Clay Watson- Cuba Fishing, Torn Labrums, Jackson Hole And What Makes A Great Guide




“Whether I’m in Mexico or Cuba, you know, they [the fishing guides] don’t have GPS, they don’t have cellphones, they know when the tide is just by fishing it their entire life and they fish it every day. They’re specific on fly patterns, but they almost know these fish by name.”

- Clay Watson

Podcast Synopsis

On today’s show, I get to catch up with a very old friend of mine.  In 1991, I was guiding on the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho on an overnight trip.  A group joined us at camp from my hometown and we instantly became friends.  For the next several years, their family group returned on an annual trip and I had the pleasure of being able to take “the boys”, Clay and Steen Watson.  This was a cool trip for all of us.  For the boys, they experienced some freedom by being in the boat on their own.  For me, I was guiding some guys that were just a few years younger than me, rather than someone 20-30 years older than me, as usual.  One year, Clay was offered a position as swamper, the “do anything guy” in the outfit, and when his family left, he simply moved into our guide compound and rolled out his bedroll. Since those days, Clay was in our wedding, and he and I have remained friends through fishing and also physical training.  

Clay and his family have continued the annual trip plus a few more, and they have a knack for researching and finding some really good trips.  He has fished everywhere from the Rocky Mountains to New Zealand for trout, and from Mexico to the Florida Keys in saltwater.  I value his opinion on destinations and guides because I know what he has seen; I know who taught him to guide, and I know his family's standards of excellence.  

Clay recently returned from a trip to Cuba, where he fished in a string of islands 60 miles off the south coast that look very similar to the Florida Keys.  The difference is that these islands are pristine and uninhabited. When traveling to Cuba, Clay needed to have research and educational purposes to be there, and Clay learned all he could about fishing there. Clay fished near Gardens of the Queen, a popular diving and fishing destination because it is one of the few intact reefs existing in the Caribbean.

Imagine the Florida Keys 150 years ago, but with a giant mothership with all your supplies and a skiff with an outboard motor.  Intriguing, huh? Mothership fishing in Cuba consists of all day fishing from 8:00 - 5:00 P.M every day throughout the trip. With amazing fishing guides, Clay was able to catch quite a few snappers, bonefish, and permits. In this area, tarpon and Goliath groupers can also be found. Since they were in a national preserved area during the trip, Clay frequently saw protection forces that patrol these waters for commercial fishing. In Cuba, the law requires for fly-fishing only, and enforces their catch-and-release policy.

We find out about this trip by way of a labrum surgery that took place after his return to Cuba. Recently, Clay had been in quite a few motorbike accidents where he flew over the handlebars and landed on his shoulder. After having intense pain in his right shoulder, he was told by a doctor that he had torn his labrum due to sports and the motorbike accidents. Not wanting to put his Cuba trip off, Clay scheduled for the labrum surgery the day after he returned from his trip so he could fish at his dream destination.

Clay is planning his next trip to Mexico, where he plans on fishing strictly permit. In Mexico, Clay mentions how great and knowledgable the fishing guides are there, with their primary focus of making sure everyone has a great experience.

So I had to ask Clay, “What makes a great fishing guide?”

Clay responds that a great fishing guide is someone who is passionate about the process and the environment. Fishing guides that fall under this category will treat fish, no matter the size, with respect.

I hope you enjoy this conversation.  If you do, please go to iTunes and rate and review the show.  These ratings are probably the single most important thing for a new podcast.  I would be very appreciative if you could take a few minutes to give it a rating and review.

See you out on the water,

- Tom Rowland