Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Great info on Cuba from Doug Jeffries

To All Cuba 2018 Trip Members-
Here is some info from an e-mail train between Doug Jeffries and an experienced angler who has been to Cuba multiple times. I post this e-mail as is. Take from it what you can.

Hey Scott,
On a whim I asked on Kiene's board if anyone had been on the Tortuga recently.  I ended up trading some emails with a guy who has been twice, the most recent was last year.  He really went all out and sent some really good detail info.  I'm attaching his responses here.  He said we could share it with our group.


We took a bottle of rum with us, on our first trip.  The best place to buy it is at the airport in Camaguey.  They sell Havana Club 7 on the boat, and the prices are good, you do not really save much buying it in Camaguey, and then having to cart it around. That's what I would buy the guides a bottle of when you get to the boat.  They will mix you drinks at the bar, and put them on your tab and the prices are great compared to what we are used to in the states.  If you want a really good bottle then grab one at the airport.  The Havana Club 15 private reserve is incredible.

I made the mistake of buying a box of cigars in a back alley on my first trip, I paid what Tony can get you a real box for.  The back alley boxes are all rejects. 

The bugs were not bad on our first trip, but holy shit on the second one.  Take extra to be safe.  And take it on the boat.

There were a few spinners around but the reef sharks were by far most of what we saw.  I have just never seen large sharks so ready to eat.  I probably wouldn't want more than one of the big boys.

On Thu, Mar 8, 2018 at 1:02 PM, Doug's response
Wow, now that's an answer to my questions!  What a fantastic reply and intel.  Super helpful. The bug question is one that for sure I would have thought someone would have included.  Another guy in our group said he talked with someone who also said bring bug spray.
Regarding the sharks, did you see spinners?  Or just the typical reef species - black tips, lemons, small hammerheads?

Doug ~

Your in for quite a trip.  I have been there twice now.  Absolutely awesome.  Can't wait to get back.

The tarpon fishing was different than anything I have experienced.  I live in FL and do quite a bit of tarpon fishing.  I've never seen tarpon eat like they do in Cuba.  We fished a variety of Puglisi bait patterns.  Mostly size 2/0, and 3/0.  A lot of the 3/0 stuff I was trimming in the field.  They wanted the color, but slimmer.  I have a few versions of the Puglisi bait fish I tie for here in FL, that worked well, that are close to the light yellow pattern below.  We hooked so many fish on my first trip, I thought we were gonna run out of the black and purple.  It was dark in the am, lighter flies in the pm.  Fishing was slower on the second trip, but we still fed a few fish a day. 



I have also attached a couple of pictures of flies that worked well.  The purple fly is one that I tie, the brown and green fly, the guide had and it worked well.  We did not get our luggage on the second trip last year and had to rely on help from others and it was kinda a disaster.  Yellow and white, tan and brown, black and purple toads, were also popular.  I saw pilchards, and white bait, all over on the boat ride to the house boat.   

The bone fishing was just stupid.  Its like they haven't seen a meal in weeks.  Mainly shrimp style flies.  NO black hooks.  And the other main piece of advice is have several flies with no weight on them at all.  No weight, with a weed guard.  Many of the huge schools of bones we found were in inches of water, and the weighted flies were instantly hung up in the grass.  I would be clear with your guide, you do not want to fish the mud holes, you want them to find schools/tails in the grass, or schools on the sand.  They will stick you in a mud hole, for hours if you do not make them do something else.  Also when the tide changes and the fish disappear, make them go find other fish to catch.  

I could not get a permit to eat an Avalon crab for any reason.  I would fish a crab fly:

We caught a few snapper on the bait fish above, mostly in the 2/0.  They were not picky.  The guides will be happy to help you find and fish for them, and will kill and eat everyone you catch.

Take a few Cuda flies, and wire and a few swivels.  We had a Cuda rod set up at all times and man were they fun.

I will say the most under rated, not talked about species to catch in Cuba are the sharks.  I went back on my second trip ready to do some damage on the sharks.  When we lost our bags, I had not shark flies and no wire.  On my first trip, we had one shark fly and when the light fell out in the clouds we put the shark fly on and threw it to a 150lber and that shark ate it like a dry fly off the surface.  It was unbelievable, one of the coolest eats I have ever seen.  If your interested in that take a de-hooker with you.  I'm eager for a third trip, to focus on catching a huge share with are in good supply.

