Thursday, April 21, 2016

Viva La Cuba! Zapata Peninsula, Mantanzas, Cuba April 2016

Volume I: The Fishing

For a few years now I have desired to go to Cuba for some flats fly fishing. All the talk for the past four years or so is how the place is the last unspoiled frontier of flats fly fishing in the western hemisphere. Turns out that Europeans, Canadians and a few Americans have been traveling there for a couple of decades to fish. But the nature of restrictions on commercial and subsistence fishing in many of the flats areas has left a lot of water relatively unpressured. However I was guarded in my expectations as to avoid any undue disappointment if things didn't turn out as hyped. Glad I was wrong. Turns out my expectations were greatly exceeded. The areas of Las Salinas and San Lazaro have only been guided using non-motorized poling skiffs until three months ago when real flats boat were brought in
. This opened up vast areas of unexplored flats that were previously not accessible. I also was able to fish the Rio Hatiguanico (Cuba's Amazon) for tarpon. On the Rio we saw not another soul. Only nature and rolling tarpon. Here's how it all played out in terms of species sought after.


I fished a total of 2.5 days specifically hunting bones and whatever else showed up on the flats of Las Salinas and San Lazaro. Bonefish were numerous and encountered in singles, doubles and schools as large as 100 or more. In all of these days, I caught about 40 total bonefish and that is with giving them a break instead of continuing to hammer away on them. They averaged between 3 and 4 bounds with my biggest one to hand being about 6 pounds. Bone fish are incredibly powerful for their size and are just as about as much fun someone can have with a 7 weight!

Jacks and Snappers

Several species of jacks and snappers are available in Zapata. The most prolific areas for these were the Bocas, or "mouths" that are the inlets to the flats system  from the Caribbean. I spent a whole day dedicated to fishing the Bocas where I caught a nice jack crevalle, several horse-eye jacks and three tarpon (see below). Jacks slam rapidly stripped streamers and poppers and tend not to be too finicky with there eating habits. Mutton, cubera and other snapper species inhabit the mangrove lined channels in the Bocas. However, I only caught one small snapper of a species not known to me. Another fisherman in the group from the hotel caught a 27 lb cubera one of the days of my trip and several nice mutton snapper were caught during the week. And besides the fishing the Bocas are a beautiful salty, tropical paradise.


Silver kings were on my list for Zapata and the prime locations for them included the Bocas and the Rio Hatiguanico. I got lucky on my tarpon day (same day I fished for Jacks and snappers) at the Bocas because my guide Juan Carlos said that they were not always there. I caught three tarpon at at the Bocas and all of them were laid up in the mangroves. These  were coaxed out with flies cast in front of them. As my first tarpon fishing experience and I can tell you that there is nothing quite like a huge silver fish exploding up out of the water on your fly! This quickly became my favorite part of the week's fishing experience.

Fishing the Rio involved casting to rolling fish and stripping the fly back. Turns out you needed a full sinking line for best results but I only had with me a sinking-floating line so the fly rose up a bit with stripping. Thank goodness my guide Raciel was there to save the day with a sink tip he loaned me. But I only put that on half way through my first Rio day and got blanked on tarpon only to escape the skunk with a last cast catfish that ate a 2/0 black death. Not to worry though. I would be prepared for my second Rio day. Right away Raciel got out the sink tip (which was a bitch to cast by the way) and I was into a nice 15+ lb baby tarpon followed by a 30+ pounder. Raciel then informed me that larger fish patrolled the middle of the river so we pushed further for something meatier. That's when I got my best fish of the trip. Didn't have scale but it took me an hour land it on my 10 weight. See the pick below. How much do you think this fish weighed? I'm guessing 70+.

The Ones that Got Away

By now I'm sure you asking, "What about permit? Cudas?". Permit were relatively scarce but I did see a solo tailer and a school of five on another occasion. The solo fish made me when I raised up to make a cast a bolted. With school of five, I got off  a good cast but permit are permit and got no eat. I was not devastated however as I know permit obsession can be a powerful ailment. I will return. I will have other shots at the permit. But damn if I could've caught just one. Oh well, next time.

