Cuban Fishing Curiosities and Other Adventures
Cuba has always been known not only for its authentic culture and impressive nature, but also as a country that attracts anglers from all over the world. Who hasn’t read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and dreamed for at least a short while of floating in a boat somewhere near Havana, waiting for the fish of a lifetime to bite? However, it wasn’t sea fishing that brought us here, but rather the desire to battle it out with a real bass for the first time ever. I’ve fished in many countries and caught a lot of different fish, but until then I had only read about bass fishing. When I was looking for the most suitable fishing spot, I had a wide range of countries and areas to choose from, but it was exotic Cuba that enticed me the most.
The first time we went to Cuba to fish bass was in January 2018, basically not knowing much about the country itself, how to catch bass or properly prepare for a fishing trip like that. It was an impulse trip that was both alluring and frightening. In spite of this, the trip went pretty well: nothing terrible happened, we met a lot of interesting locals, explored a truly exotic country, and caught a lot of fish which was really nice considering that we were fishing for what we weren’t used to. So when I was getting ready for my second trip, I felt a lot calmer and more confident. I was expecting that this time, the fishing would probably be not just good, but fit for a king.
The key thing that we took back from our first visit to Cuba is that you are basically blind if you don’t have a fish finder. You can’t see the depth, you don’t know what the bottom structure is, and most importantly – you have no idea if there are any fish under the boat. The only source of information you could rely on, whether you liked it or not, was the guide – someone from the local village who spoke Spanish and explained that, for example, the water depth was 10 metres (33 feet) and there were a lot of fish. However, no one knew how reliable this information was. After all, the guides have never laid eyes on a fish finder, so they could only guess what was under the water based on their own experience.
When we were getting ready for the trip to Cuba and fishing there, our first thought was to buy a cheap fish finder that we could just leave with the locals after we were done using it. However, this didn’t turn out to be the best idea, since nowadays you’re not allowed to take any kind of battery on a plane for safety reasons. After some deliberations, we quickly found a solution. We borrowed a couple of Deeper fish finders – the device that weighs just 100 grams (3.5 oz) and is easy to operate without any additional technology, and which also doesn’t take up a lot of space. Most importantly, nobody would have any problems with them at the airport, and you can recharge them pretty fast, even while fishing.
Another big advantage is that with the Deeper sonar, not only can you see the bottom and where the fish are, but you can also create a bathymetric map of your location where you can mark the most promising fishing spots and save them for later. So on the trips like ours, the Deeper sonar is really a great help for fishermen.
As soon as we got there, we expected the water level to be low, but it was the exact opposite – based on the marks on the palm trees, the water level was about six metres higher than usual, so the roads were flooded. We couldn’t even take a taxi to the hotel – the only way to get there was by a special ferry.
We set out for our carefully planned fishing trip on the very first day and began fishing from the shore using soft baits – grubs and worms. Since I had the most experience fishing, I undertook teaching my wife how to pull the bait the right way, but I quickly had to quit my profession as a teacher because my wife caught five bass fishing “the wrong way”, while I had only caught one.
The first bass weren’t very large – most of them weighed from 700 g to 1 kg (1.5 to 2.2 lbs) , but there was definitely no shortage of fun moments, especially for the newcomers. So theories remain theories, and fishing is fishing. Everything here is very dynamic and hard to predict.
On the next day of the trip, we set out to look for new spots with our trusty fishing assistants, the Deeper sonars. They showed the biggest concentrations of fish were at a depth of 8–10 metres (26-33 feet). So we came to the conclusion that there was a bass cluster deep down and we had to hunt for them in deeper areas. We started fishing deeper with larger diving lures. At first I tried using Rattlin’ lures, and then tested out different deep diving lures. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any results until we tried out the biggest lures we had – Lucky Craft D20 crankbaits, which had a depth of 7–8 metres (23-26 feet). Then we kept catching bigger and bigger bass, weighing 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) or more.
We fished this way for the remainder of the trip. The fish finders also constantly showed clusters of small fish which, most likely, were tilapia. They were probably the main prey for the carnivorous bass and the reason why they were swimming there to hunt. In case you were wondering, we got to the shore really early in the morning, at dawn. We noticed that larger fish later retreated to deeper areas.
