FISH CUBA NOW Support the Cuban People- Kiki

 

img_2389The 2015 Hemingway International Billfish Tournament awards ceremony has ended. Now the world renowned band “The Buena Vista Social Club” has the crowd rocking to traditional Cuban salsa music – even the waiters and waitresses are dancing.

Making his way through the melee, Captain Pedro Santos Jr.- his beautiful fiancé at his side – works the crowd like a modern day politician. The young Cuban captain’s handsome face is lit with a broad smile as he greets the first place finishing crew of Billy the Kid, then lingers at the table of Unclaimed, the boat that finished third.

His father, Pedro Calvo Santos is a member of Unclaimed’s crew which set a tournament record five marlin releases in one day, a feat in any billfish completion.

As father and son embrace, it’s impossible to miss the loving bond between them

Although young Pedro’s team failed to place in this year’s competition, he graciously greets competitors from seven different countries including the American teams, allowed to legally compete for the first time in over forty years.

It’s not that the fire of completion doesn’t burn bright in this young man, because it certainly does. Two years ago I had the chance to observe Pedro’s competitive spirit first hand when we fished together on Unclaimed. We won the coveted first place trophy and his grace and demeanor were the same in victory as in this year’s disappointing finish.

Captain Pedro represents the new Cuba – highly educated in his profession, confident in his career choice and optimistic about his future. Ready to makes friends with the world, he welcomes Cuba’s emergence from political and economic isolation and sees the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States as good for his country and its impoverished citizens.

Like many of his peers, Pedro would love to go to the U.S.- not emigrate but visit and see for himself if the Hollywood version of life displayed on television sets across his beautiful but tragic island is accurate.

Also, like many of his fellow countrymen, Pedro has refused offers to be pirated off the island, choosing instead to patiently wait for a legal path when he believes visiting the colossuses to the north and returning will be as simple as boarding a ferry to Key West, Miami or Tampa.

“I’m Cuban.” He said one morning over breakfast at La Cova, a small sandwich shop located in the vast Marina Hemingway complex. “I love my country and could not see living elsewhere.”

He removes a small photo of an eight year old boy holding an ancient Penn rod and reel. “This is me.” He smiles. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else but fish.”

Pedro’s fishing roots reach back too many generations to count. His ancestors –much like Hemingway’s character Santiago in Old Man and the Sea – sailed their skiffs out from the sheltered cove of the Jimaitas River, waging war with giant marlin, swordfish and darado, often battling creatures larger than their boats with only hand line and lance.

“It was kill fish or don’t eat.” Pedro pronounces with a look back into a past he understands but doesn’t emulate. In 2013 he was recognized in a ceremony at the Hemingway Tournament’s captains meeting as an International Game Fish Association outstanding Captain. Presenting the award, I.G.F.A President Rob Kramer said, “Captain Pedro Santos represents the best of Cuba’s Captains.” The I.G.F.A. maintains a strict catch and release policy regarding billfish and is dedicated to the preservation of fishing resources worldwide.

“My father used to go to my teachers in high school and get permission for me to take a week off and fish the Hemingway”, says the 28 year old. “He only did this if I made up the work and kept my grades high.”

In the late nineties and up until 2003, the tournament included as many as forty American boats, most looking for experienced Cuban captains and crews. The money paid these mariners for sharing their local knowledge helped feed and clothe families suffering though some of the most difficult years of the island’s post revolution history.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 Cuba lost an estimated 9 billion dollars in subsidies, throwing the island and its populace into financial straits. Food was scarce and basic necessities disappeared. Any outside revenue such as the dollars paid for crewing on the American boats was a godsend. One week’s enumeration from a tournament job could feed a family for six months.

President Gorge Bush shut down the American competitors voyages to Cuba in 2003 and with his edict, ”We will no longer allow American yachtsmen to travel to Cuba for sex.” The dollars disappeared.

Kiki wanted to commercial fish to help feed the family but his father said no. “If you’re going to go to sea, it will be as a captain, not as a mate.”

Kiki enrolled in the Cuban Naval Academy along with 13 other hopeful candidates and began a grueling two year study which includes basic seamanship, navigation and rules of the road. Of the 14 student in Kiki’s class only he and one other graduated.

With license in hand Kiki now qualified to pilot boats for Club Natico, the major non-government maritime employer in Marina Hemingway. His vast knowledge of local waters and outgoing personality made him a favorite of charter clients and visiting yachtsmen alike. An American with a boat in Cuba plucked Kiki from the ranks of Hemmingway captains and hired him as permanent crew on his modern sportfishing yacht, a goal for any marina employee.

