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Articles: Grand Slam en Cayo Largo

by: Daniel Beilinson (Febr.2009)

I had been thinking of fishing in Cayo Largo for many years, when the operation was still managed by "Casa Batida". Last year AVALON took over, and as I always travel to the destinations I offer through FlyFishingCaribe, I didn't hesitate to go to Cayo Largo on my holidays this year. Although I had only 3 fishing days, they were enough to give me a good idea of what it was like.

Cayo Largo is part of the archipelago "De Los Canarreos", which also includes the second most important island in Cuba, Isla de la Juventud or Isla del Pino, among others.

Cayo Largo offers an exclusive protected area extending over about 50 x 8 miles, that is 400 square miles, divided into 6 areas, from Cayo Candiles in the west to Punta del Este in the East. Its wide flats, channels and mangrove swamps have proved to be the ideal environment for countless species, such as bonefish, permit, tarpon, snook, barracuda, snapper, jacks and sharks.
The first of my 3 fishing days was very bad. It was still cold in the area, with strong winds and clouds. However, we had the chance of covering the area 4, where I was able to catch some nice bonefish weighing between 4 and 6 pounds.

The second day was windy but very sunny. The tide level was good, so we decided to set off very early to be able to cover the areas 5 and 6 (Cayo Rosario and Candiles) in search of permit in the flats. The permits are often found in the flats in high tide and they are usually spotted together with rays, so William, my guide, poled the boat quietly looking for rays or white stains in the distance (removed sand), assuming there was a cruising ray. We spotted some rays, but none of them was carrying a permit, so we poled away to other flats where I could take my chance and cast several times, but no permit was interested in my fly. I was using a #10 rod with floating line and a brown pattern that looked like a shrimp, tied on a #2 hook.
The flats where we were trying to find permit and bonefish are crossed by deeper channels, where tarpons are sometimes found. So after trying to catch permit for over 3 hours, the guide suggested searching for tarpon. After poling along a couple of channels, we found 2 schools of baby tarpon in some pools close to the channels.
Each school must have had between 15 and 20 baby tarpon weighing no more than 20 pounds. I was using an intermediate line and a black death fly on a #1/0 hook to cast, without catching the tarpons' attention. So William poled the boat until we were in casting range of the second school, which had swum away. When we were 20 meters from the fish, I made a cast placing the fly a couple of meters in front of the school. I waited for the line to sink for some seconds and as soon as I began to retrieve, one of the tarpons left the school and charged at the fly violently. I set the hook and it began to race away and leap out of the water. I managed to land it after some minutes of fight. It was a 15-pound baby tarpon.

Then we found a nice permit in the middle of a channel. It must have weighed over 20 pounds, according to our estimation. I made several casts and it followed it once, but it didn't take it. In the afternoon, we looked for bonefish. We landed many on a Gotcha fly, one of the most effective flies in Cayo Largo. Before going back, we stopped in a channel that was wider and deeper than the first. We spotted a 40-pound tarpon, but he darted away as soon as he saw the boat. I replaced my fly with a bigger one, with rabbit fur and heavy eyes (tarpon toad pattern) and I made some casts to the middle of the channel. After some attempts, I felt a touch, so I made another cast letting the intermediate line sink deeper. When I began the retrieve, I felt another touch and I immediately hooked, but there was nothing. I kept retrieving when I saw a tarpon coming out from the depths, leaping out on the fly and taking it. I set the hook twice and it leaped out about 3 times. Then it continued its fight close to the boat. William took some nice photos of these leaps, until I succeeded in landing it. It was a beautiful 35-pound tarpon.

