Meet more Tarpons

Cayo Santa Maria | Cuba

The facorite
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If you ask a saltwater fly fisherman about his favorite fish, you very often get the same answer: the TARPON! What makes the tarpon so special? For one thing, it's a beautiful fish - with its huge, silvery scales, massive build and upturned mouth, it almost looks like it's not a saltwater fish at all.

It is also an elegant and very fast swimmer. Anyone who has ever hooked a tarpon on the fly will never forget the long, rapid escapes and the meter-high, acrobatic jumps. The bites often come quite delicately, but often brute. A necessary strong stripstrike often ends with burns on the fingers. // A good strike is important, because the mouth of a tarpon is hard. The right timing is also decisive for the exploitation rate: the fish needs time to turn off; only then can the hook penetrate the softer corner of the mouth.

It's absolute madness: fish up to 40 pounds are called "baby tarpon." From 100 pounds one speaks of a "Giant Tarpon" or in Spanish a "sabalo gigante"! Most tarpon are found in the Caribbean: in Florida, Cuba, Costa Rica, Belize, etc.. Giant tarpon can also be found on the west coast of Africa, for example in Angola.

Cayo Santa Maria | Cuba
13. - 22. May 2013


I decided to take a last-minute trip to the Caribbean. In Cuba, I want to catch my personal super tarpon (secretly, of course, dreaming of a trophy tarpon).

My flight departs from Innsbruck via Frankfurt with Condor directly to Havana and lasts just under 10 hours.

Upon arriving at Havana Airport, I will be greeted by a tour guide and escorted to the VIP lounge. There, I will meet Rodolfo from Casa Batida (fishing boats, guiding, etc. in Cuba). I arranged during the booking to stay one night in Havana, and very early in the morning, I will take a 50-minute flight to Cayo Santa Maria.

First day - Sightseeing

There, I was supposed to start fishing on the first day at 9 AM. However, at the airport, Rodolfo tells me that there are issues with the availability of guides on Saturday, and unfortunately, I can only begin fishing on Sunday. I am extremely frustrated and disappointed. Calling and emailing the travel organizer "Where wise men fish" doesn't help either. They blame the locals for the problem. Later, I find out that all the guides were out on Saturday. My booking for Saturday was sold to two Englishmen who extended their stay from the previous week. But I won't let this ruin my Cuba experience. It's already midnight when I'm taken to a hotel in Havana, so I don't see much. I'm dog-tired and fall into bed.

The next day, on the way from the hotel to the airport, I manage to take a few photos from the car. It's exactly as you imagine Cuba: like it's been transported back several decades. Few countries evoke as many images in your mind as Cuba. Due to its location and unique political situation, Havana hasn't succumbed to the homogeneity of many other big cities.

The cityscape is fascinatingly beautiful, yet you wonder how there can be a structured life here. Much is broken, shattered, and fallen apart. Other things are vibrant, colorful, and beautiful. An aficionado like me notices all of this, but in my heart, I just want to be by the water and finally see where the tarpons are waiting for us...

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    Streets of Cuba
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    On the road
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    At our Hotel
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    Free Time

Let's start the fishing week

The 1st Day of Fishing - Without Fishing

So, I had to spend Saturday at the hotel resort without fishing – and that has a silver lining too: I meet a Berliner couple here for tarpon fishing, and I befriend Petra and Volker Ney. The two of them are very likable, and we spend the time before and after fishing in a fun group.

The Fishing Week

In total, there are six anglers in Cayo Santa Maria this week: Petra, Volker, myself, and three Russian anglers. We depart for the marina every day at 7 AM, about a 15-minute drive from the hotel. There, we meet the guides who have the boat ready to go. My guide's name is Manuel; he's a bit older and doesn't speak a word of English. I unleash my knowledge of Italian and Spanish, mix them up, and somehow, it works!

According to our guides, it doesn't make much sense to fish in the flats because there are hardly any fish there at the moment. The fish are out in the deeper waters in the channels. This means we're not sight fishing; we're fishing on a hunch in waters that are 3-10 meters deep.

The preferred gear for this is a Helios 2 in a line class 12 with a Lamson Vanquish with a sinking line. Casting long with a 12-weight all day is a real challenge for the wrist and shoulder! At times, when we're fishing in three to four meters of water and the fish are jumping and rolling, I switch to a 10-weight with an intermediate line. Then, it feels like I have nothing in my hand for a brief moment; the 10-weight suddenly feels so light.