Barracudas were big and plentiful in Las Salinas and San Lazaro. However, you need strong wire and mono leaders to land them. I thought 30 lb leaders would be enough to handle the beasts but I got broke off on three good hookups. I'll be back with 40 lb wire next time.

The Guides

I can't write this post and not give credit where it is fully due. My Cuban guides were top-notch  fly fishermen who always had me on fish and were adept in all aspects of the flats and river. Not to mention they were just great guys and pleasure to fish with. To me, it appeared they had the best jobs in the whole area surrounding Playa Larga. There is much more to say about this subject so I will in a subsequent post.Anyone going to fish Zapata would be lucky to have Juan Carlos and Raciel as their guides for the week.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

<h1><b>The Small Hours on the Front Side of the Season</b></h1>

Every enthusiast who is passionate about a seasonal endeavor itches with anticipation for the moment of the transition from early season to full season. Adding to the anxiety is not knowing exactly when that moment will happen. Fly fishing for carp here usually begins in earnest in mid-May but I can't hold out that long. I'll head for the flats at the first hint of warmth in March or April even though I know that there will be few fish around and questionable conditions. A glutton for punishment I suppose but there is a silver lining; I've wet a line and added on more anticipation for the transition. I love the early season atmosphere too. Last years cat tails brown against the Spring sky is somewhat settling. Especially with the spring soundscape added in. And lastly there is a chance I might catch a fish.

Two weekends have been open for me in the wee hours of the 2013 carp season. On the day before April Fools Day I waded one of my favorite flats near town. There were a fair number of fish around but the turbid waters made it impossible to see the tailing carp until you were almost on top of them. Hence most of the carp I saw were already spooked. I did manage to not spook one fatty though.

Even though I only caught one fish that day, it got the juices flowing. So I got into a fly tying frenzy and I dusted of the Mercy Creek Special.

And I was back on the Big C again a couple of weekends later. This time the elements kept the Mercy Creek Special in port but my sea legs were anxious. So I took my long time friend Doug who had never caught a carp on the fly. Even though conditions were not optimal for first-time carping Doug was optimistic was really wanting to catch a carp. The wind was horrendous and made for really nasty wading with wader topping four foot waves in exposed areas so we absconded to quieter backwaters. We had to beat through the brambles to get there though.

A few fish were raising hell in the muddy water so blind casting to swirls and where a carp last splashed was the name of the game. I mainly held back and let Doug get first crack at the action and he hooked up.

Doug never could get the fish's head up but I did see when he had it up close before it broke off. Never the less, Doug was stoked and is raring to get out carping again as am I. It's only going to get warmer and soon my anticipation will be abated. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Little Late Season Redemption

When you try so hard to catch those big fish and end up blowing the shot it just plain hurts. You feel yourself sink inside and rationalize to yourself that it's really ok, you really don't suck, the conditions just weren't quite right. You can't lie to yourself for very long though. Soon that feeling of "dammit I wish I had of stuck that fish!" comes flooding back in. There are many ways to blow the shot but the most painful of all to me is losing the Zen of detecting the take. I don't get nearly as upset about blowing a beautiful shot when I line the line fish or spook it with the plop of the fly as I do when I blow it from missing the take. The take is the best moment of the whole experience and detecting it with consistency in all conditions is what I strive for. It's difficult as hell to do. I've had some off days lately where I just seemed a little too early or late to get solid sticks. I wondered what had happened to my mojo.

Today was the first time I have been back on the Big C since labor Day weekend when I fished with John Montana. I had some really good shots at serioulsy bruiser big carp that day and the best I could do was prick one's lip for about 2 seconds. It was damn hard that day. But as always it is a great time fishing with John. Today I was expecting to see fewer fish with it being later in the season with lower water levels, cooler nights and slightly cooler days. Sometimes it is good to be wrong. Right out of the car there were tailing carp and and I immediately hooked a 15 pounder which ended up being the biggest of the day.

First and biggest carp of the day

That felt really good. I read the take well on an eat at about 30 feet away. Was the mojo back? It was early. The rest of day would tell. I had many more shots and got 15 to hand in 4 hours of fishing. All were between 10 and 15 pounds.

