Captain Mark Becton Interview on Cuba

Click the player to listen to the discussion between Captain Mark Becton and Brett Dennis regarding Marks recent trip with Brett to Cuba via our program during the Tarpon Migration in April of 2024. There's a transcript here as well, so if you prefer to read it - please do!

For those of you who might not know who Mark is, here's a quick background for you:

He has spent the better part of 30 years as a guide fishing for Tarpon in the Boca Grande area of Florida and is highly regarded in the Tarpon scene there. 

Captain Mark participates regularly in activities promoting local environmental issues. He stays abreast of topics which effect native flora and fauna, and regularly contributes to individual and group local causes.

Becton:  What was the week I was there? The week I was there that was that April?

Brett: yeah, just the second week in April so this is this is Becton's fishing report from Cuba.

Becton:  Ohh Cuba wow. Wow, so very eye opening you know. Having a traditional uh fly background Florida fishery you know you where you have to, I don't want to say it's a it's a difficult fishery, but it's it's challenging. Uh you you need to bring his his as much skill to the table as as you can. I mean we all tried to to improve our our skill levels but I guess Brett, to sum up the simplicity of it is just get the damn fly in front of the fish. It's not a matter of I guess for me the the relaxation part of it of actually being able to enjoy the the peacefulness of knowing that all I have to do is get this fly in front of this fish

Becton: He's going to eat he’s going to smash it

Brett: Was there ever times where you felt like man I wonder if I get it there like if it’s gonna eat it?

Becton: No. I mean I could I could put you know some ruder descriptors to that but I mean let's keep it family friendly here. but it's it's a - I think for guys that have spent time in saltwater and are trying to to learn the game and the challenge of it, I mean we all appreciate the challenge of it but, I think when when you when you arrive at a destination like that and you see how the fish behave and they're in a manner that it it's so it's so easy to get tight to fish there. You know, yes are you going to break some off, and and and do some things that you shouldn't have done of course. But I guess the the reassurance is that - OK here here's a here's a prime example. So let's say let's say I made a good shot to a string of fish and the lead fish rushes it and eats it and I didn't get tight. So the fly falls off - just keep stripping. That fish is either going to turn back around and smash the fly or the fish that are behind the lead fish are gonna race to eat it because they saw that they and the fish behind the lead saw that fish eat. So they know there's food around.

Brett: So they get excited.

Becton: Ohh they get they get they get worked worked up it's crazy.

Brett: What was the fishing report like for your group on that week?

Becton: So that that week the report was I mean there were there were days where certainly teams did better than other boats you know. They were in for whatever reason the zone the spot that their guy chose to take them to that day the fish pushed through you know better than some of the other areas that some of the other guys were fishing.

Brett: I got when you had a good push of fish for a team what would be their experience?

Becton: I would say if you're a mid-level angler, and you're honest with your abilities, you're gonna have you're going to get tight to probably at least five I'd say. You know you're getting the the bite the bite count is dependent upon you know how many times you get it in front of the fish. But yeah I think I think I don't think it's unreasonable to to land on on an average day 5 to 8 fish you know a day and and on exceptional days you're going to be sore. That's I mean there's only so many. There's only so I mean I do this you guys for.

Brett: You’ve been guiding Tarpon now for how many decades?

Becton: Almost three.

Brett: And you're and you were sore

Becton: Yeah, sore. Yeah I was sore. I mean you know I I don't I don't get to fish as as much as I like to obviously. I spend more time on the on the platform than I do on the bow, but you know it's it for me as a guide it was it was nice it it it helped me kind of understand too because I don't get to spend as much time on the bow as that you know. I would quickly turn around and and tell my guide I was sorry because I screwed you know you you screwed some things up. I mean you do, and I just wanted them to know hey I'm I'm trying as best as I can. Because when you're when you're there in my mind my mentality was: I want to see what I can personally do on unpressured fish? How many of these things can I get in my hands a day? And we had we were we we did have some challenging wind in the morning you know in the mornings and then it would slick out and ohh OK here here here comes a string of 20. You know how many bites am I gonna get out of three casts and and that's that's that's the that's the nicest thing about it is. You don't have that anxiety of blowing something and not getting a shot at redemption if that makes got a redemption if that makes sense.