Ask where he sees himself in five years, Kiki smiles and ponders the question for less than a minute. “I want to captain an even larger boat.” He says, looking down the road. “A boat that can travel freely to any port in the world.” With Kiki’s education, experience and pleasant demeanor, his dreams stand a good chance of coming true. In this time of rapid change in Cuba….anything is possible.

 

 

 

 

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FISH CUBA NOW!

Bailout – maritime in origin, it’s the act of removing water from a sinking vessel….usually with a small bucket.

 Bailing Out With Bonefish

Every fly fisherman knows frustration when unable find, hook or land their target species. But, to fishing guides, being compensated for their expertise – wind, clouds, murky water or a lack of interest….are just excuses.

Key West’s annual tarpon migration attracts a flood of anglers anxious to test their skills on one of the world’s top gamefish. At the height of the season, these silver sided, air breathing monsters flow down the beaches in schools often a mile long. Although an awesome sight for anyone with a rod in hand, if the wind is wrong, the tarpon develop lockjaw.

On these days many Key’s guides turn to barracuda as a bail out fish. Although exciting when hooked, jumping and snapping and armed with a dangerous mouthful of teeth, a ten pound cuda is not a 100-pound tarpon.

Montauk

Capt. Grizz fishes marlin, – his territory, offshore of Cabo San Lucas Mexico. Twelve wt. rods and a “tease them up and throw” technique is the preferred method when perusing stripped, black, blue marlin and sailfish.

“Veteran captains know when it is not going to happen. On those days we’ll head inshore for rooster fish or cero mackerel. We’ll downsize the tackle and bend a rod. It can turn the day around.”

Bailing out it’s called and every charter captain and guide has a plan. When the targeted species can’t be found –or won’t co-operate, switch.

“Jardine de la Renia”- “Garden of the Queens” is reverently referred to as the most natural reef and flats ecosystem existing in the Caribbean today. Cuba’s oldest aquatic preserve was a favorite spearfishing site for Fidel Castro, a fact, along with geography – it lies sixty miles off the island’s south coast – has allowed it to lay virtually untouched by man.

This collection of uninhabited barrier Keys, or Cayos, and miles of flats separate the shallow bay of ____ from the clear blue water of the Caribbean. Beyond the deserted white sand beaches and the pristine coral reef, the ocean bottom drops to infinity.

 

My new friend Alec Rich first called it to my attention in the middle of our second day of fly fishing in the Gardens.

“See how he keeps taking us back to bonefish.” He said quietly. “Every time the fishing slows we go back to catching bones.”

 

Alec and our Avalon fishing guide Tony are the same age, early twenties. Although separated by language, these two young men from totally diverse backgrounds and experiences found a bond in the shared love of fishing….the report was instant.

Alec recently graduated from Tulane with a degree in finance and has begun his banking career in petroleum finance.

Tony just completed the two-year training program required by all Avalon guides and has begun a career of poling fly clients from the world over across the pristine flats of the Garden.

Both are smart, observant and anxious to make a mark in their chosen career fields.

Awed by the raw beauty of our surroundings, the young man from Texas had been justifiably distracted. Now, this beginning banker’s analytical training emerged as he began to understand Tony’s pattern.

Sure enough when I paid attention the method to our guide’s madness took shape.

Bonefish in muds, in the mangroves and atop the grass covered flats seem readily available throughout the day. When the tarpon became mid-day scarce, or the tide stage was unfavorable for permit, Tony had a bonefish spot just around the bend.

“All guides have a limit to how long they can go not catching fish.” I explained to Alec one afternoon. “And, they all have a bailout plan.”

“It’s just bazaar.” Alec offered. “The guides are using one of the most sot after fly angler’s targets, to break the boredom…..to bailout.”

We were enjoying mojtoes mixed and delivered to the rear deck of our mothership “Tortuga” by Milkis, Avalon’s beautiful blond bartender. Avalon fishing Center is the exclusive fish and dive company of the Garden. Shaded from the brutal mid-August sun, we chatted with others of our group from as far away as Finland about our new discovery.

Chris and son Mike, from Boulder added they had stayed with the bones one full morning, releasing over thirty before breaking off for an afternoon dive. “We bailed them off muds.” Mike said. “But when the tide got high we found them in the mangroves, fining and tailing.”

No one can say for sure if this bailout with bonefish strategy will work year round but, for a week in late August we found it a great solution for combating what ordinarily be the down hours of our fishing days.

