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Articles: Jardines de la Reina - Cuba

by: Nassim Joaquin

From October 10 to 18, I was in Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen), in the province of Ciego de Avila, Cuba, where my wife Laurie and I had a grand time.

The journey was long and tiresome, a 6-hour drive on a deluxe bus from Havana to a town called Jucaro, and 3 hours more by boat to La Tortuga Lodge in the Gardens of the Queen, a huge archipelago which has been declared National Park, also known as "El Laberinto de las 12 leguas" ( 12-mile labyrinth).

We arrived at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and after leaving our luggage and having a refreshing mojito, we went fishing. We headed to the fishing area in search of bonefish, and they soon appeared. I succeeded in hooking 3: I caught 2 and lost 1, which was actually quite big. It was Laurie's turn then, who was trying for the first time. She managed to hook 2 bones, which unhooked themselves after some fighting. She just had to hook more strongly. These are the most difficult bonefish to catch: they are usually alone and tailing, and it is difficult to place the fly in the sea-grassed bottom. It was a good start&

We went to Peralta and Las Cruces on the second day. We caught a "double" of bonefish and many bonefish from large schools. Laurie made great improvement that day and landed 6 out of 9 fish she caught. I hooked 6, but managed to land only 3. I was also able to strike baby tarpon, but they all released themselves. We saw a few big-sized permits too. I took a chance on one of them, casting a bonefish fly with rubber legs that Eduardo Arceo had given me. The permit looked interested at first, but it didn't take it in the end. It was a good day, with long distances to the south. It's worth mentioning that I had forgotten all my permit flies in Cozumel! But that's life; you are always forgetting something.

We had a break at lunchtime in a spot protected by the mangrove trees. Every time we got back to La Tortuga, we were welcomed with hot pizza and a delicious mojito, better than the ones in "la Bodeguita del Medio".

I forgot to say that I had broken my 9Wt Sage RPLXi rod when I stepped on it! Well, that was the end of the good weather. The weather had been incredibly good and the sea was amazing, with no wind. But the weather forecast had announced that the "atomic bomb" cloud was approaching on our third day, so the strong winds, which didn't stop blowing until our last day, hindered the fishing and the access to the big tarpons, such as the paths called "Boca Grande" and "Breton"Fishing, which were impossible to fish due to the tides in the channels between one key and the other. However, we got to some mangrove channels and caught several tarpons in shallow waters. I hooked 3 and landed only 1. Laurie hooked 1, which unhooked itself, but it was the first tarpon she had ever caught.

Eduardo Arceo's black and orange flies for tarpon with rabbit tail worked fine. Paco Espinal's black and red fly made of synthetic materials also gave good results. The guides, Chinito in this case, preferred dark or black flies, which seemed to be the most successful. In my opinion, any fly would do in this region, where the fishing pressure is so low. It's amazing to be able to fish tarpon in the sandy areas with such clear water, quite different from other destinations like Holbox, San Felipe or Campeche. Here the bottom is always light-colored and occasionally dark, with sea grass patches, similar to Cozumel on the sea side. On our third day, Laurie hooked 5 bonefish and caught 3 of them, and 1 baby tarpon, which managed to escape. I hooked 7 bonefish and caught 5 of them, and 3 baby tarpon, landing one of them weighing about 10 pounds.

The wind was too strong on the fourth day, so we had to fish close to La Tortuga. However, it was the big-bonefish day! Even though La Lisa and Chocolate Keys have proved to be the best for holding big bonefish ( I caught an 8.5-pounder two years ago in La Lisa), we weren't able to fish there due to the weather conditions. Anyway, Chinito took us to a good spot to find really nice fish, and we were able to catch 3 (Laurie caught 2 and I, 1), weighing between 6 and 7 pounds. The average weight of the bonefish in the Gardens of the Queen is about 1 and ½ pounds more than the ones in the Yucatan Peninsula. There were also a few chances with permit, which Fishingwere scarce but big, but the access to the fishing areas was hindered by the weather. On the fourth day, Laurie caught 2 big bonefish. I hooked 9, but landed 6 of them. One weighed about 7 pounds.

On the fifth day, there were also some permits, but we were quite unlucky. The sea was turbid and I failed to catch a permit on one of Eduardo Arceo's flies. It was huge, between 22 and 28 pounds. Fishing permits that day was complicated by the wind and the turbid waters. We went fishing for bonefish; Laurie hooked 3 and caught only 1. I hooked 7 and caught 6 of them.

The sixth day was our last day, even though we still had half a day on the seventh day. We didn't go fishing on our seventh day because of the weather and because we wanted to leave Havana early, with the scuba-diving group. We made up for the last half day and stayed longer on the sixth. We went to the mangrove channels in search of bonefish. In Las Auras, we found a few tarpon, but I landed 1. Then we left for bonefish, and I succeeded in hooking 7 and landing 5, including a 6-pounder. Unfortunately, a 20-pound barracuda swallowed it right after releasing it. Only the head was left, but then it came back for it and it ate it too!! It was real shame because it was a nice 6-pound tarpon. Laurie hooked 3 fish that day, but landed only one, partly because of the wind which wouldn't stop bothering. We went snorkeling too; the area is beautiful, home to plenty of snail and lobster. There are nice reefs full of snappers, boquinete, parrot-fish, etc.

We hooked 63 bonefish in total, and landed 41. 4 of them weighed between 6 and 7 pounds. We also hooked many tarpon and landed 2, among snooks, small jureles and other species. We took lots of photographs and remember great moments.

Without a doubt, the Gardens of the Queen are one of the most unexplored destinations in the Caribbean, and I wish it kept like this.

I would like to thank everyone at La Tortuga, specially Chinito, Paco Espinal and Eduardo Arceo, who sent me flies to try in the area, which actually worked excellent and helped me a lot, and Daniel Beilinson from FlyFishingCaribe, who organized a perfect trip, giving me the chance of getting to know this amazing destination, where I hope I can return soon.

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