DE
CAYO SANTA MARIA, CUBA, MAY 2013

If you asked a saltwater fly fisherman what his favourite fish is, you get the same answer very often: The Tarpon! What makes the tarpon so special? On the one hand it is a beautiful fish – with its huge, silver scales, his massive build and his standing upwards mouth, looks almost as if he wasn't a saltwater fish.

In addition, he is an elegant and very fast swimmer. Anyone who has ever hooked a tarpon on fly, will never forget the long, fast quick escapes and the towering, acrobatic jumps. The bites are often very delicate, but often also rough. Often a necessary strong Strip strike ends with burns on ones fingers.

A good strike is important, because the mouth of a tarpon is hard. Also, the right time is crucial for the recovery rate; the fish needs time to turn off, just so the hook can penetrate into the soft corner of the mouth.

It is 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 of the tarpons are in the Caribbean: in Florida, Cuba, Costa Rica, Belize, etc. Prize tarpons you will find on the west coast of Africa in Angola, for example.

JOURNEY & ORGANISATION

I have decided at short notice to make a trip to the Caribbean. In Cuba, I would like to catch my own great tarpon, (secretly I dream of course of a prize tarpon). My flight with Condor from Innsbruck via Frankfurt goes directly to Havana in just under 10 hours.

When I arrive at the airport in Havana, I am greeted by a tour guide and taken to the VIP-lounge. There I meet Rodolfo of Casa Batida (fishing boats, guiding, etc. in Cuba). I have agreed to at the time of booking, that I would stay a night in Havana and very early in the morning fly 50 minute further to Cayo Santa Maria.

From 9:00 a.m. on my first day I should be fishing. At the airport, Rodolfo tells me, that there are problems with the availability of guides on Saturday, and unfortunately, I can only begin fishing on Sunday. I am totally pissed off and disappointed. Phone calls and e-mail with the trip organiser “Where wise men fish” also doesn’t help. There they blame the people on site. // Later I notice, that all the guides were out on Saturday. The Cubans have sold my booking on Saturday to two Englishman, which extended from the previous week.

But I will not let it spoil my Cuban experience. It is already midnight, by the time I get to the hotel in Havana – I did not see much. I am dog tired and fall into the bed. The next day on the way from the hotel to the airport, I am able to take a few photos from the car. – It is just how you would imagine Cuba: some decades back.

Few countries cause so many pictures in my head like Cuba. Havana is not uniform like many other large cities due to its location and the particular political situation. // The cityscape is fascinatingly beautiful, and at the same time, one wonders how there can be a controlled life here. So much has been broken, destroyed, collapsed. Other things are colourful, bright, and beautiful.

An aficionado like me realises this, but in my heart all I want to see is the water where the Tarpons are waiting for us … (Picture: http://www.millionenstaedte.de/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/havanna-c-baltrusch.jpg)

THE 1st FISHING DAY – WITHOUT FISHING

So I have to spend the Saturday in the hotel resort without fishing – and this has a good side: I meet a Berlin couple that are here for Tarpon fishing and I become friends with Petra and Volker Ney. The two are very nice, and we spend the time before and after fishing in funny company.

THE FISHING WEEK BEGINS

In total, there are six anglers in Cayo Santa Maria this week: Petra, Volker, I and three Russian anglers. // We drive about 15 minutes from the hotel to the Marina every day at 7:00 a.m. There, we meet the guides, who are ready to start the boat. My guide is called Manuel, he is a little older and speaks not a word of English. I unveil my Italian and Spanish knowledge, and it works somehow!

According to our guides, it makes little sense to fish in the flats, because, at the moment, there are hardly any fish. The fish are in deeper water outside in the canals. This means that we do not fish from sight but suspicion in the 3-10 metres deep water.

The preferred unit for this is a Helios 2, line class 12 with a Lamson Vanquish with sink line. It is a real challenge for the wrist and shoulder to throw long casts all day with a 12. // Occasionally, when we fish in three to four metres deep and the fish jump and roll, I start using the 10-loop with intermediate. Then it feels to me that I am holding nothing in my hand because the size 10 feels so lightweight.

When we go out on the first morning, we see tarpons jumping. This gives me a motivation kick! Unfortunately, there are quite high winds and waves. But luck is on my side: After 20 minutes I have a bite and hook successfully my first tarpon with 50-60 pounds! Now I also know what it’s like to play a tarpon.

The first 10-15 minutes will be crucial. The tarpon jumps up to two metres out of the water and often several times in a row! My play lasts 30 minutes. Unfortunately, there is no photo, because the guide lifts the fish out of the water and the hook releases. Never mind, what counts is the fish; I have no photo, but I have the film, and I'll catch more…

The first two days, I catch two tarpons with up to 35 pounds and lose another three fish. I am totally satisfied with the result. Initially, it is not good for Volker and Petra. On the second day, they have three bites, but cannot land a fish. Vadill and his two friends, our Russian fishing colleagues, have no bite.

MY SLUMP – PETRA'S AND VOLKER'S HOUR!

Full of self-confidence and optimism I am looking forward to the next fishing days. But with fishing, it’s sometimes like a roller coaster: there are three full days without tarpon! I have a really bad run, it doesn’t want to happen.

Two days I have only a red snapper and a Ladyfish, but not a single tarpon bite. One of the Russians catches a 100 pound plus tarpon, the other two go home empty-handed.Petra and Volker are the stars these days. Volker has several bites every day and also brings four tarpons into the boat. Petra catches on this day her first tarpon and can be rightly be proud.

On the fourth fishing day in the last fishing hour, I am next to Petra and Volker and see how Volker plays a tarpon. After half an hour of play, I am catching up to film him. It goes on and on, altogether one hour and 5 minutes of play until Volker is totally exhausted when he gets his 100 pounds plus-tarpon giant in the boot, I film it. This evening Volker and Petra are glowing and are rightly proud.

FISHING DAY 6: HELMUT’S DAY!

In the morning, I catch a red snapper, a ladyfish and a tarpon with 40 pounds with the fly which Volker has given me the day before. // We switch to the channel before the bridge and fish in about seven or eight metres depth. The water is very clear, and we see some huge tarpons roll, including two real giants, which pass under the boat. The motivation is high and the mood very promising.

First, we are still anchored due to the wind, and as it calms down, Manuel hoists the anchor. I see a few fish flashing in the deep water, so I cast there, let the fly sink and start to strip.

Shortly before the boat, I see several fish around my fly. There is a hard bite. But I know now that there are no tarpons, because I saw the fish. Then I catch a great Jack Crevalle on Volker’s fly. It has proven itself as a lucky charm, but it is finished finally, and I am forced to change to a bunny black purple.

Again, tarpons pass through under the boat. It is the first day with clear water, also the day of full moon. I have three, four throws after the Jack Crevalle then a brutal bite. I set a hard line strike and burn my fingers through the finger shield.

A few seconds after the tarpon comes up, Manuel calls: “Giant tarpon!” My heart almost stops when I see only a few feet away from the boat the fish in full size jump from the water. First, I'm nervous and afraid to lose the fish, because I really want to land him.

Petra and Volker are nearby, watch and already know certainly that I have a giant on. The fish jumps seven, eight times, then he becomes quieter and I am hopeful and certain. I play him 55 minutes with my 12 series and then I land my first giant tarpon!

ALL IMAGES FROM THIS TRIP