Cuba – Canarreos Archipelago: It is actually astonishing how many renowned angling destinations are located in, or around the island of Cuba. An island the size of Florida with 360 degree access to the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and host to extensive government sanctioned “Marine Parks”, it is no surprise why these locations still hold some of the healthiest, fully intact ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere. The Canarreos Archipelago is the absolute epitome of this, combining two world class, diverse fisheries into one region that is off limits to all commercial fishing. People often refer to the fishing in Cuba as Florida 70 years ago. When we first visited this destination and experienced everything its fishery and pristine environment had to offer, that comparison was fully solidified into our brains and imaginations.
Prime Tarpon Habitat
The Canarreos Archipelago is located off the southern coast of Cuba. To the East, Cayo Largo and its bleach white sand flats play host to some of Cuba’s most impressive Permit fishing. To the West, Isla de Juventud and its series of lagoons, channels and mangrove systems create a perfect habitat for Tarpon and Snook. The inbetween? As you can imagine, there is 60 miles of wide open, diverse and completely unpressured water combining some of the best flats fishing habitat in the world. Avalon is the only permitted commercial fishing operator in the area with a strict catch and release program. This archipelago, like many surrounding Cuba, sits 50-100 miles off the mainland of Cuba and is not easily visited by even Cuban lobster fishermen. Navigating such a large swath of island, flats, lagoons and reef with the help of a mothership as a central base of operations, essentially creates a private flats fishing paradise with the flexibility to adjust based on unpredictable conditions.
White Sand Flats
The island of Cayo Largo consists of 17 miles of fine, white sand beaches and congruent flats that are epitome of ideal Bonefish and Permit water. These fish have direct access from the ocean side or the interior bay side to these flats, with an abundance of food that brings in an array of fish. Permit fishing Cayo Largo is oftentimes synonymous with rays. There are rays of all sorts everywhere on these flats and the Permit love to follow them, using their movement and feeding patterns as a means to find their own food. To this day, we have never seen bigger muds from a school of rays feeding in our lives than in Cayo Largo and that is a central reason why the Permit fishing is so consistent in this location.
Mangrove Island and Lagoons
Isla de Juventud, on the other side of Canarreos Archipelago, offers a completely different marine environment and hence a totally different fishing opportunity. The white sand flats of Cayo Largo transition into a series of large, mangrove lined islands with intermittent lagoons and channels all situated off of a pronounced, healthy reef system. This is PERFECT habitat for Tarpon with some stellar, big Bonefish water sprinkled in and the reason we love this place so much. Home to Cuba’s most consistent and noteable annual Tarpon migration, this environment presents some of the best opportunities to target adult fish, over turtle grass flats in gin clear water. Unlike the other known locations of the world where this occurs, which there are very few, you have this area comprising dozens of square miles of fishable water to yourself and your fishing companions for the week. In a world where there are very few secrets kept, the Tarpon fishing of Isla de Juventud offers a unique wrinkle. It is no secret but there is still the ultimate privacy.
Avalon offers three different trips to the Canarreos Archipelago. Depending on your interests and time of year, you can fish Cayo Largo, Isla de Juventud or a combination of the two for the week. The combination trip is a new offering as of 2022 as is called the Canarreos package which WCA hosted in January of its first year. In the case of each trip, all guests are guided by an English speaking Cuban guide staff whose reputation for joyful enthusiasm, expertise and well trained sensibility is well known in the industry. Utilizing Dolphin skiffs, the guides can access a wide range of water throughout the week from poling along reef edges to skinny bonefish flats. All three trips within this region consist of motherships as “home” for the week. These motherships offer single and double occupancy cabin options each with their own bathroom and shower. The boats feature extensive indoor and outdoor social spaces, bar and dining area as well as hot tubs. The real benefit of the mothership based operation is the flexibility it enables for the fishing program. Being able to move locations throughout the week, ensures less time running in the skiffs on a daily basis and more time fishing fresh, unpressured water.
The Best of Cuba
The Canarreos Archipelago offers the best of both worlds for flats fishing in Cuba. The Permit mecca of Cayo Largo meets the Cuban capital of Tarpon fishing, Isla de Juvetud, in one stunning and pristine marine park and ecosystem. Being able to fish such a unique, special location and essentially having it yourself as an angler for six full days of fishing is one of those fishing experiences that needs to be checked off the list by all those who love the flats.