 

 

 

 

 

Hemingway 2016

In June of 2016, an armada of 83 American sportfishing yachts and center console boats arrived at Marina Hemingway Cuba. Taking advantage of the new detente’ between the U.S. and our island neighbor, the Americans came, they saw, and they conquered, capturing the first three places in the 66th Hemingway International Billfish Championship. Joining angling teams from as far away as South Africa, the 96 boat fleet released 88 billfish, both tournament records.

Calm seas and light winds, interrupted by the occasional afternoon thunder squall created superb conditions throughout the three and a half fishing days while tours of historic Havana gave competitors a lay day to remember.  

Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador De Laurentis joined the Stuart Florida Sailfish Club for an evening cocktail reception and dinner at Club Havana along with Hemingway grandsons John and Patrick Hemingway.

Addressing a standing room only crowd in the spectacular ballroom of the historic club, the ambassador highlighted events of the past year including visits by President Obama and a performance by The Rolling Stones as positive signs of openings with our closest Caribbean neighbor, then reminded the Americans that they too are ambassadors representing what’s best of America.

Ernest Hemingway founded the tournament while serving as vice president of the newly formed International Gamefish Association at a time when sportfishing for marlin was still in its infant stages. The famous author lived in Cuba and fished the waters off the Morro Castle and the seaside esplanade Malecon, within sight of the skyline of Havana. Today this area is designated as the Hemingway site and remains one of the most productive marlin locations in Cuba.

The Stuart Sailfish Club’s president, Tom Dyer organized a fleet of 53 member boats from the Florida based fishing organization whose member boats captured the top three spots. Unbelievable, owned by Charles Conigliaro released the first Blue marlin at 10:45 on the first day of the competition and never looked back, releasing a total of four fish. Unbelievable’s 2000 point total was just 200 points ahead of second place finisher Bull Run and third place boat Cajun Queen.

Blue Heron’s 31 pound dolphin, Doris’s 18 pound Tuna and Sea Clusion’s 39 pound wahoo received top gamefish awards. The Hemingway trophies are all hand carved swordfish bills created by local Cuban artist

Commodore Jose Escrich, founder of Club Natico delivered a rousing speech highlighting the bond between American and Cuban mariners. Commodore Escrich has through the years kept the Hemingway tournament alive, battling politics on both sides of the Florida straits.

Once again the awards dinner was capped off by a performance of the world renowned “Buena Vista Social Club” band who kept the crowd dancing well into the morning.

Captain Brittany Moore who pilots a Horizon 76 foot motor yacht, Aqua Life remarked of her first ever trip to Cuba, “Visiting Cuba has been an experience I’ll never forget filled with people who’ve touched my heart and changed me forever”.

David Sillick of the Reel Xcape added, “The trip was a memory of a lifetime”.

In June of 2016, an armada of 83 American sportfishing yachts and center console boats arrived at Marina Hemingway Cuba. Taking advantage of the new detente’ between the U.S. and our island neighbor, the Americans came, they saw, and they conquered, capturing the first three places in the 66th Hemingway International Billfish Championship. Joining angling teams from as far away as South Africa, the 96 boat fleet released 88 billfish, both tournament records.

Calm seas and light winds, interrupted by the occasional afternoon thunder squall created superb conditions throughout the three and a half fishing days while tours of historic Havana gave competitors a lay day to remember.  

Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador De Laurentis joined the Stuart Florida Sailfish Club for an evening cocktail reception and dinner at Club Havana along with Hemingway grandsons John and Patrick Hemingway.

Addressing a standing room only crowd in the spectacular ballroom of the historic club, the ambassador highlighted events of the past year including visits by President Obama and a performance by The Rolling Stones as positive signs of openings with our closest Caribbean neighbor, then reminded the Americans that they too are ambassadors representing what’s best of America.

Ernest Hemingway founded the tournament while serving as vice president of the newly formed International Gamefish Association at a time when sportfishing for marlin was still in its infant stages. The famous author lived in Cuba and fished the waters off the Morro Castle and the seaside esplanade Malecon, within sight of the skyline of Havana. Today this area is designated as the Hemingway site and remains one of the most productive marlin locations in Cuba.

The Stuart Sailfish Club’s president, Tom Dyer organized a fleet of 53 member boats from the Florida based fishing organization whose member boats captured the top three spots. Unbelievable, owned by Charles Conigliaro released the first Blue marlin at 10:45 on the first day of the competition and never looked back, releasing a total of four fish. Unbelievable’s 2000 point total was just 200 points ahead of second place finisher Bull Run and third place boat Cajun Queen.

Blue Heron’s 31 pound dolphin, Doris’s 18 pound Tuna and Sea Clusion’s 39 pound wahoo received top gamefish awards. The Hemingway trophies are all hand carved swordfish bills created by local Cuban artist

Commodore Jose Escrich, founder of Club Natico delivered a rousing speech highlighting the bond between American and Cuban mariners. Commodore Escrich has through the years kept the Hemingway tournament alive, battling politics on both sides of the Florida straits.

