Fish Cuba Now! Cayo Santa Maria

IMG_1174 (1)

023

Cayo Santa Maria is located in the “Garden of the King” preserve on Cuba’s north shore. It’s known for tarpon (see Gaff magazine July 2013) and big bonefish.
This is a fly or spin location.

Saturday, Nov 14th
• Flight arrival in Havana
• Greeted at airport, transfer to hotel (not included).
• Night at 4-Star Hotel (included in package)
Sunday,
• 9:00 am Meet in Hotel lobby for transfer to Villa Las Brujas
• Free afternoon
• Night at Villa Las Brujas
Monday- Saturday,
• 7.30 am wake-up call, breakfast
• Fishing full day with packed lunch
• Return in the afternoon
• Nights at Villa Las Brujas
Sunday,
• Wake-up /breakfast
• Ground Transfer to Habana International Airport

Low season rate $3,ooo. plus tips.
Fly direct and save.
philkeywest@yahoo.com

Garden of the Queen,Cuba….and what a garden!

_F1A6643

IMG_3932

IMG_3869
The first order of business when planning your trip to newly opened Cuba is finding out which General License category you will travel under. A General license requires no pre-approval or paperwork.
There are 12 classifications of General Licenses under the new rules ordered by the President and can be found on the O.F.A.C. website. Most involve organized groups with set agendas, but two are of particular interest to Americans who desire to see Cuba on their own terms.
“Support for the Cuban People” is my favorite.

So, visit the O.F.A.C site and pick your mission. And if your mission is a mission, (religious travel is allowed) tell emigration what the lady who just returned from the island with her Bible told me. “Cuba is hungry for Jesus.”
Once you’ve selected a General License category, you’ll need to find a flight that fits your schedule. In Florida, ABC Charters flies out of Tampa and Miami not only direct to Havana, but Santa Clara, Holguin, Santiago and Cienfuegos as well. Flight schedules are on their website.. Other airports including O’Hare and Dallas-Ft.Worth have been licensed for flights to Cuba, so expect them to ramp up service soon. I use Gran Caribe Travel in Tampa who also obtains my Cuban visa and can arrange car rentals on the island.

Casa Particular – Cuban version of a bed and breakfast owned by private entrepreneurs….your money goes directly to the people. 5 star rated for safety and service.
So. You googled “Casa Particular” and found what looked to be a nice room off the Malecon in Havana. You booked two nights and left the rest of your week on the island open. You’d read some crazy travel tip advising a “book as you go” schedule for rooms. Worry not. No matter your travel schedule, Cuba’s Coconut Telegraph (thanks Jimmy) connects Casa Particular owners across the island.
Casa Particular owners, when told of your next destination will call ahead and find you a room.
At this time, travel by boat is going to take some paperwork. The State Department and Department of Commerce are issuing licenses on a seemingly limited basis. Key West to Marina Hemingway is a well use path, but look to the newly expanded 1100 slip marina in Veradaro…a Miami type resort with much better beaches. Either way it’s a day sail or a 3 hour run on your average fishing boat. But don’t let the short distance fool you. It can turn in an instant…. becoming one of the roughest stretches of the sea.

Best Tarpon Fishing in Cuba?

DSC_0043mms_20150227_075956

Welcome Christian Oro who has just secured the rights for “The Garden of the King” on Cuba’s north coast.

Even though I haven’t fished there, I wrote about it from the view of Dr. Gerald Millistein who fished the area in 1951…see Gaff Magazine July 2013. Latest reports the Tarpon are thick as fleas.

We’ll be heading there in October 2015 with our Support the Cuban People program.
Join us philkeywest@yahoo.com

Tampa Tribune story on “Support the Cuban People”

Our capitalist crew gathers at Marina Hemingway

Our capitalist crew gathers at Marina Hemingway

Havana fishing event brings anglers, worlds togetherBy Paul Guzzo | Tribune Staff
Published: July 4, 2015 | Updated: July 4, 2015 at 08:37 AM
Phil Thompson showed up to repeat his 2013 victory when he entered a recent fishing contest in Cuba, so third place left him wanting more.

But the 63-year-old Ruskin native reeled in much more than a third-place trophy during his recent trip to Cuba for the 65th Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament in Havana.