I took this fly and a 4/0 version and put larger hooks on them.  There is a red and white one you can find on the web as well.  

In two trips I did not see a single snook.  The locals kill everyone they see and eat it.  There is supposed to be a decent amount of snook near the main land, which you will not have access to.  If you did come across one, I'd assume he'd eat a bait fish pattern like everything else did.

I'd take a pepper grinder if you like pepper, some mini candy bars for the ships crew, definitely take lots of bug spray, I was gonna try to take a therma cell on my next trip.  Buy the guide staff a bottle of rum.  Watch what they put in your cooler, they charge you for everything.  We had them take the beer and soda out and stock it with just water.  I'd take a yeti 20oz cup, makes the ice and your drink last longer, at night on the boat.  They wash your clothes daily, and do a good job, so no need to over pack.  

I've stayed both up and down stairs on the boat, I preferred the down stairs, for no other reason than not having to deal with everyone on the stairs constantly.  The boat is solid, so either side upstairs is a non issue.  The AC on the boat is awesome, so I'd keep the windows shut, the bugs were really bad on my second trip last year.  

Give me a shout if you'd like to talk about any of this.

Good luck,

And then a few days ago, Doug received this additional info:
Doug says...
I received another email from that guy who has been sending me suggestions about Cuba.  He sends a couple other fly pattern suggestions (although, from what we've read, I don't think these fish are particularly picky abut flies so I wouldn't rush out to buy these unless you haven't already stocked your tarpon box).  He also sends the name and contact info of a guy who has tied flies for Cuba in case anyone is looking to purchase some flies.  Here's his latest:

Doug ~
I was at a fly shop earlier today and finally saw these three flies in person.  All of these would fish very well in Cuba.


The other resource I might have your crew reach out to is Drew Chicone.  I've known him for years as we happen to live in the same city here in FL.  He is a wealth of knowledge, and an excellent fly tier.  He ties flies for many who host trips, and anglers headed to Cuba.  If you follow him on Instagram, you can see packages he has posted for groups headed that way.  His cell phone number is 239-898-1236, and his web address is www.saltyflytying.com If any of your group wants to use him to tie them some flies, have them contact him right away, he is usually backed up.  If they use him, let him know the bonefish flies have to be light.  

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Catch and Release: Fish Reflex Test

From Doug Jeffries comes this very interesting article on catch and release. I found the four step flow chart for using reflex tests to determine when a fish is ready to release very interesting.  In addition, the eye position test seems like a very practical way to assess whether a fish is ready to be released. As Doug said, "It reinforces the idea that just because a fish can swim away doesn't mean it's ready to safely release."

Probably a very good idea for all fly fishermen to read this article from keepemwet.org

Friday, March 9, 2018

Crooked and Acklins Islands... Our Last Day

Sadly, this was our last day! Tomorrow we would leave the comfort of our cozy lodge and began our journey back to the frozen north. But today, we would push those thoughts away. Today, we would fish! 

Scott Sawtelle and I took off with Kenny Scavella to Acklins Island. We motored from Turtle Sound into yet another day with a strong east wind. Despite the "breeze", the skies were clear and sunny. I was sure today would be a good day.

Anna Riggs and Scott Sawtelle gear up for our last day.

After anchoring the skiff, we decided to go for it and put in a big wading day. The three of us left the boat at 9:30 in the morning and did not back to the skiff until just a bit before 3:00 in the afternoon. During those five and one half hours, we were either stalking fish, catching fish or wading to spots we knew held fish. We never quit wading the entire time... we were a tired bunch when cracked open our lunch at 3:30 and took a big swig of cold water and wolfed down our first bites of sandwich.

Initially, Scott and Kenny took off wading a long peninsula that led into a vast interior flats system. This peninsula was bisected by numerous channels. While they went in on one side, I took the other side of the peninsula and stayed even with them. I could see they were catching fish... as was I. The channels that sliced through the peninsula often spread out to create large shallow white sand flats. These were perfect spots to find fish... and we did! Nothing too big, but energetic and solid 3-4 lb. bones were often spotted. Eventually we all met up again and together waded a huge system interlaced with shallow soft pans peppered with mangroves. We found lots of fish on the edges of these mangroves.