Once again the awards dinner was capped off by a performance of the world renowned “Buena Vista Social Club” band who kept the crowd dancing well into the morning.

Captain Brittany Moore who pilots a Horizon 76 foot motor yacht, Aqua Life remarked of her first ever trip to Cuba, “Visiting Cuba has been an experience I’ll never forget filled with people who’ve touched my heart and changed me forever”.

David Sillick of the Reel Xcape added, “The trip was a memory of a lifetime”.

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Filipe on CNN

IMG_4646IMG_4619One man’s War

Filipe Rodriquez knows war. At 17 as a soldier in the Cuban army serving in Angola, he witnessed armed conflict first- hand. Today the 58 year old Cuban fishing guide is fighting another battle, one that is waged on two fronts, economic and environmental.
Filipe’s front line is the pristine flats and rivers of the Zapata swamp and his weapons are fly rods, a fly tying bench and the young people of the pueblos of Playa Larga and Jaquey Grande.
Lying just two hours south of bustling Havana, the Zapata swamp is the largest fresh water conservation preserve in the Caribbean. Each season multitudes of birders, naturalist and fishermen flock to experience its’ wild beauty. Playa Larga, the small pueblo resting on the palm lined beach of the Bay of Pigs welcomes these visitors with multitudes of Casa Particulars – the Cuban version of a bed and breakfast.
From Playa Larga buses and private taxis transport fishermen, kayakers and birders into the vast expanses’ of Zapata and the fly fishing Mecca of Las Salines. Others journey down Rio Hatiquanico hoping to catch a glimpse of Cuban Black hawks, manatees or hook leaping tarpon.
Although a government owned beachfront resort caters to organized groups, many visitors find lodging and meals at the Casa Particulars where superior food and service is available at a much reduced price. Casa Particulars and Palidars (private restaurants) are two of the fastest growing and most profitable businesses in Cuba’s private sector today.
2016 marked the expansion of angling opportunities in Zapata with two companies, Edridan and Avalon Fishing Centers securing recreational fishing rights to the vast shallow waters of La Salina and the winding spring fed Rio Hatiquanico. Both Companies growth plans hinge around the predicted invasion of American anglers.
And, although environmentally friendly catch and release practices are adhered to by visiting fishermen, the park is in danger. Pressure to feed the tourist have created an epidemic in poaching of both fish and lobster inside Zapata’s boundaries. The lack of enforcement of park rules against netting and harvesting is primarily due to a shortage of funds for rangers and patrol boats.
Fishing guides act as the eyes and ears of the government but understandably are hesitant to report on neighbors and many times childhood friends violating fishing laws. After all, they understand and sympathize with a man attempting to feed his family, or purchase shoes for his children.
Filipe’s approach to solving the poaching problem is innovated. By educating the young sons, daughters, nephews and nieces of the fishermen, he hopes the lessons bestowed on this new generation will trickle up. As he describes his goal, the passion for his natural setting is only overshadowed by his love of the children he instructs. With the patience of Joab and the persistence of Ahab, Filipe’s mission is dedicated to his charges, both human and nature.
After work, after school and on free weekends Filipe instructs the children in the art of fly casting. His youngest student is a five year old girl. Every lesson begins with a small lecture on the economic value of protecting Zapata’s fishing resource. Then using donated supplies including hair from the family dog, he instructs the older children in the intricate art of tying flies, a skill which also generates a small income stream.
The flies – which are specially tailored for the area – are sold to visiting anglers helping many of the families of the students. Supplies are scarce and Filipe’s resources are limited, but he uses what he can spare from his minimal personal income.
Filipe recently located a finca (farm) that borders the preserve and can be purchased for a modest sum. His dream is to convert the small house into an environmental classroom and fly fishing school. Funds are available from a group of American fisherman but laws on both sides of the straits are at this time can be somewhat confusing and contradicting.
What is truly needed is an environmental group with international standing to back Filipe’s project and cut through any governmental red tape.
We have formed a small group including Jeffery Boutwell –Latin American Working Group – and Patrick Hemingway dedicated to fund raising for this unique and innovative approach to just one of the many environmental challenges facing Cuba today.
We believe the Zapata preserve could become an easily viewed example of how government, environmental groups and the private sector working together can help Cuba emerge as the premier eco-tourist destination of the Caribbean.

