Cuba Libre 2: Grand Salami

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Permit are an obsession for many anglers, mostly because they’re nearly impossible to catch. Some people I know have spent thousands of hours and dollars without landing one. A couple months ago, I was telling my buddy Yvon that since I’ve spent very little time fishing tropical flats, and zero time chasing permit, catching one wouldn’t have the significance for me that it should. I simply don’t have the personal history to put it in context. “Oh, then you’ll catch one for sure,” Yvon said, “The worst people always catch the best fish.” And he was right. With no experience, no context, very little skill and complete beginners luck, this blind pig found not one, but two, acorns. That’s one of them above. Go figure.

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Another thing I had no context for is the concept of a “Grand Slam,” which is to land a permit, tarpon and bonefish in the same day. But I happened to land the permit pictured above early one morning, and suddenly, the guide was in a whirlwind. He cranked up the motor and off we went to the tarpon spot. The blind pig strikes again: On the first cast, I hooked and landed a small tarpon of about 40 pounds. The fish leaped higher than my head seven times! Better to be lucky than good, I suppose. That’s me, above, getting my butt kicked by the “baby” tarpon. I can only imagine what a 100 pounder fights like.

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Sadly for the guide, I did not complete the slam. It meant nothing to me, but I could tell he was disappointed we didn’t find the easiest part of the slam, a bonefish, that day. I was just stoked to have caught some cool fish. Fortunately, on other days, we found lots of bonefish in shallow water, and for me, walking around the flats on my own and casting to these fish was the most fun. Without the boat or a guide, I could work at my own pace and just kind of figure things out. Of course, I didn’t spot nearly as many fish, and I won’t say how much time I spent casting toward elongated coral chunks and fish-shaped rocks, but I had a blast. Pictured above is a nice bonefish I hooked in ankle-deep water.

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One day, Yvon and I walked about five miles through shallow backcountry flats to find good numbers of extremely spooky bonefish in little saltwater ponds, streams and lakes. Yvon crushed these wary fish left and right with his new soft-hackle bonefish fly, while I had lots of follows and refusals with traditional patterns. I eventually broke down and had to ask to “borrow” a fly. When the tide went out, we found ourselves hiking on dry land where we’d been casting to bonefish earlier. Stay tuned for more from Cuba…

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