The third day dawned with brilliant clear skies, with a soft breeze; it was a perfect day! We set off with the same idea as usual, searching for permit first. Mauro, AVALONĀ“s manager, had suggested fishing areas 3, 2 and 1 (Punta del Este) on my last day, so that I could have an idea of the all the fishing areas. We started our search for permit very close to the marina, a bit more than 1 mile from the shore, always with my #10 rod, floating line and the shrimp pattern. We spotted 3 or 4 rays alone in the first hour and a half. We sailed 2 or 3 miles to the East along the same flat until we saw a ray with a couple of permit. When they were within casting distance, I made an unsuccessful cast. I corrected it, and the fly fell close but not right on the ray. They were out of reach by the third cast. We saw another ray with company. In this case, it was a big permit. When William poled the boat within casting range, I made a perfect cast right on top of the ray. When I started to move the fly, I saw the fish and felt the tension on the rod. I set the hook gently, with my rod in a low position and not as strong as when hooking up tarpon. I saw the permit swimming to the right, while the ray remained still and my line was moving to the opposite direction. William gave his verdict: it was a barracuda! After a few seconds, the barracuda cut loose and we said goodbye to the fly. I didn't have the same fly, so I decided to try a pattern by Pablo Calvo, a long-legged shrimp, light-colored body. Although it didn't look nice, I liked it. I was using a 20-pound 10-foot leader. I placed the fly in the leader and kept searching. After some minutes, William told me there was a ray with permit around heading towards us. I saw two permits swimming with the ray, so I made a perfect cast and started to retrieve. One of the permits followed the fly while I waited for the exact moment when it opened its mouth to take it. The permit followed the fly until it got very close to our boat, but it turned back to the ray in the end. I felt quite frustrated, but William insisted on casting on the ray again. I took his advice and made a new cast. When I started to retrieve, I saw the permit leaping out of the water, in the same direction of the line and the leader, so I felt the tension and set the hook! I had caught the fish, which was racing desperately taking line and backing with him! Yes, I had hooked a permit!! I fought for some minutes; when I managed to pull him closer to us, he began a run again. We managed to land it in the end: it weighed 6/7 pounds. An overwhelming feeling of happiness invaded us after so much effort, we took some nice photos and we headed for our Grand Slam.

We got to Punta del Este looking for baby tarpon, and the first thing we saw was a 50-pound tarpon. William poled the boat 15 meters from it, so I made my attempt to place the fly in front of it, but the wind changed its direction. However, the tarpon saw it and approached the boat following the fly. It looked as if he was going to take it any time, but as soon as he saw us, he darted away. The guide asked me if I hadn't felt anything, because the tarpon had had the fly in his mouth, but it managed to release itself. Unbelievable, but true! The shock tippet was chipped! We saw three baby tarpon schools later, but they were quite nervous. I was able to cast the fly right in front of them, but none appeared to be interested. Suddenly one of the baby tarpon took the fly, so I set the hook powerfully. The fish was gone after a leap. As the baby tarpons were quite nervous, we decided to move closer to the mangrove swamps to find other schools, and return later.
Before reaching the mangrove swamps, we spotted some bonefish. I didn't hesitate to change the rod and make sure I caught one to achieve the Grand Slam. After a couple of casts, I caught a bonefish. We took some photos and then approached to the mangrove swamps where we had spotted a big school of over 20 baby tarpon. They were very deep in the vegetation, so my casts didn't reach them at first, but the noise made them move. They started to come out slowly, so I cast again. One of them followed my fly quickly and took it. I set the hook, and after some leaps I succeeded in landing it. It was not big, but it was a 8/9-pound tarpon.

A permit, a bonefish and a baby tarpon, which meant the 6th Grand Slam of my life, the first one in Cuba and the first of the season in Cayo Largo!!!
We kept fishing bonefish, baby tarpon and also tried on snooks, but although we spotted some of them, none of them took my fly.

Cayo Largo proved to be a destination with amazing sights, a unique multicolor sea in the Caribbean, with huge flats full of life, making it extremely interesting for the fishing of bonefish, permit, tarpon, mouton snapper, jack crevalle, snook, and shark, among others. Besides fishing, Cayo Largo offers wonderful white sand beaches for non anglers. The hotel (SOL CLUB MELIA) is highly recommended, providing comfortable rooms, good service, entertainment, delicious food, a SPA with Jacuzzi, sauna, massage, etc. To sum up, it is a great destination to get to know and return!!

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