarkation.
A valid passport is required for all visitors to Cuba and must be valid for at least six (6) months beyond the duration of your stay. Citizens of the United States are also required to have a Cuban entrance visa can be secured when checking in for your direct flight to Cuba. You will be asked to sign an affidavit for your trip to Cuba and determine which OFAC category your trip qualifies for. Yellow Dog can assist you and guide you through the process and all Cuba trips with Yellow Dog are LEGAL.
For our Cuba trips, Yellow Dog can advise you on flights to book or you may choose to work directly with Kanna Travel. They can assist you with booking airline tickets, trip insurance and medical evacuation membership. Contact them at 855-739-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
General Fishing Information
One of the things that make this fishing program so unique is a large amount of skinny, shallow water combined with the rotation during the week from double to single occupancy skiffs. Each angler will have three days fishing double occupancy and three days fishing single occupancy which translates into A LOT of bow time!
Much of the area simply cannot be accessed and fished using traditional flats skiffs with two anglers and a guide. It is for this reason that the Zapata operation utilizes four custom “single angler” skiffs – smaller, skinny-water boats designed for a solo angler and one guide. Each fishing day four anglers will fish from these single boats, with the other four fishing two-to-a-boat (along with a guide) in a traditional Dolphin Skiff. The schedule rotates throughout the fishing week so that each angler can fish solo for four days and share a boat and guide for the other two days. There is no other destination in Cuba that offers solo fishing as a part of their weekly program. The skinny water solo boats are typically used for shallow water bonefishing and permit fishing, while the larger boats are ideal for tarpon fishing and waters that require a bit longer run time.
Each morning, guests will step from the live-aboard mothership Georgiana directly into the smaller skiffs to head out for the day on the water. Because the Georgiana is located right in the middle of the most productive flats, run times are always fairly short. Anglers can expect to fish for bonefish, permit, and tarpon throughout the week, with possibilities for other species (snook, jacks, cuda, etc.) as well.
Boats and Equipment
The fishing boats used in the Zapata fishery are a combination of Dolphin Super Skiffs outfitted with Yamaha 60 or 70HP motors, and single-angler boats specifically designed for very skinny water. It is recommended that anglers bring all of their own fishing equipment. Flies, leaders, tippet, all terminal tackle and all accessories should be brought down, as very few items are available anywhere in Cuba.
Remember that Yellow Dog’s services are completely free! When you book a trip with Yellow Dog, you never pay more than when you book directly with the lodge or outfitter. Trips of any length of stay can be arranged, so please call Yellow Dog for details and custom package pricing. For all Zapata packages, the mothership Georgiana is available for private charters that are ideal for 6-8 people. The total package price listed below is the cost to charter the entire boat based on eight (8) anglers maximum per week.
August 3, 2019 – February 22, 2020
February 22, 2020 – March 28, 2020
March 28th – July 4th, 2020
- Meet-and-greet reception upon arrival into Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport (HAV)
- Private ground transfers to/from Havana to Playa Larga and the Georgiana
- Six (6) nights accommodations aboard the mothership Georgiana (6 state rooms total aboard Georgiana)
- Six (6) full days of guided fishing
- Three meals per day while aboard the Georgiana
- Eight (8) beverages per day while on board Georgiana (including beer, soda, and bottled water)
- Taxes and GSTs
What’s Not Included:
- International flights to Havana (HAV) from the U.S., Mexico or Canada (These can be arranged through Yellow Dog)
- Hotel nights, meals, drinks, taxis, tours, and any additional expenses while in Havana (Yellow Dog can arrange)
- Fishing tackle, equipment, flies and all terminal tackle
- Cuban entrance visa (approx. USD $50.00)
- Gratuities for guides and staff (must be paid in cash with CUCs)
- Bar tab and beverages over and above the 8 drinks per day (Group can opt for the all-inclusive bar tab at $200 per person)
Trip Deposit and Trip Cancelation Information
For all Cuba trips less than 90 days out, full payment is required to secure guides and reservations. For trips outside of 90 days, a 70% deposit is required within 10 days to hold and confirm reservations. Payment for all Cuba trip must be made in US dollars and can be made using check, money order or wire transfer only (no credit card payments for Cuba trips will be accepted and PLEASE do not write ‘Cuba’ in the memo of checks). Any cancellations on Cuba trips will incur a $250.00 Yellow Dog handling fee regardless of timing. Passport number, date of birth and full name (as printed in passport) is required to confirm any Cuba reservation. Outside of 180 days from the start of the trip, deposits are refundable minus an $800 Cuban operator handling fee, which will be held and retained by the operators unless the trip is resold. Inside of 180 days of the start date of the trip, all deposits and payments are non-refundable unless Yellow Dog or Cuban operator are able to resell your spot(s). No refunds are available for unused portions of packages. Trip cancellation insurance is highly recommended. Please note that credit card payments cannot be accepted for any incidentals or expenses once in Cuba. All programs and execution of programs remain subject to weather and other unforeseen circumstances. Claims for refunds from Cuban operators will not be accepted.