Lake Hanabanilla, Cuba

Cuban Bass Boat

Mountain Lake


Chugin’ Up The Mountain………

Native guide Chino downshifts, then pats the dashboard of his 52 Chevy, as if she were a beloved child. “Vamos Mami,” He coaxes. In response, the Peugeot diesel chugs up the steep slope, climbing with the steady gait of a pack-mule.

On our left, a lush green forest of towering trees – garnished with wild flowers – rises with the Escambray mountain incline. To the right and below, a valley vista of fertile fields, squared into plots of produce and cane, peppered with mango, avocado and bananas.

Chino’s stoked. He’s bass fished once before, on distant Lake Moran. But he’s heard of Hanabanilla, and the man who regularly battles marlin and sailfish is grinning like a young boy headed to a secret fishing hole.

The cool mountain air, a product of the elevation is refreshing. To be honest, I’m a little stoked myself.

I’ve read stories about this mountain reservoir, many say the most beautiful in Cuba. Here, double-digit large-mouths are plentiful. Many believe Hanabanilla is home to the next world record.

The road levels and the mirrored surface of the mountain lake shimmers in the morning sun. I smell bass.

“There are the fishermen.” Chino points out six Cubans sitting on the rail of a paint flecked concrete bridge. Topping the dam, it’s a deteriorating monument to American engineering. Yes, we built the dam. We brought the bass too.

“With money, the monkey dances,” is a popular Cuban expression. In anticipation of a payday, the men on the bridge rise to rumba.

Chino selects, Che will be our guide. He trots up the hill to a small shack, quickly returning with half-a-jug of gas, a spinning rod, and the ignition key to his boat….. a pull rope.

Che’s is a sturdy, simple craft, pushed by a two cylinder Russian motor. Possessing neither transmission nor gearbox, its’ similarity to a modern bass rig is akin to the space shuttle and a covered wagon.

Che poles the bow toward open water, wraps the rope, yanks, and the motor roars to life.

“Fifteen to twenty bass a trip is average.” Che says. His largest, nineteen pounds, caught on a snake. When Che targets lunkers, he fishes with small snakes. These baits require a little notice.

A smattering of small boats row the shoreline and one man holds up a stringer of twenty fish. “There getting forty pesos a kilo.” Che says. They’re poaching and Che doesn’t like it. He knows the best use of this resource.

According to Che the fishing year round is good. Hanabanilla, like all Cuban lakes never cools. During big moon phases, the fish eat at night in the clear water, making them harder to feed in daylight.

Dark clouds push over the mountain, we cut our trip short. While I shot pictures and gabbed, Chino’s landed seven fish in just over an hour. These are very productive waters.

Next time we’ll call ahead for snakes.

Bay Of Pigs, Cuba


Cubans bag rice dried on the asphalt




Bio-sphere, “The place on earth’s surface where life dwells.”

Edward Suess, 1875.


Cuba 2011

“Well, at least you have a wiper.” I’ve noticed the windshield on my side has none.

Native guide Chino is steering his 52 Chevy “power glide” south on the four lane autopista and into a misty rain, straining hard to see. We’re on the shakedown run of his freshly painted international auto, her first time out of Havana.

“Yes Filipe, there is a wiper.” He says, then shrugs. “ But there is no motor.”

A slate sky, leftover clouds of a stalled cold front linger over our destination,”Bayo de Conchinas”….”The Bay of Triggerfish.” Duck and cover Americans remember it as….”The Bay of Pigs.”

Three hours south of Havana, bounded by the vast Zapata Swamp Biosphere and the Caribbean sea, this pristine bay – like Florida’s Everglades – is best visited in winter and spring. Picturesque, wild, teaming with crocodiles, birds and white tail deer, Zapata constitutes the largest wet- land preserve in the Caribbean.

Playa Larga, at the head of the bay is where light-tackle fishermen turn right. From there to the hard to reach Las Salinas, the rivers and shallows teem with juvenile tarpon and snook. The flats hold some of the largest concentrations of bonefish in the world.

As of November, 2011, Zapata once again allows a limited number of outboard operators inside the preserve, opening areas previously unreachable by oar and push pole. For fly guys, this is a priceless angling opportunity.

To the east, Playa Giron is a beautiful bump in the road. Tucked along a low limestone shoreline, it’s interspersed with patches of sea grape shaded beaches. Live coral patches, a short swim from shore are crystal clear snorkel and dive sites. Just beyond, the sheer wall drop is a painted blue line.

After nightfall, during the spring and fall spawns, the beaches and rocky points become favored snapper fishing camps for locals and visitors alike.

Playa Giron is surrounded by vast expanses of wilderness, full of fowl and fish. Nighttime here is dark, no city glow hides the stars.

Fundora, our chef and local contact filled me in over a lunch of sauteed snapper, black beans and rice, avocado salad, with fresh chilled guava for desert. Fundora, who owns a nice rental house/restaurant grew up on these waters.

Willing village fishermen are available for inshore and offshore trips. In addition to multiple varieties of snapper and grouper, dolphin , sailfish, wahoo and tuna are plentiful as well.

Surprisingly, Fudora’s first love is bird hunting, ducks and dove. He shoots from late October until the birds leave in early spring, and claims their numbers have increase over the years. This pleases him.

If quiet, abundant beauty is what you seek, earmark a few days for Zapata and Playa Giron.

Next Month, the Largemouths of Hanabanilla.