Brett: And your skill level doesn't have to be what it needs to be say your fishery in Boca Grande or in the keys yeah I think that's fair you don't have to have spent years you know right at least a week or two a year for last 3-4 or five years to finally feel like OK I'm starting to get it and maybe I can right take advantage of the few opportunities I'm going to get.

Becton: Yes I think that's a fair assumption or a fair assessment of things. It's it's you know nobody's born a Tarpon angler. It's it's an annealing process that people have to go through to get really proficient at it. And you know this is this is an opportunity for guys that are really interested and serious about you know increasing that learning curve let's say you know. At a much more accelerated rate. You know I thought that the the two guides the three guides I fished with while I was there were were fantastic they were friendly and you know they they worked to to to make things happen.

Brett: But you still even even with cooperative fish he still has an angler have to do your part.

Becton: You have to do your part yeah it's not it's not so so don't you know don't parachute in and think that you know I mean you still need to be able to turn you know a large fly you know larger flies than what we use in in Florida, and and and places to the South here you know. You're these fish want it they wanna they wanna fly. And so I I think you know you you do need to be able to be able to turn over a fly. You know I mean 50 feet would be perfect obviously further than that but I think I think people need to understand yes they need they need to have reasonable casting skills before they before they embark on a on a trip like this.

Brett: If they want to take advantage

Becton: If they want to take advantage of the opportunities that are there yes. I mean don't you know and and that's not to discourage anyone that wants to try it just bear in mind that you know if you if you come back to the skiff or to the to the to the ship at the end of your fishing day you know and and you're you're relaxing amongst your your your friends and you go “man I had you know it was tough today”. I I didn't catch anything well how many bites did you have? Well I had 15 bites. Well what happened? You know? Or or you know I had I saw a lot of fish but I just couldn't get it to eat. You just need to be honest with yourself and your skills. And I think that's something that you know I think that's something that needs to be communicated and just be just be honest with your skill levels. You know I would I would highly recommend anybody that's that's going to go you know do this go get a tune up by you know a casting instructor in your area and and get to where you can comfortably double haul 40 to 60 feet. 

Brett: 40 to 60 feet

Becton: If you can do that you're you're going to hook a lot of fish.

Brett: You're going to get 85% of the shots 

Becton: Ohh yeah absolutely, and the guides know. I mean you know it's like they they know where these fish are gonna swing to but they can't catch them for you.

Brett: Yeah

Becton: You know they can't they can't do it for you. I mean they they will if you ask them to. They'll gladly do it but it's you know you you want you don't want to let them down for their efforts that they're putting forth either and you don't want to let yourself down so just be honest with your with your skill levels and and and show up ready to pull on them because that's you know that's that's where you get that accelerated learning curve on on the proper way to pull on the fish and then you know the host trips you'll have and you have somebody with you that you know on on one or two of the days you know in the rotation you'll you don't get to fish your co-angler with with somebody who can can teach you the proper way to pull on these fish because

Brett: Or to put it in front of them

Becton: Put it in front of them yeah and and you know different techniques. I mean as far as the stripping goes you don't have to be you know as precise with missing a beat. On on stripping cadence these most of the time it was my experience our guides wanted us just moving the fly slowly just slowly keep it moving. And it it's really I don't want to say frightening that's not the right word but I mean the the fish race forward to smash it they don't there's no sipping there's no cracking of the mouth it's it's violent. And that's what you know is Tarpon anglers that's that's kind of the bites we we really like to see the most yeah I mean it's just smashing it

Brett: what's your experience so you you're on a live aboard what what would you tell people about your experience on being on a liver board

Becton: So the staff was extremely accommodating. I mean they wanted to know on a daily basis you know if you were comfortable, if there was anything that they could do to make you more comfortable. I would recommend you travel light you don't need to bring you know a change of clothes every single day you're there. They will do laundry for you everything will be nice nicely folded on your bed. Travel light be agile, and the food was was fantastic. The I I didn't there was no wanting out of me you know or or any of my co-anglers on on my recent trip there. We had we had a wonderful time it was extremely relaxing and you know I I looked forward to the boat ride to the skiff ride back to the mothership just for the camaraderie of sharing each other's stories for the day and hanging out and enjoying some some some good food with with my friends and watching the sunset and and then wearily going off to bed. Because you will be tired.