Thanks to the very valuable bathymetric data that we were able to gather using the fish finders, we followed the areas where fry and the larger bass hunting them grouped together and started catching them systematically. We were pleased that our catches were about 1.5–2.2 kg (3.3-4.8 lbs), with one or two larger ones as well. As tradition has it, an unannounced but very competitive contest developed among the team members: who would catch the biggest bass. Our colleague Edmundas was in the lead for a long time with the bass that weighed more than three kilograms, but ultimately, my wife Daiva – as it’s fit for a newbie – left everyone in the dust when she caught a 3.8 kg (8.4 lbs) bass.
Fortunately, the guides were really nice and friendly people who were genuinely pleased with our successful fishing. After returning to the village, they would tell everyone about our fishing experiences – how we did catching the big fish and what magical devices and strange baits we used. So it’s no wonder that after some great fishing, next time we’d find more and more locals in the good fishing spots we had found, sitting on the tractor inner tubes and holding thick fishing lines.
They were happy to see us, greeting us emotionally and paddling in to shake hands. They were particularly interested in our Deeper fish finders, which the guides had apparently told them about. Everyone wanted to see if there really was a device that showed where the fish were and what was underwater in general. I gave them a sonar tied to the boat with a string and a phone, and soon after that I could hear shouts of amazement, apparently indicating how many fish are underwater or something like that. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since there were a lot of things people living there haven’t seen before. Of course, this kind of attention eventually got old, but you couldn’t be mad when you looked into the eyes of the local fishermen, so full of sincerity. Those people were curious and found a lot of things interesting, so we became friends.
The guides would ask us to give them the fish we caught and we did – they would share them with the entire village, and we would get bananas and rum in exchange. With the “catch and release” principle that we were used to, you would definitely risk falling out of favor with the locals. People, who had hard time subsisting on what nature gives, couldn’t understand things like that. In return for this generosity, we received an invitation to taste a real Cuban lunch – one that was not for tourists. We were invited to try what the locals actually eat.
Tasting some fish dishes was where we started our journey through Cuban cuisine. To tell you the truth, the baked bass was pretty dry and reminded me of chips. The next fish dish was a very tender tilapia steak. Mmmm, that was so good... We then had a chance to taste Cuban fish soup with noodles and it turned out to be delicious. Of course, to accompany this, we also got Cuban “bread” – a dried banana, with peel and all. Cubans eat them with everything – soup, beer, coffee or on their own.
Of course, we couldn’t get away from trying the traditional Cuban dish of black beans over brown rice. Beans are probably the most popular Cuban food staple, which they eat either alone or as a side dish served with meat or fish. And our feast was crowned with some fresh red juice that they always press themselves, right before the meal. I couldn’t even distinguish all the different fruits as there were so many types that it was physically impossible to taste them all.
Still, the goal of the trip was fishing. We would start around 6 am, while it was still dark outside. Before we began, our guide would always show the cross sign before starting the engine. Probably so that it would be a success, since you really couldn’t expect any dangers there. They didn’t seem to have any crocodiles, just like they didn’t have piranhas or poisonous snakes. All they had were these boas that the locals called “macha” – they could be up to three metres long, but, apparently, they are not dangerous to humans. We would fish until lunch, and then we’d go back to the hotel to eat and put our feet up for a few hours while we waited for the hottest hours to pass. At 3 or 4 pm, we’d move back to the dam, where we’d fish until dusk.
Still, the most enjoyable fishing was in the mornings. You’d get in the boat and a pleasant warm breeze would come from somewhere in the jungle. Torches gleamed here and there in the water where the local fishermen have already taken their places. At least to us, it looked like their fishing technique required a lot of skill. Basically, they cast four really thick lines with hooks and baits, with the unused parts rolled up. They attached one line to a pole, stuck another one behind their ear, and held the other two in their hands.
Of course, probably due to the better baits and the Deeper sonars, our catches were always more impressive and soon we earned unanimous respect. At the hotel, where mostly Mexicans, Brazilians and other American people were staying, we got some smirks at first, but two or three days later we managed to gather a little fan club that would wait for us to come back each time to see what we caught.
Ten days spent in Cuba just flew by. It is a very exotic country. Both in terms of its scenery and the contrasts regarding the way people live. Let’s not forget a reason why Cuba made it to the top five best bass fishing spots. If you’re crazy about bass, you’ll have your hands full here. I’m planning on going back to Cuba in late February when the best time for fishing begins – the spawning period. They say that’s when the biggest bass bite.
Rimas Ramonas, Fishing Guide, Europe