For one thing, he set a tournament record for the most marlin caught and released in a day with five.

But more importantly, Thompson and a group of a half-dozen American anglers shared their knowledge of American fly fishing techniques and equipment with Cubans who either hope to get into the charter fishing industry or are already in it.

The one-week course, called “Support the Cuban People Fishing Program,” brought together two groups from countries isolated by politics for more than five decades. They met June 12 in the Cuban fishing hub of Cayo Cruz, on the northern shore of the province of Camaguey.

“We became like family,” Thompson said.

One of the Americans gave a new Cuban friend the shoes off his feet. They also gave away fishing rods, one to a man who wants to teach his son to fish but can’t afford a rod, and another to a bartender who has a captain’s license and a dream of leading fishing charters.

“Hopefully, by the time we get back, the bartender will be on his way to becoming a guide,” said Thompson, who splits time between Key West and Tampa. “That will elevate his pride and income.”

Thompson is among those who believe restrictions on travel between the United States and Cuba will be lifted soon. Currently, tourism trips to Cuba are illegal under U.S. law.

When that day comes, Cuban fishermen who know American appetites stand to prosper.

“Cubans are mostly used to working with Europeans and Canadians,” Thompson said. “They have different techniques. And American equipment — everything from rods to supplies — is superior to anyone else’s in the world.”

Thompson and his crew also tutored the Cubans on how to spot poachers in catch-and-release preserves and to operate their own charter companies.

❖ ❖ ❖

The same crew returns to Cuba in August for a seminar in the popular Cuban maritime preserve, Gardens of the Queen, an archipelago 60 miles off Camaguey and Ciega de Vila that is considered one of the healthiest coral reef systems in the world. The area teems with bonefish, snapper, sharks and orcas.

Thompson said a dozen Cubans participated in the first seminar, and he expects the number to grow.

He aims to bring even more fishing equipment for Cubans who can’t afford it, along with humanitarian relief.

“Simple things like aspirin, vitamins, repellent and a host of small supplies can make life a little easier,” he said.

The two largest charter fishing companies in Cuba are the government-owned Marlin Nautica y Marinas and the privately owned Italian corporation Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers.

Thompson’s program worked in conjunction with Avalon. Working with Marlin would violate U.S. law.

“This is exactly what the president’s new policy of engaging Cuba is all about,” said Jeffrey Boutwell, board member with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in Washington, D.C.

Boutwell was also in Cuba for the tournament and met Thompson there.

“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.”

This year’s tournament, named for author and former Cuba resident Ernest Hemingway, marked the first time since 2003 that the U.S. government allowed its citizens to sail boats in from American waters.

From 2004 to 2014, U.S. participants had to fly to Cuba and use boats already there.

Twenty-four teams entered the tournament, 12 of them from the United States, Thompson said.

The winner was Sarasota’s Bill Pullman, who caught and released 11 marlin and sailfish.

Most of the international teams, Thompson said, hired a few Cubans as crew.

There were only two teams representing Cuba in this year’s tournament.

❖ ❖ ❖

Any Cuban has the right to own a boat for commercial or recreational purposes, although the purchase must be authorized by government authorities. The process includes a background check.

It’s “rather easy” for a Cuban citizento get permission, said Timothy Ashby, a former senior U.S. Commerce Department official and now a London attorney advising clients on doing business with Cuba.

Still, boats in Cuba cost $5,000 to $10,000, more money than all but a few can afford, Thompson said.

Even the government-owned fleet of Marlin fishing boats falls short of American standards, he said.

Still, more Cubans are buying local boats or boats from the Bahamas and other islands, financed by relatives in the U.S. or elsewhere, Ashby said.

“I was in Cuba last month and visited several marinas where large U.S.-registered fishing boats were berthed,” he said. “There’s an emerging Cuban middle class with extra disposable income, so soon they will not need to secure financing from relatives.”

This is where Thompson’s program steps in.

“Some of the older guys raised under Communism I spoke with couldn’t wrap their heads around having their own charter company and the money they could make when Americans arrive,” Thompson said. “But most in Cuba are excited about what’s to come.”

Thompson said more than 150 U.S. citizens asked for permission to sail to Cuba for this year’s tournament, but the U.S. Treasury Department granted licenses to only 11, including the author’s grandsons John and Patrick Hemingway.

