The 2023 F3T is underway – click here to find a local showing and purchase tickets.

Next up in the 2023 F3T Behind the Lens series is an action packed film exploring the world-class saltwater fly fishing opportunities of Jardines de la Reina, a remote archipelago located off the southern coast of Cuba. Sabalo was produced by our friend, Helmut Zanderer of Flyfish Adventures. He’s known for high-stoke films with impressive camera work and intense visuals – this film is no deviation. Follow along as we discuss the big three: permit, tarpon & bonefish, camera gear, fishing tackle, and some off-the-wall topics such as the art of drone smuggling. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

FLYLORDS: What is unique about the environment of Cuba?

HELMUT: Cuba is one of the last places where you will find protected areas of this magnitude. Avalon also has to be given credit for keeping the number of rods and boats within reasonable limits. No one is there, just us fly fishermen, so no boat traffic and absolute silence.

boat, drone, mangrove, fishing
Navigating through mangrove islands.

FLYLORDS: What was your favorite part about filming “Sabalo?”

HELMUT: Tarpon fishing is action. Not only for the angler but also for the cameraman. We fish exclusively on the flats. The tarpon schools are very visible and easy to film with the drone. We fish with a floating line and the tarpon catches the fly almost on the surface. So we were able to film the bite. And then after the bite – tarpon are usually more in the air than in the water at the beginning. So really good material for a good film.

tarpon, jumping fish, fly fishing
A tarpon coming unbuttoned in style.

FLYLORDS: What was the most challenging part of filming this piece?

HELMUT: Smuggling the drone into Cuba 🙂 We had 2 drones, one was taken at customs and one came through. We also wanted to have a permit in the film because Jardines de la Reina is also great for permit fishing. Finally, we caught one.

permit, fly fishing, fish, flats
Permit (Trachinotus falcatus)

FLYLORDS: The shots in this film are refreshing, cinematic, and downright badass. What kind of camera setup were you using?

HELMUT: We used Sony Equipment. Sony Alpha FX3 and Sony Alpha 1 with 3 different lenses. The Drone was a DJI Mavic 3 Cine.

flats fishing, drone, tarpon, permit, bonefish
Hunting on the flats.

FLYLORDS: Of the three species highlighted in this film – permit, bonefish, and tarpon – which is your favorite to target and why?

HELMUT: I generally have a great passion to fish for predators. I love the aggression and the part of the game until a fish sucks the fly. And finally the power and speed in the action. But of course, I’m happiest when I outsmart a permit. This is probably because it is the most difficult fish to catch on the flats.

mothership, fishing, expedition
Home base: the mothership.

FLYLORDS: Describe the tackle you were using – rod weight, line type, leader weight, fly patterns?

HELMUT: I use custom made fly rods. The rod blanks are made in New Zealand – CTS.

For tarpon I fish a 12 weight for big migratory fish. And a 10 weight if I fish for smaller residence tarpons and baby tarpons in the mangroves. My favorite fly lines are floation and floation/intermediate from Cortland. I use 40lbs to 80lbs for tarpon fluorocarbon.

Tarpon, fly fishing, catch and release
Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus)

My favorite fly patterns are hollow semper streamers made 100% from bucktail. I fish these flies all over the world and use them for any predator. Just I make a difference in the length and colour. For Tarpon I fish this hollow semper flies from 4 to 7 inch length. My favorite fly for permit is the Flexo Crab in colour tan or white.

pelican, bird, fishing, boat
A pelican perched on wooden structure.

FLYLORDS: As the Culinary Editor at Flylords, I’m always interested in learning about the role fishing plays in food culture around the world. What species, if any, are commonly consumed in Cuba? Did you enjoy any particularly memorable meals during the trip?

HELMUT: Cuba is a very poor country and the food supply is really limited to the basic foodstuffs. I love good food myself.  When I’m on the ship in Cuba, we really eat very healthy and very high quality. Because we always have fresh fish, fresh shrimp and lobster. We eat what we catch and you can collect lobster yourself in the shallow water. We always catch grouper, snapper, jack crevalle as by-catch. There is always fresh salad and fruit and as a side dish there is rice and potatoes and vegetables. The fish and chicken are usually prepared on the charcoal grill. So for the options that are available, it’s the top food.

lobster, snapper, fire, cooking, fresh fish, beach
Freshly caught lobster and snapper cooking over an oceanside fire.

FLYLORDS: What was the best, worst, or weirdest moment of the trip? Take your pick.

HELMUT: There wasn’t a bad moment. What we have noticed is that Covid has really brought Cuba down even further and poverty has increased. In Havana you noticed people begging, we haven’t seen that in recent years.

iguana, fishing, beach, lizard, reptile
Hanging with the locals.

FLYLORDS: What is the overarching message you hope viewers take home after watching this film?

HELMUT: Fly fishing and traveling is the most important thing in my life next to my family. For me, it is always a connection with nature and creates so many friendships. I want to show people that we still really have some untouched protected areas where nature and the abundance of fish are still almost untouched. Hopefully, that will stay with us.

drone, island, flats fishing
A beautiful Cuban island surrounded by prestine sand flats.

FLYLORDS: What can we expect next from you? Any film ideas or adventures in the pipeline?

HELMUT: The schedule is full…

I am planning 4 more different travel destinations in the Amazon this year. We will definitely combine those 4 adventures to make an “Amazon” film. For spring 2024 we are filming 3 weeks on the outer island Seychelles on Providence and Cosmoledo. In Autumn 2024 we will be filming in Tanzania and going on a tigerfish expedition.

tarpon, fly fishing, catch release
Helmut with a nice poon!

Special thanks to Helmut Zaderer for taking the time for an interview. Be sure to follow along for more content at Flyfish Adventures. Stay tuned for more iterations of the Fly Fishing Film Tour, F3T Behind the Lens series by clicking here. 

To see the full film attend a 2023 F3T Premiere – click here to find a local showing and purchase tickets.

Check out the articles below:

2023 F3T Behind the Lens: The Holy Well

2023 F3T Behind the Lens: Steve’s Red

2023 F3T Behind the Lens: The Belt Buckle


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