Ole Chris

“It’s the most beautiful land human eyes ever saw”

These words were logged by Christopher Columbus in 1492. He was off Gibara on Cuba’s north coast in present day Holquin. The name may be familiar as the city became a focal point of this week’s news when Pope Francis held mass and blessed the Hill of the Cross.400dpiLogo

 

Columbus was so impressed with Cuban waters he named two reef and island areas for his king Ferdinand and his backer queen Isabella.

We’ll visit those in a moment

For more than a half century Cuba, lying just 97 miles south of the US has been forbidden fruit to Americans. On Dec.17th 2014 all that changed. Today, Cuba is open to the world, including America.

Under the new regulations the largest of the Antilles is once more reachable by both air and water.

As one attorney who’s been doing business for a decade told me “The administration just told Americans…if you want to go to Cuba. go.

There are currently 12 categories under which Americans can legally travel to Cuba,

My favorite is support the Cuban people. It’s all encompassing.

And, if your mission is a mission.

You can follow the lead of a woman who after just returning from a religious sojourn to the island declared. “Cuba is hungry for Jesus.

But, after decades of denial most Americans have difficulty getting their head around this new and exciting travel opportunity…especially boaters.

Propaganda broadcast from both sides of the Florida Straits has distorted the reality that is Cuba.

Tonight, with your permission I rely on more than thirty trips to Cuba mostly by boat to dispel many of these falsehoods. I take pleasure introducing you to this island. It’s an island whose people welcomes we Yumas from the north, as close friends and neighbors, returning from a long absence.

A lady running a new Cuban casa particular summed it up nicely, “We’ve had a family spat,” she said. “now we’re making up.” Being an American means you’re special to most Cubans.

Buffett said it best, “Everyone has a cousin in Miami.

 

How many here have been to Cuba

 

I’m going to make a bold statement now. Cuba is the safest destination for Americans on this planet.

Let me repeat that. Cuba is the safest destination for Americans on this planet.

 

Let me show you why.

 

 

SEE HAVANA THEN FISH AND DIVE

cuba-fishingYour adventure includes two and one half days in Havana and three days fishing on flats, rivers, offshore or a combination of each. You can also throw in a dive or snorkel along the way.

HAVANA – 1st class private house accommodations. English speaking driver, guide available for tours of the city. Visit Moro Castle, Hemingway’s house. Arrive on Friday and begin your adventure with Club Natico’s famous pig roast.

ZAPATA SWAMP

  • Rio Hatiquanico – snook, tarpon and big jacks. (fly or spin)
  • La Salina – bonefish capital of Cuba, permit, muttons and snook (fly only)

HAVANA AND COJIMAR

  • Offshore- marlin, tuna, wahoo, mahi. (all tackle furnished)

Housing, transportation and fishing included. All you add is food and tips.

Four or six anglers – $2400.00 per person.

Diving packages starting at $1400.00 person

philkeywest@yahoo.com

Cuba – 011-535-283-4202

“Support the Cuban People” program allows legal travel to the recently opened island’s aquatic wonders. By providing educational support for captains and staff, we are helping usher in a new era of angling in Cuba.

“This is exactly what the president’s new policy of engaging Cuba is all about,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell, board member of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in Washington, D.C. “Mr. Thompson’s program is providing and empowering the Cuban society in a non-governmental way by providing resources and expertise that can benefit the local Cuban economy.”

Havana – Zapata Combo

You asked to be kept up-to-date….Well, I’ve managed to put together a great combination See Havana & Fish Program.

HAVANA

1st class private house accommodations. English speaking driver, guide available for tours of the city. Visit Moro Castle, Hemingway’s house. Come on Friday to Club Natico’s famous pig roast.

ZAPATA SWAMP

Rio Hatiquanico – snook, tarpon and big jacks. (fly or spin)
La Salina – bonefish, permit, muttons and snook (fly only)

HAVANA AND COJIMAR
Offshore- marlin, tuna, wahoo, mahi. (all tackle furnished)
Housing, transportation (except to and from airport) and fishing included. All you add is food and tips.
The trip includes two and one half days in Havana and three days fishing on flats, rivers, offshore or a combination of each. You can also throw in a dive or snorkel or two along the way.
Four or six anglers – $2400.00 per person.

Cuba 011 535 283 4202
philkeywest@yahoo.com

“Support the Cuban People” program allows legal travel to the recently opened island’s aquatic wonders. By providing educational support for our captains and staff, we are helping usher in a new era of angling in Cuba.
“This is exactly what the president’s new policy of engaging Cuba is all about,” said Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell, board member with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in Washington, D.C. “Mr. Thompson’s program is providing and empowering the Cuban society in a non-governmental way by providing resources and expertise that can benefit the local Cuban economy.”

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