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Cayo Romano - Cuba by David Profumo

Cayo Romano - Cuba by David Profumo
Posted in: Saltwater Fishing

When, some years ago, I published a novel called The Weather In Iceland (complete with an Act of God in the first paragraph), I never dreamed it might imperil my fishing. This spring an expedition to Cuba was cancelled because of that flaming volcano, but in the end there were silver linings to the ash cloud.

Call me a Sugarcane Romantic, but I have a soft spot for Cuba. This trip – finally rescheduled for June – was my seventh, and our party was due to visit Cayo Romano, an almost unfished area of four hundred square miles off the north coast, far from the fleshpots of Havana. The only volcanoes here are the blowholes left in the sand by feeding bonefish.

On the saltwater flats you nearly always catch something. Species like snappers and ‘cuda often oblige, even if the Holy Trinity won’t co-operate. Of these, the sleek boney is most popular, tarpon the most awesome (being a giant herring on disco biscuits) but the cussedness prize goes to the Atlantic permit – a fish so unpredictable it makes your salmon look like low-hanging fruit. In twenty years I have landed just six. At times it seems like a unicorn hunt. Cuba Trip

Chief of the pompano clan, Trachinotus falcatus is a dome-headed, chrome bright jack with extraordinary eyesight and a perpetual sneer. So spooky that he will flee at the slightest scrunch of a push-pole, Mr. P. is a cult flyrodder’s quarry. He appears to have been forged out of moonlight. As he zigzags in search of sand crabs amongst the coral heads and stone gardens, you may detect his deep gleam in the tide, or glimpse that distinctive Y-shape of the sickle tail arrowing through the water. He is so elusive I have given him the street name ‘Platinum Jack’.

Though the first was taken on fly in 1951, until recently no plausible crustacean pattern was developed. Permit often rush at your offering, then shy away. American swami Stu Apte cast to five thousand before getting a hook-up, and guru Al McLane reckoned they were as inscrutable as Buddhist monks (I’m told Mr. P listens to Leonard Cohen).

These days, elaborate artificial crabs fashioned from epoxy and silicone have upped the angler’s chances – the Merkin fly is named after a female genital toupee – but though there are permit veterans, there are few experts. Novelist Tom McGuane described this rareified sport as ‘like trying to bait a tiger with watermelons.’

Every permit is a trophy. You need pinpoint casting, delicate delivery, and luck. My largest (back in 2000) weighed twenty-five pounds, and a carving of it hangs on my tackle-room wall. I even went on to qualify for the Grand Slam Club, but still, whenever I cast at Mr. P. I am expecting rejection.

At Cayo Romano, there were more permit than I have seen anywhere. On Day One, in the very first channel we tried, I missed one by bungling the strike, and it exploded towards the horizon. ‘Day-vee, calm-a,’ advised my guide Eduardo. I was more pumped up than a prizefighter. 

Next we saw a pod of six tailing by some mangroves, and I went wading for them. I plipped my saltwater fly at the leader, saw him tilt up, but failed to set the steel. Next cast, with the flyline join retrieved almost inside my tip ring, I came tight successfully, and the fight was on. Platinum Jack has a mouth as tough as a Vuitton handbag. Once hooked, he opens the after-burners and scoots for the ocean, testing your light tackle against the coral en route.

Often you have to follow in the skiff, but with this specimen I was lucky and after ten minutes Eduardo was safely cradling a fish of about twelve pounds. Another squadron soon came past, and I nailed a smaller one on my Mantis Shrimp. Four permit ‘eats’ before luncheon – elsewhere, you might hope for that number in an entire week. Largely thanks to the expert help of our team leader, Max Sardi of Farlow’s, almost everyone landed a permit.

My boat partner Ray caught his first ever, and kissed it before release. Remarkably, Huw hurled a huge 2/0 streamer off his twelve-weight fly rod at what he believed was a distant tarpon, triggered a strike, and only then realised it was a good permit. So much for stealth and delicacy: he took it on hundred-pound breaking strain tippet, a feat I doubt anyone could repeat in a lifetime’s trying. Maybe next year we should try a handline!

2011-04-08 10:59:00
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