One of the world's most protected marine environments.
In Fall of 2014 we were paid a visit from Filippo Invernizzi, owner of Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers, and Matias Gimenez their main travel specialist. As most everyone knows, relations with Cuba have been changing rapidly the past few months and travel restrictions are becoming increasingly easier with the Communist country of Cuba. Avalon is an Italian based company that has specialized in Cuba fishing and diving trips for over 20 years. They are also the only government licensed outfitter to fish in the highly protected marine parks like Jardines de la Reina.
With rapidly growing interest by Americans to fish in Cuba, Avalon's operations are pretty well booked to say the least. Even though Americans in Cuba is nothing new, the more legal route of travel to this once forbidden country is by acquiring a people-to-people educational or research license. We were excited about the opportunity to work with Avalon and to be on the leading edge of what might be a new frontier of angling destinations for American fly fishers.
The region of Cuba that we set off to is called Jardines de la Reina, or simply translated, Gardens of the Queen. Jardines is an archipelago that sits approximately 50 miles off the mainland of Cuba and is home to all the major players of saltwater gamefish... bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook, jacks, barracuda and more. It is a year-round nursery for these species and even gets the big migratory tarpon around the month of May. Jardines' rich marine environment supports fish of all sizes and offers something for anglers of all skill levels. While we went in what is considered "off peak season" the Jardines archipelago offered numerous shots at fish, enough to keep us entertained through out the day. Last time I checked... it was a lot warmer than our home in January too so that helps.
During our 5 day fishing adventure, almost everyone on the boat caught a tarpon, plenty of bones and even a few lucky anglers hooked (and landed) permit. Our good friend and manufacturer rep, Jon Covich, scored two grand slams in the week as well as Jon Hubbard from Picabo Angler in Idaho. For those that are not familiar with what a "grand slam" in saltwater means... it means that you catch and land a bonefish, permit, and tarpon in one day. A super slam would include the snook.
Logistics to Jardines de la Reina are not for everyone. From Havana you have to travel across the country in bus or private taxi (7hrs) and then a 5hr boat ride to the location where the boat will be anchored. Once you arrive at Jardines, you will then take out Dolphin Skiffs (flats boats) to the fishing destination each day which could take 5-30mins on average. Because of it's remote location, it is not ideal for someone that has any ailments and may need medical attention.
Despite it's remoteness, Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers has multiple "live-aboard" yachts that are first class. The food and staff were absolutely phenomenal. It would be tough to beat Avalon's level of customer service, it's as good as it gets.
My conclusion from our first Cuba fishing experience is this:
Cuba is both beautiful and humbling. Beautiful in the sense that the landscape, fishing, and people are all fantastic. Humbling in the sense that the almost 55 year embargo has left it in a state of disrepair and is on the verge of collapse. Cuban's are excited about the idea of the embargo being lifted and are optimistic that it will help. I would agree.
Would I go again? Absolutely. That was only one part of Cuba to explore :)