"I was almost back at the skiff, now totally content to end my day, when my head was pulled right by something.  It quickly registered somewhere in my mind that it must have been a tail rooting around the base of a mangrove bush. But the afternoon light was flickering intensely off the chop and if it was a fish, he only tailed once. As I waited for another clue, I questioned if my tired eyes were playing tricks on me.

Not willing to wait any longer, I made a cast to the base of the mangrove. I made one short strip and a tail flipped up. I smiled. It reminded me of when I ask my dog "Are you hungry?" and his head turns and his ears perk up. I rang the dinner bell again with only the slightest nudge of my fly. The tail quickly scooted towards the meal. I stripped, he was on... I said, I think out loud, "Now that was cool!" This fish turned out to be my biggest fish of the day at 6-7 lbs.

Whew! What a great way to end a trip. After landing the fish, I reeled up and waded to the boat. That would be it... I'm done. It was quite simply, a great day... and a great trip!" 

and a nod towards Cuba with a bonefish size Avalon Crab

Doug Ellis enjoys another great dinner!

All too soon the day was over. We broke down rods, packed gear and collected tips. It was a wonderful trip! Thanks to our hosts at the lodge, Angela and Allie, our sensational guides, Kenny, Clinton, Elvis, Michael and O'Neill. We had a wonderful time and will miss you all! And of course, thanks to my friends Anna and John Riggs, Doug Ellis, Scott Sawtelle, Mike Schwartz, Steve Peskoe and Doug Jeffries. You made this a wonderful trip!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Crooked and Acklins Islands... Second to Last Day 2/15/18

On our next to last day, I fished with my old bud Doug Jeffries. Doug had not yet fished with Elvis, so we jumped in the pickup for the short drive to the ferry dock on the Acklins side of The Going Through. There we met Elvis Collie. It was once again a very breezy day, but the real concern was the thick cloud cover. Ever hopeful, we pushed off bouncing our way south in the chop. Eventually, we arrived at the  southernmost tip of the Going Through.

John Riggs and Scott Sawtelle take off with O'Neill
Meanwhile, Elvis and Doug get ready

A morning off for Elvis!

Elvis anchored the boat 50 yards offshore and Doug and I grabbed water and rods before we jumped out of the skiff.
We handed Elvis a rod and said "Have fun! You aren't guiding this morning."
We told him we are taking off in different directions and we would meet back here in a couple hours. I think Elvis was bit shocked, but soon he took off to fish. 

Doug and I began by wading opposite sides of a finger that cut into the interior of a huge flats system. Under these cloudy conditions, we saw nothing for quite awhile. Eventually, Doug and I were quite far apart, but I could see he had reached a similar conclusion. We needed to get shallow and find a light sandy bottom to have any chance of finding fish under these cloudy conditions. I veered off to the east while Doug went north. We both followed little tidal bleeds. Soon we were pretty much out of sight of each other.

Nice photo Doug!
I followed a very skinny channel until I reached a hard-as-concrete pan that covered the size of two football fields. That’s when I saw my first tail. Over the next two hours, I was in heaven. Even though I had very little sun, I caught fish after fish... mostly spotted while tailing. I often picked them up from very far away.  When the sun did come out for a few seconds, I could clearly see fish flipping over flat, exfoliated pieces of the pan that sparsely littered the hard flat. I flipped over a few myself and discovered there were tiny crabs hidden underneath. This was no doubt what these bones were up to! I had never seen this amazing behavior before. At times, I let tailing fish go right by me so I could watch them nose-flip these saucers to devour the morsels underneath.

Tailing photos by Doug Jeffries

When I stopped watching and actually fished, the bones were eager to eat! It was an amazing scene to see them rocket off the pan once hooked. The water was only 6-8 inches deep so they tossed up a huge wake as they struggled to get a better purchase with their tails that were only 3/4’s of the way in the water. This was an incredible few hours of fishing and I was happy to see when I got back to the boat, Doug had had a similar experience. 

Doug, Elvis and I ate a brief lunch, then motored to a white sand flat that had been so productive for us last year. Unfortunately, the tide was too low so we had to fish the edges of the flat's feeder channels. We did pick up a few fish and it was quite beautiful, but also a bit of a disappointment! It's tough to repeat a great experience, but we always try... don't we!