Brett: And and what about the traveling to and from Cuba some some people sometimes are hesitant think that there's issues or there might be issues if customs or you know with the Cuban officials. What what's been your experience and what is your. 

Becton: Piece cake it's just like going to any other place where you know a passport and a visa is required. It's it's very very very simple. In and out I mean in and out. I I was I was sad to leave but at the same time I was happy to be home again too because you know I I'm kind of a softie. I I like to I like to be I like my home life too but anybody who's on the fence that thinks you know that this is something you're not supposed to do that's not that's an untruth. I say go do it go experience the culture people are wonderful the fishing is fantastic. If you're if you're in the right right place and at the right time at the right times so just like you know you wouldn't you wouldn't come and here to fish for Tarpon in December.

Brett: And here is?

Becton: Here would be the Boca Grande area so you you wouldn't do that. It's not Tarpon season, so you know it's it's there's it's no different seasonally. Their seasons really kind of align their Tarpon migration kind of aligns with ours as far as the timing you know April or May and you know the weather you know some people are like Oh well it's hot. No it's very pleasant it would get warm in the middle of the day when the wind would lay off and you know you stay hydrated and and fish hard. That's I would just tell you know anybody who's who's you know on the fence about going go experience it. I think I think you would be extremely happy with with what you found there and and you know I kind of tell people Brett it's it's like a time machine you know you're going back in time and fishing apart of of that doesn't get very very little human pressure. I saw no garbage when I was there in the water I mean. I I wish I could say the same thing for our waters here but you know you don't see any of that there's very few very very light fingerprints and that archipelago that we fished so you know it's absolutely stunning stunningly beautiful.

Brett: Last last question so you fish you got it in Boca Grande for decades right Boca Grande is known for some of the larger Tarpon you know on Florida Tarpon scene um I mean you're it's not uncommon to hook fish triple digits.

Becton: No not at not at all

Brett: Not at all. So so you're used to big fish. Sometimes you hear people say well you know Cuba doesn't ever have any big fish. They're just all small fish with the Tarpon are all small what what was your experience during fishing during so Tarpon migration?

Becton: So I I would say an average would be probably in that 50 to 60 LB range certainly they're smaller fish but I mean my personally you know by Florida standards I would I would call it a solid 100 pounder. You know it very easily could have been a little more maybe a little less but there are big fish there I did have a friend that hooked probably a one I mean I saw the pictures of it it was it was probably about a 120 by our standards I mean. it would be a fish anybody would be proud to catch in Boca Grande or the Keys before the Everglades uh so yeah there are big fish there. You know which is also a strong reinforcement of why you know come come prepared. And yes honestly I hooked one that was probably in that 65 to 70 LB range one day and that that sucker gave me more fits then the 100 pounder. You know so they're I I won't say they're extremely difficult they're not they're not difficult to hook and feed, but just like everybody you know we're we're all individuals you you might pick a fight with the wrong fish and it's going to challenge you physically. I would highly recommend doing some abdominal exercises before you go. Because you know jamming jamming a 10 weight or or even in some cases in 11 into your stomach and pulling on these fish you're you're going to get sore. That's that's that's a promise you're going to get sore. So yeah it's don't don't think that they're all 20 pounders there that's that's not true but you but again it's the right time of the year in the right locations to take advantage of those fish as they migrate down the archipelago.So you know there's other areas of Cuba that better uh you know might might be a great place to go fish and spend some time but yeah you're you're going to have some smaller fish. If you there are times of the year if you come to the Boca Grande area you can fish certain areas that are full of smaller class fish you know that I would use a eight or nine on. So it's just it's it's where you go and the time of year you go that matters more on the size the size class of fish. But yes Cuba does have big fish. You know they do they do yeah they certainly do I've seen them.

