Smoke On (and off) The Water

Smoke On (and off) The Water

  • By: Thomas R. Pero
  • Photography by: Thomas R. Pero

Cigars and fly-fishing go together. Norman Rockwell may have portrayed a genial, grandfatherly angler serenely smoking his pipe, but the irascible Vincent Marinaro, wizard of the Letort, counted the rhythm between a brown trout’s rises while puffing on a Havana Punch-Punch. And Robert Traver, the wise old Michigan judge and novelist, offered this advice in Trout Madness (1960), one of my favorite fishing books of all time: “If you are hardy enough, smoke Italian cigars. They smell like a burning peat bog mixed with smoldering Bermuda onions but they’re the best damned unlabeled DDT on the market; all mosquitoes in the same township immediately shrivel and zoom to earth.”

Times have changed. Today’s fly fisher looking forward to adding a fine cigar or two to his or her next watery adventure is confronted with a confusing thicket of hundreds of brands in thousands of sizes. Which to choose? Let me make it easy. Here are my picks for six superb hand-rolled smokes in a range of taste, sizes and prices. These cigars draw beautifully and burn evenly. Each one is extraordinary.

I like a short, mild, golden cigar on the water—a 15-minute smoke that is a pleasant respite without stealing your fishing day or forcing you to continue relighting a soggy stogie. Back at camp or the lodge that evening, I enjoy a relaxing hour-long smoke with a darker, larger, richer cigar complemented by rum in the tropics or scotch on a steelhead river. You may prefer bourbon.
Here’s my A-list:

On the water

Davidoff Special Entreacto Short Corona
Size: 31⁄2 inches x 43 ring gauge
Origin: Dominican Republic
Price: $150 box of 20
Comments: An exquisite creation from the cigar roller’s table at one of the great names in cigars, founded by Zino Davidoff in Geneva 100 years ago. Winston Churchill got his smokes here. Wrapped in a superb Connecticut leaf. Starts mild and grows in bouquet.

5 Vegas Gold Series Nugget
Size: 41⁄2 inches x 44 ring gauge
Origin: Honduras
Price: $75 box of 30
Comments: An exceptional value in a light Ecuadorian wrapper. Smooth and silky, soft and mild. An excellent choice for your first cigar and the perfect quick smoke to celebrate your first bonefish of the season on the flats. Give one to your guide.

At camp

Padrón Serie 1926 No. 2 Bellicoso Maduro
Size: 51⁄2 inches x 52 ring gauge
Origin: Nicaragua
Price: $400 box of 24
Comments: A classic that burns slowly and tastes toasty all the way through, from a company founded by Cuban exile José Orlando Padrón in Miami in 1964. This stick is essentially the same configuration as the famous Montecristo No. 2, but in consistently high quality blows away today’s uneven version of the Cuban original. Aromatic, complex and earthy—delicious. Looking to salute your first 20-pound Atlantic salmon to a dry fly? Look no further. Pop the VSOP.

Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Corona Natural
Size: 7⅝ inches x 49 ring gauge
Origin: Dominican Republic
Price: $400 box of 32
Comments: The pinnacle product of the illustrious cigar-making Fuente family, founded in Tampa in 1912 by the legendary Arturo Fuente, Sr. For years, common belief held that no wrapper-caliber tobacco could be grown in Dominica; OpusX was their first puro (made of tobaccos grown in a single country). I was introduced to this splendid smoke by photographer Walter Hodges while on a sailfish trip to Guatemala. It just kept burning and burning, displaying a lovely, tight ash. Flavors of coffee and spice.

Oliva Master Blends 3 Churchill Maduro
Size: 7 inches by 50 ring gauge
Origin: Nicaragua
Price: $230 box of 20
Comments: The best dark-wrapper cigars these days, in my opinion, are being rolled in Estelí, Nicaragua, and this one is a flawless gem. It’s a blend of the finest ligero fillers and broadleaf sun-grown wrapper. I think it outclasses many brands receiving far greater recognition. Impeccable burn. Smooth and balanced. Hints of chocolate and caramel.

Perdomo2 Limited-Edition Churchill Maduro
Size: 6⅞ inches by 50 ring gauge
Origin: Nicaragua
Price: $125 box of 20
Comments: What a find. What a value. (The Perdomo Patriarch is also a beauty.) Box-pressed and slightly square shaped in the old-fashioned Cuban tradition, this is a perfect first-timer smoke. I discovered this cigar on a tarpon trip several years ago when my Alaskan friend, Tony Weaver, and I ran into Billy Perdomo at Cigars of the Keys, an excellent little shop in Islamorada. He slipped us several samples. That night, when Weaver and I lit up under the rustling palms and the stars at Big Pine Key, we knew we had a keeper.

Thomas R. Pero is the founder of Wild River Press, publisher of the award-winning books A Passion for Tarpon, by Andy Mill, and Topher Brown’s Atlantic Salmon Magic.