14 lbs.

12 lbs.

I feel good for now. A little self redemption. It was a beautiful mid September day. I am very blessed to have this precious time on the water and I savor each and every second of it.


Friday, August 17, 2012

How do you win a tournament and not catch a single fish?

You team up with master carpers like John Montana, David Nakamoto and Mr. P. The Carp-ocalypse was held August 11 and 12 at Banks Lake, WA which is well known for easily accessible carp flats. With that being the case, it is fished a lot and the carp are fewer and harder. Our team had a plan to split up with 2 guys heading to The Big C on Saturday and 2 staying at Banks. On Sunday we would all fish Banks.

On Saturday Mr. P and I walked amazingly carpy water on the Columbia but found no feeding fish; only surface cruisers in deep water. There were a ton of play-boaters around. Carp are skittish creatures and will flee the flats when there is a nearby disturbance. We got blanked. Except for the roadside PFD that Mr. P hooked. Very impressive casting! John caught one fish on Saturday at Banks making our team tied for first place. I was able soothe the wounds to my pride with delicious Ninkasi IPA at the end of the day though. Life is good!

P and the PFD

On Sunday P and I explored the carping possibilities in the Barker Canyon area on the northwest side of Banks. Not a fish was seen. So we tried another spot down lake that had seen little traffic that was adjacent to a spot that had been hammered in the last 2 days. Blanked again. However, John landed 5 and David got 1 putting us over the top in the team catagory. An excellent desription of the prizes and winners can be found at Carp on the Fly.

Basalt coulee walls east of Banks Lake

David Nakamoto gets nipples deep for carp

There were many great prizes given away from the awesome sponsors of the event. A huge thanks goes out to the Native Fish Society, Portland and Bellevue Orvis Stores (Mad props out to Adam and Leland!), Idylwilde and Ninkasi for putting on the first ever Carp-ocalypse! We all had a great time and I can't wait till next year!

Hangin' with Mr. P at the Carp Lodge

Monday, July 30, 2012


Deadhead Lake

Many things come to mind when one hears the term "deadhead" like Cherry Garcia ice cream or an acid fried old hippie. No offense to hippies though. I think in general they are great folks. But no one thinks of an isolated little alpine lake that has no trail to it when they hear "deadhead". Looking at Deadhead Lake on map no one would have a clue if there might be fish in it. Only one way to find out.

I have been going on backcountry fishing trips with my friends Dean and Jason for several seasons but I missed the last three years because of life stuff. Jason's friend Mark was also on the trip. This year the plan was Waptus Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Wenatchee National Forest here in Washington.

We made it to Waptus on Saturday July 27 after a late morning start. Jason and Mark started fishing right away on Waptus with spinning gear and were not catching. At that point I had given up on fishing this trip. So I grabbed the map and scanned for possible places were there might be some adventure. 2 miles away and 2500 vertical higher than our camp was Deadhead Lake. It looked like something I could get to and back in a few hours before dark. I took my fly rod just in case.

Fording the Waptus River

Was I in for a rude awakening. The trail portion was 1.5 miles of pure uphill nut-busting fun and then there was the cross country bushwhack with route finding through thick brush and cliff bands.

The Spade Lake Trail

A little scree thrown in for off-trail fun

When I got to Deadhead Lake all the pain of hiking in melted away. The place was amazing! Truly beautiful and I had the whole place to myself. This would have been a campsite in heaven and I felt kind of sad that the others in my party were missing out on the experience. I have been to many isolated high mountian lakes before but Deadhead struck a chord with me. So I looked out into the water. I saw a trout. I strung up my rod and found that same fish right where it was when I first saw it. I let the semi-flashy little bead-headed leech sink down to the fish. White lips pursed and gills flared. Fish on. It was a blissful moment.

The first fish I caught

Cutthroats are so beautiful to me. Trout are pretty fish in general. This was not a puny fish by any means either. I would estimate it at about 10 inches. So I walked along the shore blind casting to rocks and stumps. The gin clear water revealed all structures but I didn't see any more fish.

