My father always says a large part of his love for fly fishing derives from its ability to bring you to spectacular places that otherwise you may never see. An avid recreational fly fisherman, he has been introducing me to places over the last few years. Although not instantly enamored by the fishing part, I continued to go on the trips because I love to travel and spend time with my family. It wasn’t the idea of fly fishing for bonefish and tarpon that convinced me to go to Cuba; truthfully those fish meant nothing to me before June.
Rather, I was compelled by the prospects of walking through the streets of Old Havana and exploring Cuba’s treasure of a marine ecosystem. The protected marine ecosystem, Las Jardines de Reinas, lies 50 miles off the southern shore of Cuba. The size of the Florida Keys, this area is only accessible to a few regulated permit holders, allowing it to remain a haven for various marine species. My father and I came to this spectacular trip with the Fieldworker’s Club in part for the fishing but mostly for the chance to experience some place so different and previously inaccessible. Ultimately these two areas intersected, the enjoyment of the place directly correlated to fly fishing.
At first glance, Las Jardines de Reinas appeared unimpressive, lacking that initial breathtaking magic associated with stumbling upon a waterfall or standing on the peak of a mountain. Instead, the landscape appears as a low outcrop of mangrove islands suspended in the ocean. The beauty of this mangrove outcrop didn’t begin to hit me until the day after arrival. As you board your Dolphin skiff and zoom out under the softness of the morning sunlight, the vastness of the pristine ecosystem that you have the privilege of gliding through begins to captivate you more and more with each interaction. At every turn you see a bird feeding or stop to watch as they gently balance on the branches of the mangroves. Under the water you notice a giant school of bonefish feeding in the shallows or a school of tarpon hauling across the coral ocean break. At the end of the first day, after a long day out in the sun, we kept stumbling upon giant sea turtles floating and basking in the sun. Each interaction felt natural, at no point contrived, instead the place oozing over with its own life force, highlighting the special essence of Las Jardines de Reinas.
When you consider this sport from a distance it seems rather silly. We sit outside for hours and hours through shivering cold conditions or blistering heat, putting ourselves through failure again and again, in an attempt to catch a particular species of fish, only to release it back into the water on the off chance of success. But the secret, that I didn’t realize until after five full days of fly fishing here is the special connection that fly fishing provides a person with the water and land. Fishing differs from other outdoor activities in its necessary slowness.
This slowness, while excruciating at times, provides the full immersion into the landscape, because as you stand at the bow of the skiff, urgently seeking a fish swimming around, you have the time and the perception to notice the other aspects of the ecosystem living and working around you. In essence, fly fishing and being in beautiful surroundings provide a symbiotic relationship. The enjoyment of being in the pristine waters of the Las Jardines de Reinas were enhanced by the fishing, while the fishing would have been tedious without the subtle landscape that surrounded us.