Cigars, Rum, and Untamed Waters -

Fly Fishing Jardines de la reina, cuba

Author: Kristian Cole & Lawson Fish

Photography By: Lawson Fish


Cuba. A country that most Americans wouldn’t even consider traveling to, let alone to go fly fishing. 

Kristian and I arrived at DFW Airport early Friday morning and awaited the arrival of half our group to fly to Miami. Once we made it to Miami, we met up with the other half of the group, where introductions were made and the anticipation of finally reaching “Gardens of the Queen”, grew. After a short one hour flight into Havana, and a surprisingly swift immigration process, we were greeted by Alex, our representative from Avalon. Alex assisted us in arranging and negotiating a few taxis to deliver us to our hotel in Downtown “Old” Havana. We settled in for 2 nights of exploring the town, the food, and the culture.

Two Nights in Havana

During our two day layover in Havana, we walked around downtown, taking in the amazing architecture, popping into different bars and restaurants, listening to live music and even took a classic car tour of the city. It was mind-blowing to see the stark contrast between the government owned buildings, which are usually well maintained, lavish, and… empty. The government owns 51% of everything you see, do, touch and smell. This makes it extremely difficult for the Cuban people to succeed financially, own business that thrive, etc. Among all of the government oversight and control, the people of Cuba are insanely kind, helpful, intelligent and grateful for the presence of Americans in their country. Locals constantly helped us find things to do, and even helped arrange our almost full day classic car tour. The tour included 4, 1950-1956 Chevy convertibles, a stop at the National Cigar Factory and amazing lunch on top of  Morro Castle, a fort that was built in 1589 to help protect Cuba from buccaneers and pirates. After an early bedtime, we woke up to the smell of black coffee and stale toast, loaded our bags in a van and made a short walk to the main square downtown to catch our bus to Jucaro Port. The drive to Jucaro from Havana was about 7 hours (8 hours if you get stuck behind a horse and buggy), and was broken up by two stops at roadside watering holes. At each stop we were able to get food, water, beer, and even piña coladas while we stretched our legs. We arrived in Jucaro and pulled into the port where Avalon keeps their fleet of motherships.

Jardines de la Reina

Jardines de la Reina translates to Gardens of the Queen, founded and named by Christopher Columbus to honor the Queen of Spain. Fidel Castro later turned JDR, his personal favorite diving and fishing playground, into one of Cuba’s largest national parks. JDR consists of over 600 cays and spans a mind blowing 840 square miles. The marine park of JDR is divided into 3 sections to keep fishermen spread out and relieve pressure. The lagoon where we parked for the week was directly in between zones A and B, A being the furthest West zone and B being in the middle.

The Boat

Once aboard the mothership, we were greeted by staff who quickly grabbed our bags, and we headed straight to the bar on the top deck to enjoy Cuba Libres. The boat ride was 50 miles south of the main island, and took about 3 hours.  After miles of open and relatively calm blue water, we arrived and dropped anchor in a lagoon surrounded by mangroves. We called this slice of paradise “home” for the next 6 days. The JAIV, is the largest and newest boat that Avalon operates, measuring 130 ft long, three stories, and able to sleep up to 16 anglers. The first floor layout consisted of the stern, where everyone stored their rods and reels for the week, and the area that the skiffs picked us up each morning. A main common room was also located on the first floor, and half of the double occupancy cabins. The second floor was the dining room and kitchen where all meals were served as well as the remainder of the cabins. The sun deck, was where we gathered the most, mainly due to the bottomless bar, as well as the 2 hot tubs for our group to enjoy.  Overall, the accommodations were impressive and all week we were comfortable, well-fed and the staff was very friendly and personable.

The Fishery

Remote, endless, and pristine are the first words that come to mind when trying to describe JDR. Every morning after a 6:00 am breakfast, we dispersed in skiffs across the park, some heading into Zone A and some Zone B. Because the area of fishable water is larger than the Florida Keys, not seeing a boat for 8 hours was common and refreshing. Along with the never ending water to fish, JDR offers incredible variety, from endless sand flats to coral reefs and brackish mangrove lagoons, every area presents new fish, new flies, and new tactics.

During our 5 ½ days of fishing, we targeted the usual suspects: Tarpon, Bonefish, and Permit with the occasional Snapper (Mangrove, Mutton, and Cubera), Jacks, and Barracudas.

The Fishing

Every angler brought to hand as many Tarpon and Bonefish as they wanted. Most Tarpon ranging from 15-60 pounds with multiple 80+ put in the air. Fish were found rolling on windbown banks and mangrove lagoons, with the occasional bigger fish pulled from a deep channel. These Tarpon were aggressive towards the fly and loved to put on a show once hooked. The flies for Tarpon were pretty standard; a lot of EP baitfish, Tarpon Toads, and Black Deaths. Black and Purple, Orange and Tan and Yellow and Chartreuse seemed to be popular among the guides. Anything with a thick enough hook shank usually #2/0 or #3/0.

We were blown away by the quality of Bonefish found in the park, as the group average Bonefish was 4-5lbs. Multiple bones between 6-9 lbs were landed and shots were had at double digit fish. Most Bonefish were found over sand flats or green turtle grass either in big schools or tailing up shallow in pairs of smaller groups. Beadchain and light dumbbell eyes on Spawning Shrimps, Coyote Shrimp and, Rubber Leg Gotcha’s in #4 and #6 in tan were the tickets.

While JDR isn’t known specifically for being a Permit fishery, most anglers had multiple shots a day, with lots of interest in the fly, but in classic Permit fashion, all but one of us came up empty handed. One angler did manage a grand slam in the middle of the week that was celebrated with tequila shots, rum, and a deadly hangover the next day. Permit flies used were the classic Avalon in sizes #2 and #4, light dumbbell eyes. The Strongarm Merkin, Flexo-Crab, and Ragheads in tan and white were also favored by the guides.

The Gear


A 10wt rod was suitable for most of the Tarpon we were running into, but we always kept a 11 wt or 12 wt rod in the boat rigged with intermediate or sinking line for dredging deeper channels. Rods consisted of the Scott Sector, Sage Salt R8 and Maverick, and TFO Axiom II-X. Reels with a strong drag system like Abel SDS, Rove, Sage Enforcer, Hatch Iconic, Redington Grande and Ross Evolution R Salt were used. Leader used for Tarpon consisted of a 40 lb monofilament butt and mid section, with a 60 lb or 80 lb fluorocarbon shock tippet,


8wt set-ups were used to fish for the large Cuban Bonefish like the Scott Sector, Sage Salt R8, Thomas & Thomas Sextant, TFO Blitz  and G. Loomis NRX+. Reels used were the Sage Enforcer, Hatch Iconic, Abel SDS, and Ross Evolution R Salt were put to the test.  Leader set-up consisted of a 12 lb tapered fluorocarbon leader, but most fish were aggressive enough, so we started using 16 lb.  


Anglers used a 9wt or 10wt for Permit. Throwing long shots into heavy wind with bigger crab flies, fast rods like the Scott Sector, Sage Salt R8, and G. Loomis NRX were used. Reels with a solid, yet smooth drag system like Abel Rove, Shilton SR9, and Hatch Iconic were used.

Leader set-ups for Permit ranged from a tapered leader down to 16 lb or 20 lb fluorocarbon depending on the area fished.


A wild and once-in-a-lifetime experience to say the least. The good fishing was definitely just a bonus on this one! We had an amazing time with an awesome group of people and are looking forward to returning to this fishery again soon. Please feel free to contact us at the shop with any questions regarding gear, fishing, or travel if you are interested in Cuba!

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