Snow Casting
Until I got to a spot behind 2 short evergreens where I saw another trout cruising slowly by. I cast out the leech. It sank to eye level right in front of the fish. No movement by the trout at all as if the fly wasn't there. So I gave it a couple of strips. The fish whirled around on the fly. I slowed the strip and the fish turned away. Then I srtipped quickly and steadily. The fish the chased the fly almost to the surface before it ate. Another moment of alpine bliss.
The last fish I caught.
 After catching the last fish I saw no more. Time seemed suspended in this magical place but I soon realized I had to sahwack my way back to the trail. It was an hour in paradise that I hope to find again.

Deadhead Shallows.
On the way back to Waptus camp I took a different route and followed Deadhead Creek down to where it came closest to the Spade Lake Trail. So much beauty involved with this little stream.

Deadhead Creek up high.

Falls on Deadhead Creek.

I had a swim after returning to Waptus camp. The cold water sealed in my Deadhead memories. After a good night's sleep I woke to a still morning. No trout rising on Waptus though. I would have loved to stay another day but the trip out also had some offerings.

Leaving Waptus.

A farewell giver.

I have always loved the mountains and always will. This trip was an enjoyable distraction to my carp obsession which I am eager to promptly resume. Thank you Deadhead!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Trial of the Soft Clam

The Soft Clam in size 6

I have a handful of favorite flies that work pretty well most of the time. San Juan worms, trouser worms, carp carrots and soft hackles all do the trick in the waters I fish. So I got to thinking about a staple in the carp's diet that they eat in all the bottom types in the river, be it a rocky bottom or sandy bottom. That particular food is the freshwater clam. With that in mind I decided to tie a fly that combined elements of my favorites into one that imitates the fresh water clam. Hence the "Soft Clam" was born. I tied this fly in the headstand configuration to have the chenille tail ride up so it might look more like a clam's siphon gently waving in the current. I have no idea if a clam fly has been tied in this fashion before so if anyone has seen such a pattern please tell me. In the past I have tried clam patterns with little success so I wasn't quite sure how this one would do. So naturally I had to try it out.

Saturday 7/21/12

The forecast was for west winds of 7 mph but that was wrong. The sun was high and the river was glass on the flats. You would think that clear, still water would be ideal conditions for carping but in all actuality it is quite tough. I had numerous fish spook from just the slightest plop of the fly on the surface. Especially the biggest ones I casted to. Very frustrating. If anyone has a tip or two for very soft presentations of weighted flies for up to 40 foot casts please do tell. The fish seemed super wary and I had no luck sneaking in close. I did catch a few fish though and I used the soft clam for most of the day.

I caught this typical 10 lb. Columbia carp early in the day.

This was the biggest on the day. My scale said 7.2 kg. Hmm.

There were some of these guys around too.

So far the Soft Clam was successful on the cobble and gravel flats. I just wondered what it would do in different conditions.


Sunday 7/22/12

The trial of the Soft Clam continued on some sandy flats a little closer to home on Sunday. It was clear with a west wind of 5 mph which increased to about 15 by the end of the day. I was lucky that this flat was loaded with fish since my time was short. Surface ripple and a little cloudiness in the water allowed me to sneak up on carp. The soft clam got ate left and right. I caught several carp between 8 and 15 to include this mirror.

Mirror carp look so cool.

Another typical guy.

It was the end of the day, the wind was strong and I still hadn't caught a true fatty the whole weekend. A true fatty carp to me is a carp over 20 pounds. So I decided to pack it in and head for home. On my way to shore dozens of carp cruised through the whitecaps. None appeared to be true fatties so I walked on. While I was walking along the shoreline I saw a big black shape about 40 feet from shore. Could this be what I was looking for? So waded out cautiously until I could better make out what the shape was. When I got within about 20 feet I could see a tail the size of sycamore leaf. I maneuvered behind the fish through the waves until I was a rod length away. The soft clam settled near where the head was and big carp's body bowed concave in the direction of the fly. When the hook bit the carp shot straight up head first out of the water and then bolted through the waves like a missile snapping the tippet off while accelerating. I didn't even slow her down. I reeled in the rest of my line and waded out happy to have had a good weekend of carping.