Brett: Up front personal.

Becton: Yeah up front personal.  Yeah so I think I think one of the one of the things I thought was was very interesting was you know you would get tight to a fish and you know in in the Keys or Boca Grande uh every like you know you get typed to a fish it's it's going I mean it's it's away from the boat you know. Usually jumping these and and you'll see this in Cuba you'll stick that the water is crystal clear you can see everything happening. You'll stick this fish and this fish is never felt the hook in its life it it doesn't know what to do so you stick it again and then you know eventually yes it realizes something's wrong and it starts acting like Tarpon. With with everything that that entails. So to me I thought that was very interesting you know to to see the reactions to see the reaction of the fish when you got tight to him and and stuck a piece of of carbon steel and it's in its jaw. So you know that was that was really cool I thought it was very cool. There are I did see some some big Permit while we were there but quite frankly we were we weren't there to to permit fish. Uh we were there to to catch Tarpon and so and that's what we did. So that's that's the take away if anybody you know curious about it. I mean yes there are large fish there and.

Brett: They just as well as a small fish.

Becton: Ohh yeah yeah it's I did I did one day I saw one that it was it was possibly in that 130 range. I mean it was certainly the biggest fish in the pack and and most of the time what you'll find is is the cloud the class of fish in the groups will match each other and so like the bigger fish are going to be swimming with other bigger fish. So they kind of they kind of gang up and and side you know size categories you know you won't see a 20 pounder swimming with 120 pounder. if you see a big fish and it's it's all all of its friends are going to be big too. So that's that's that's really that's really cool and and you get the other thing I liked about it was you did get to fish different uh different areas and different bottom topography you would fish over grass or you would fish over clear sand or sometimes you would go out to actually a coral reef which is stunningly beautiful. I mean there's little reef fish around that are I don't know what they were called but they were beautiful. And there's Tarpon swimming around this coral reef. I mean that was really that was really cool and the water is just stunning. I mean absolutely stunning. So you you can you can easily see these fish you know, and that's another thing I would add bring bring a really you know don't don't don't scrimp on on sunglasses you know. Don't don't go don't go to Walmart buy some polarized glasses. Get you you know get a get a well-known brand name brand of of you know high quality polarized glasses because you're going to need them you know.

Brett: So I take it I take it this is not going to be your one and done oh oh Cuba migration

Becton: No it's not I mean you know I have my own reasons for that you know. I like to I like to pull on Tarpon I do. And I really I really like the culture you know I I grew up around Cuban Cuban families my entire life and I've always I've always thought that they were you know great people to to be with and and make friends with and you know. I I love the culture there. They're very warm very generous people. And you have to bear in mind,they don’t have a lot. So when a they extend their hospitality to you - you take it. You know, it means something to them to bring you into their lives. So I would say make some new friends. Go make some new friends in Cuba.

Brett:  And we're you're helping out the people

Becton: Absolutely yeah yeah and that's that's another thing. I mean some people kind of you know and I and I understand everybody has their various reasons you know but yeah you know I've discussed this I think you know when when you're when you're there you help the people you can help. And and and they they they graciously accept it. So you know it's it's a I wouldn't say I wouldn't say there's like a culture shock uh you know. They're just there to to uh fishy really hard and and and go home and see their families just like we do just like we do here. So it's it's a it's a great I I do you know there's various ways of entering umm points of entry. I think you know depending on which location you're fishing there's there's the Camageuy airport. But you know it never disappoints me to go to Havana either. That's a that's a very neat place that if it works out to where you can see Havana on your on your trip to Cuba I I highly recommend that too that's it's a it's a really neat spot. Really neat spot.

Brett: Cool thanks for your input on your trip

Becton: Yeah yeah and I'm I can't wait for the next one

Brett: OK

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