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Articles: Grand Slam en Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

by: Daniel Beilinson

On July 1st we left La Tortuga at 8 am as every day. It was a sunny hot day with some clouds and a soft breeze. The previous days had been windy and cloudier, and our two attempts to fish permit had been unsuccessful. We could spot only a few permit and none of them seemed interested in our flies. Our guide, best known as "Chinito", suggested fishing permit first because the tide was going out and going after tarpon next. My fishing partner Carlos Cristini and I agreed on that.

We got to the fishing area, known as La Saura, at about 8.30 in the morning. I asked Carlos to start. We had agreed to take 20-minute turns, and the one who caught a fish would stop fishing and the other one would take over. The sea was a bit rough. The bottom, sandy in certain areas and turtle grass in others, showed some suspended material. Chinito began poling the boat gently with the push pole, in search of any shadow that could look like a permit. No permit went by our boat during Carlos' turn, so Chinito decided to move to another area. We reached El Flaire, and now it was my turn to stand on the bow. Chinito poled the boat and after a few minutes he pointed towards a permit which was 70 or 80 yards away. It was quite difficult to see it, but once I saw it, it was 40 or 50 yards from the boat, heading towards us. It might have been eating, so it kept the same direction. I got ready to cast with my 10 Wt rod and floating line. I had chosen a fly imitating a white crab created by Pablo Calvo, tied on hook #4. I had already made some changes to the original design. That fly had proved to be very successful in Cayo Largo in February, where I was able to achieve a Grand Slam too. The permit was about 30 yards away when I made my first cast. The fly fell 6 or 7 yards from the permit, and I let it sink and then started moving it slowly, with short and irregular strips. The permit did not notice the fly, so I pulled up as quickly and gently as possible and tossed 20 or 22 yards, 5 to 6 yards in front of the permit. I let the fly sink again and when the permit was where the fly was supposed to be, I started to move it. A couple of strips were enough to make the permit turn around and dart towards the fly. I stopped the strip for some seconds and began to move the fly again, until I felt a light tension on the line. When I retrieved, the permit had swallowed my fly! Immediately, a fast run made my reel sound. I thought to myself what an amazing sound that was. The permit raced 150 yards away and stopped. "The battle begins", I thought. It was 8.59 am, according to Chinito's watch. The tension of the reel was all right, the 22-pound leader was OK, the loops were the appropriate ones (perfection loop), the joint between the backing and the line was an Albright loop. Even though everything was perfect, I always have my doubts. The permit resisted for quite a long time with the backing out of the reel. I was able to bring it closer to the boat several times, but it reacted and raced away again. After 35 minutes, I succeeded in bringing it next to the boat, totally beaten. Chinito grabbed it by its tail and we all celebrated!! It was the biggest permit I had fished so far, my permit number 27. According to Chinito, it weighed between 25 and 30 pounds.

We approached the beach; I got off the boat with the permit and took some photos. Then we released it. We had already caught the hardest piece to achieve a Grand Slam, so Chinito promised not to go back to La Tortuga until we fished a bonefish and a tarpon.
It was Carlos's turn then, so we set off to look for the baby tarpon. Then it was my turn, and so we got to the Boca Grande Lagoon. Carlos was standing at the bow and had the chance of casting to some baby tarpon. When it was my turn at 12 at midday, we were still looking for baby tarpon. Chinito pointed at a small group of bonefish which were about 40 yards away. I made a quick change of rod, while Carlos helped me retrieving the tarpon line. Chinito approached 20 or 25 yards and I made a cast that fell right among the bonefish. I had chosen a Gotcha fly tied on hook #6. I made a couple of strips and one of the bonefish took the fly. It began to race away, and got into the mangrove roots, which was what we had feared. Despite my effort with the rod and the line to avoid that, the fly got loose (luckily, because I could have cut the line). Chinito spotted another school of bonefish in the same place where I hooked the first one. So I got ready, checked the leader and the fly, and I cast my fly. As soon as it hit the water, one of the bonefish took it quickly and raced away. I was luckier this time, and I managed to land the bonefish after a few minutes. It was already 12.25 hrs. I just needed the tarpon.

We crossed Boca Grande channel, had lunch, and continued searching for tarpon. Carlos was fishing in the area of the green, as it is called in La Tortuga. He hooked and landed a 100-pound tarpon!! We all celebrated the achievement, and following Chinito's advice we headed to Cayo Breton.
We saw some tarpon rolling in the lagoons of Cayo Breton, but we were not able to hook any. It was almost 3 in the afternoon when Chinito decided to go to the channel. We found tarpon rolling there, so we assumed it was good omen. It was my turn. I had my rod #10 Wt rod ready with an intermediate line, 40-pound test leader and fluorocarbon 80-pound shock tippet. The fly was a toad tarpon, weighted, red and black tied on hook TIEMCO 600SP size # 1/0. Chinito anchored the boat. The Cayo Breton channel is wide and deep, so when the tide goes out and in it looks like a river due to the current. The tarpon were rolling out of reach. All of a sudden, Chinito told me to make a cast parallel to the channel, close to the mangroves. I made a 20-yard cast and waited for the line to get deeper. I began stripping and then I saw a flash and felt a strong hook. I struck hard without giving it a second thought and a 50 to 60-pound tarpon leaped up and unhooked!! Chinito told me to cast to the same place again. As soon as the fly fell into the water, another tarpon took it violently. I hooked many times, it jumped out and began a race taking line and backing until it jumped again. I was waiting for that jump, so I kept my rod low and the tarpon could not escape. It was 3.20 pm. The tarpon headed to the shore and almost got aground in the vegetation. It jumped several times and got close to the boat. I kept the pressure and forced him moving the rod from one side to the other. After 20 minutes of battle, I succeeded. Chinito lifted it into the boat skillfully. The tarpon weighed about 60 pounds; we had achieved the Grand Slam!!

We took the corresponding pictures and released the tarpon.
It was 3.50 pm, and the 7th Grand Slam of my life.

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