As we head out on the first morning, we already see tarpons jumping. That gives me a motivational boost! Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of wind and waves. But luck is on my side: after 20 minutes, I get the first bite and successfully hook my first tarpon, weighing 50-60 pounds! Now I know what it means to fight a tarpon.

The first 10-15 minutes are crucial. The tarpon sometimes leaps up to two meters out of the water – and often multiple times in a row! My fight lasts for 30 minutes. Unfortunately, there's no photo because the guide releases the fish during the hand landing, and the hook comes loose. Doesn't matter, I think to myself; the fish counts; I may not have a photo, but I have the memory, and I'll catch more...

In the first two days, I catch two more tarpons, up to 35 pounds, and lose three more fish. I can be totally satisfied with the results. Volker and Petra don't have such luck initially. They get three bites on the second day but can't land any fish. Vadill and his two acquaintances, our Russian angler colleagues, don't get any bites.



My doldrums

Full of self-confidence and optimism, I look forward to the next days of fishing. But fishing can be like a roller coaster sometimes: there are a solid three days without a tarpon! I'm on a real streak of bad luck; it just doesn't seem to happen.

For two days, I catch only snappers and a ladyfish, but not a single tarpon bite. One of the Russians lands a 100-pound plus tarpon, while the other two come up empty-handed. Petra and Volker are the stars of these days. Volker gets multiple bites every day and brings four tarpons on board. Petra also catches her first tarpon on one of these days and can be rightfully proud.

On the fourth day of fishing, during the last hour of the fishing session, I fish alongside Petra and Volker. I see Volker battling a massive tarpon. After half an hour of struggle, I go over to them to film. It takes and takes, a total of one hour and 5 minutes (!) of fighting until Volker, completely exhausted, has his 100-pound plus tarpon "Gigante" in the boat, and I capture it on film. That evening, Volker and Petra are beaming with pride, and rightly so.

My Lucky Day

Am Morgen fange ich einen Schnapper, einen Ladyfisch und einen Tarpon mit 40 Pfund mit der Fliege, die mir Tags zuvor Volker geschenkt hat. // Wir wechseln zum Kanal vor der Brücke und fischen in etwa sieben bis acht Meter Tiefe. Das Wasser ist sehr klar, und wir sehen einige große Tarpons rollen, darunter zwei echte Riesen, die unter dem Boot vorbeiziehen. Die Motivation ist hoch und die Stimmung vielversprechend.

Zuerst sind wir noch wegen des Windes verankert, als er nachlässt, löst Manuel den Anker. Ich sehe ein paar Fische im tieferen Wasser blitzen und jagen, werfe dorthin, lasse die Fliege absinken und beginne zu strippen. Kurz vor dem Boot sehe ich dann wieder mehrere Fische um meine Fliege herum. Es erfolgt ein harter Biss. Ich weiß aber sofort, dass es keine Tarpons sind, weil ich die Fische gesehen habe. Ich fange dann einen super Jack Crevalle auf Volkers Fliege. Sie hat sich als Glücksbringer bewährt, jetzt ist sie aber endgültig erledigt, und ich muss gezwungener Maßen auf eine Bunny Black purple wechseln.

Wieder ziehen Tarpons unter dem Boot durch. Es ist der erste Tag mit klarem Wasser, gleichzeitig Vollmondtag. Drei, vier Würfe nach dem Jack Crevalle habe ich dann einen brutalen Biss. Ich kann einen harten Schnur-Anschlag setzen und verbrenne mir dabei die Finger durch den Fingerschutz hindurch.

Einige Sekunden danach kommt der Tarpon hoch, Manuel ruft: „Tarpon gigante!“. Mir bleibt das Herz fast stehen, als ich den Fisch in voller Größe nur ein paar Meter vom Boot entfernt aus dem Wasser springen sehe. Zuerst bin ich nervös und habe Angst den Fisch zu verlieren, weil ich ihn unbedingt landen will.

Petra und Volker sind in der Nähe, sehen zu und wissen sicher auch schon, dass ich einen Riesen dran habe. Der Fisch springt sieben, acht Mal, dann wird er ruhiger und ich hoffnungsvoller und sicherer. Ich drille 55 Minuten mit meiner 12er und kann dann meinen ersten Tarpon Gigante landen!


All images
of the trip