NEXT: Our Last Day!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Crooked and Acklins Islands... Day 4

Day 4... Valentine's Day
A message to my wife Sara

The three boats that left Turtle Sound ran into a brisk 20-25 knot headwind after turning east and leaving the protected sound. With buffs up and heads down we raced along knowing today would not be an easy day. But it was sunny and we were opimistic. Clinton Scavella, Anna Riggs and I soon peeled off to the north to see if we could find fish on the falling tide. Our plan was to check out an extensive creek system that should be draining both water and fish. Clinton dropped Anna and me off at the end of a long white sandbar. He suggested we begin to walk in while he anchored the skiff in a deeper channel that would be safe at low tide. 

Anna Riggs changes flies... Doug Jeffries photo

"You guys go and I'll catch up in a few minutes." Clinton suggested.

Anna and I took off hoofing it back towards a small bay that we could see was separated from another larger bay by a short channel. I assumed the creek came into the smaller bay although I couldn't make it out from where we started hiking. The dry peninsula we walked in on was a little sticky at first, but quickly firmed up. Soon we reached the aqua blue channel. We waded into the water slogging through a soft white marl as the channel got deeper and stickier. Our struggles stirred up a big cloud of muck. But it didn't take long for us to be on firm ground once again as we reached the other side and a solid pan dotted with hurricane killed mangrove bushes.

I thought we should check out the channel just in case any bones were hugging the edges during the high tide. Then we could split up. Anna could go up the creek with Clinton and I would check out the next bay over. If we were going to split up, we needed to stall for a few minutes so Clinton could catch up. Anna started to pull line off her reel while I waded around a small inlet to check further down the channel.

With rod still strung, I snapped to attention when I saw a bone chugging up the channel towards me. I quickly unhooked my fly and yanked my leader through the guides. I frantically stripped off line, threw a hurried cast against a strong cross wind and grossly overshot the bone that was moving quickly toward me. I made two long strips to retrieve line and the bone, obviously not bothered by my poor presentation, moved eight feet to inhale my small tan crab.

I stripped and he was on. I quickly realized this was a very big fish. I went from the usual nonchalance one feels after a successful hookup to a cookie-cutter bone to the intensity you feel when you really want to see and hopefully land a fish

The bone rocketed across the channel then headed back quickly in my direction. I reeled hard then dropped my rod tip to my left side trying to keep him out of the many dead mangrove bushes that surrounded me. It did not work. My fish reached the bushes then strung me up like a Christmas tree pulling my line through a half dozen small bushes. I threw my rod down in the muck and raced forward to break off the branches he had sneaked through. At the end of my gardening, I was pleased to see he was finning slowly about 50 feet away. I raced back to my rod, put some heat on him and he made another strong run out to deep water pulling my line and a wad of backing before heading back to the mangroves once again. This time I was able to keep him out of the branches, but my victory was short-lived... 

After another long run across the channel, he for the third time returned the mangroves and strung me up. I cold do nothing as I had no angle to keep him out. But I knew the drill by now. I jettisoned my rod, trimmed a few more mangrove branches then hurried back to pick up my rod and gooey reel. I could see exactly where I'd been as a cloud of fine sand stretched 100 feet behind me perfectly describing my erratic path.

The fish was now about done... as was I. I was sweating profusely as I finally walked the fish into very shallow water. I knew this was big fish, but when I reached my hands around his body and tail, I discovered just how big. 
Anna graciously yelled, "You want a picture?"
Without hesitation I yelled back, "YES!"
I could have hugged her!
Rarely do I want a photo of a fish... but I did with this guy!

Whew!... Anna Riggs took this photo and the series that follows.

By this time Clinton was on the far side of the channel. Anna took the last of her photos just as Clinton joined us. I told him I thought this fish was at least 8-9 lbs. 

"More than that!" Clinton said. 

We measured the fish. He was 28 inches at the fork probably 31 inches overall. 

Close enough to double digits for me. I wanted this fish back in the water. He was most certainly exhausted. We revived him until he was eager to go then watched him fin away.

Clinton making sure he was OK
...and off he went

Anna and Clinton took off for the creek. When I finally joined them she was casting well into the strong headwind and hooking up time after time. Over the course of the day, Anna pushed her tally well into double digits. She told me that evening, "I had a GREAT day".
Me too Anna, ...me too!
...and later, a dinner message from us guys to our wives!