Retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Justin Lansford was struggling to stay 20 feet deep as he tried to help his teenaged dive buddy Diana plant staghorn coral fragments on the ocean floor. It was only Lansford’s …
Vamos a Pescar en Cuba!
By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost Travel Journalist
Not many American anglers have enjoyed the bountiful fishing opportunities in Cuba, but all that is changing with the ongoing detente between the U.S. and the Communist-ruled island nation.
South Florida shallow-water fishing experts and IGFA world record all-stars Stu Apte and Marty Arostegui have made multiple fishing trips to Cuba over the past several years, catching and releasing tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook, mutton snapper, and in Arostegui’s case, a world-record claria, or African sharp-toothed catfish, in fresh water.
Most of their trips were with Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers–an Italian outfitter in partnership with the Cuban government holding exclusive fishing and diving concessions for several prime locations around the island. Avalon operates a fleet of mother ships and smaller fishing boats and also offers land-based accommodations for its guests.
One of Cuba’s most talked-about destinations is Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) –a vast marine park about 50 miles south of the Cuban coast where only catch-and-release fishing is permitted and lobster is the only commercial fishery. The fishing grounds are managed like crop rotation so no single area gets too much pressure.
Fishing there last fall, Arostegui’s wife Roberta– a prolific world-record-setter like her husband– released 19 bonefish on fly rod. On one of his trips, Apte released five tarpon from 30 to 60 pounds on fly rod in two hours of casting.
“One of the reasons I like Cuba is because even the resident fish have not been harassed,” Apte said. “When you cast a fly or a lure, you can almost hear them thinking ‘here comes another lollipop’, and they eat it.”
While tarpon is Apte’s hands-down favorite species, he loves casting chuggers to mutton, yellowtail and Cubera snapper and watching them explode on the noisy surface lures. He says snook fishing is fun too. Unlike many saltwater fly fishermen, Apte is not obsessed with permit. But he’s happy to cast a spinning rod with a silver-dollar crab to them–“making a presentation they will eat.” And in Cuba there are plenty of willing targets.
“Not only are there plenty of fish, but the fish have not been harassed like in the Florida Keys where people fish them all the time,” Apte said. “I want to go back pretty soon before the big influx of Yankees get there.”
Added Arostegui: “With the pressure increasing, Cuba is at a crossroads. If they protect it and keep it catch-and-release and don’t allow commercial fishing, that area will stay pretty healthy. These are all good things we could learn from here.”
Guy Harvey Outpost will host additional expeditions to Cuba soon, including a trip to participate in a lionfish derby September 14-20 in Maria La Gorda. Go HERE for details and registration.
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.
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