A briefing with Avalon’s head guide laid the groundwork for our next 6 days. He explained the range of water that we’d be fishing, approximately 100 miles of flats, lagoons and channels between Cayo Largo and Isla de Juventud. There would be 5 skiffs shared by 10 anglers. Each morning a chart on the aft deck paired guides with anglers. This trip was fly fishing only, there was no spinning gear available, we all knew that coming in, it was expected.
The guide went on to explain that, because of complications due to Covid, a few of the extra guides that had been scheduled were in quarantine, no singles would be available. This came as a surprise and concern for Mike Nelson, John Olch (the author of a book called A Passion for Permit published by Wild River Press) and Mike Ward (a dedicated Permit angler and the entrepreneur behind Adipose Boatworks). After years of guiding on Montana’s Missouri River, Ward designed a drift boat that draws less water and provides anglers with a broader platform to cast from, he’s a lifelong angler and competitive Permit fisherman.
Each of these men had traveled from the inter mountain west to dedicate their week to targeting Permit. After the meeting Nelson explained that the cost of travel and joining the expedition exceed any value that might come from sharing a skiff and guide. Each of those 3 anglers had come to hone their advanced Permit angling skills and every Permit sited was an opportunity that was not to be missed while another angler stood on the deck, or because they might be distracted by a bonefish hook up. News of absent guides came as a disappointment but no one allowed it to dampen morale. While they were only interested in Permit the rest of the crew was happy to target tarpon, bonefish, jack craval, snook and snappers, the lead guide touched on those fish and their habitat as well.
As the meeting ended and we stepped out of the main salon we learned our skiff assignments by checking the board posting each team for the day with a guide. Simbo and I were listed with Osyani, a local from Zapata with 10 years guiding experience on Cuban saltwater flats.
Loading the skiffs was a group effort as several members of the Avalon team moved rods from racks on the aft deck. Fly boxes and gear bags were passed down to the guides, and finally anglers boarded the 15 foot Dolphin skiffs and slowly, carefully drifted off the stern of the mothership.
On the water we became acquainted with the skiff, storage for 3 rods on each side. Simbo set his 8, 10, and 11 weight rods on the right and my 8 and 10 weight rods were stored on the left. In the channel, a few hundred yards from the ship, Osyani proceeded to accelerate and cut the wheel hard left. We quickly made a full circle on the bright blue water and he brought the boat up onto a plane. In a short time, about ¼ of a mile away he pulled into shore on a point with a small hut and a few picnic tables in a spot I came to think of as the Taco Stand.
It all happened very quickly. Within seconds Simbo was on the deck of the Dolphin, 11 weight rod in hand rigged with a purple tarpon fly. Dark shapes were darting in and out of the emerald green channel over the white sand in 3 feet of water, the tarpon teased us as Osyani instructed his angler to cast, strip and cast again. After 15 minutes with no hook ups, the tarpon had descended back into the channel.
We moved on, running across several miles of Caribbean blue water to a mangrove lined channel to the south. It was the first of several areas that we fished, targeting baby tarpon as they danced in and out of the dark water beneath mangrove leaves. Simbo was on the deck, casting 15 to 50 feet off the bow. His rod rigged with a 60 pound tippet (a fly line leader rated to handle 60lb fish) in anticipation of a tarpon on the purple fly at the end of his line; it didn’t happen on day one.
After a few hours, our guide took us on a slow crawl through rough, thin channels literally pulling the boat hand over hand through a mangrove jungle. When we emerged into a shallow lagoon on the other side, about 50 acres in all and no more than 5 feet deep we quickly sited bonefish tailing in groups of 10 to 20 fish. Sharp, thin fins and tails caught the light making them easy to spot 500 feet away. Osyani slowly positioned the skiff, polling us quietly into position. Simbo, hooked up first on his 8 weight with a dark colored shrimp pattern. In all we landed 3 bonefish on day one, 2 for Chris and one for me.
Towards the end of our first trip with Osyani I hooked and landed a snapper while casting to a tarpon on the edge of a mangrove, it was a strong fish that came out fighting and quickly dove into the weeds near the boat.
Once again we had a long run back to the boat, which we found was in a new channel. The mothership had traveled about 20 miles while we were fishing in an effort to provide access to new fishing grounds the following day. Avalon is committed to both the fisherman and the environment ensuring that no fish in the region get too much pressure from guided boats. What’s amazing is that there were no other boats, save a few shrimp boats in the area. We were the only people fishing from skiffs in the region.