One of 12 reasons spelled out by the U.S. government for legal travel to Cuba is athletic competition, including a fishing tournament.

With 52 marlin caught at the recent tournament, Thompson expects more than 200 American teams will try to enter next year.

“I hope the United States allows at least 100 boats to go,” he said. “That will be a sight to see as they all make their way to Cuba together.”

Return of the Americans

billy-the-kid“Billy the Kidd” outdueled a fleet of 25 boats representing seven different countries to take top honors in the 65th Hemingway International Billfish Championships, held in Havana Cuba. In three and a half days, the American boat released a tournament record eleven billfish amassing 5200 points.

Consistency played a key role as the American boat owned by Bill Pullman of Sarasota, Florida released at least one billfish each day of the completion.

For the first time in forty years American boats were granted permission to compete in the Cuban tournament. Over one hundred boats applied under the category of sports competition. In the end only 11 were granted licensed by the State Department.

At the Captains meeting held at Club Natico, located in Marina Hemingway, Commodore Jose Escrich welcomed the American contingent which included Patrick Hemingway, grandson of the Pulitzer Prize winning author. Ernest Hemingway founded the tournament in 1950 while serving as vice president of the newly formed International Game Fish Association and is considered a pioneer of big game fishing.

Outdoor writer and tournament veteran Captain Phil Thompson presented Commodore Escrich with an appreciation award on behalf of the returning American competitors. Addressing the first time visitors to Cuba Thompson said, “Next week you will leave this beautiful island… but this island will never leave you.”

For more than two decades Commodore Escrich – the founder of Club Natico – has battled politics on both sides of the Florida Straits to keep Hemingway’s legacy contest alive. The tournament is the oldest billfish competition in the world.

Stiff East winds countered a strong inshore current producing eight to ten foot swells for the first three days of fishing. “I’ve never seen the Gulfstream in so close.” Said 63 year old Peter Calvo, considered one of the most knowledgeable captains in Havana. The royal blue water of the stream brought with it the marlin and sailfish. A tournament record 52 billfish releases were recorded including Unclaimed’s 5 marlin releases in one day, also a Hemingway tournament record.

Top boat, “Billy the Kidd” took the lead the first day and steadily widen its winning margin, finishing with a total of 11 marlin and sailfish releases.

Second Place finisher Triple F from Key West made a valiant charge on the last half day of fishing releasing two blue marlin and one white.

Third Place went to Unclaimed owned by American Joe Colabela. Unclaimed’s captain and crew was composed of some of Havana’s best offshore fishermen.

Key Player, out of Orange Beach Alabama won the trophy for the largest dolphin weighing a 39 pound fish.

The trophies – works of art – are broadbill swordfish bills hand etched by island artist. It takes a full year for the talented Cubans to carve the intricate designs featuring images of Hemingway and leaping billfish.

An astounding awards ceremony show featured the world renowned band, The Buena Vista Social Club. Their rocking performance of traditional Cuban music brought the crowd to its feet. “They even had the waiters dancing.” Said 20 year old Eric Bowden from New Jersey, enjoying his first visit to the island.

Next year’s Hemingway tournament is scheduled for June 13th 2016 and is expected to draw an even larger group of American anglers.

Fish Cuba Now …. Support the Cuban People!

mms_20150227_075956121Fish Cuba and support the Cuban People.
Share your Fly, Spin and Flats, Reef and Offshore angling expertise with Cuban captains and guides.
Share your knowledge of knots, lines, lures and techniques not known to our island neighbor’s anglers.
In addition you will experience outstanding fishing opportunities in the most pristine waters in our Hemisphere.
Trips special for June-Aug. are available to a limited number of anglers starting at only $2500.00 per week.
By this time next year there will be no off-season in Cuba.
Contact me now for details. philkeywest@yahoo.com

Fish Cuba Now!

fishing 016

mms_20150227_075956

san sal 094
Bonefish, permit and tarpon on one of the most pristine low pressure flats in the world.
Cayo Cruz Cuba has been open for 3 seasons and fished by only handfuls of Anglers.
Trip is June 13th – 20th and provides first class accommodations and six guided days for 2500.00.
For details philkeywest@yahoo.com Very limited offer.

American Boaters to Cruise Cuba?

Hemingway Marina Havana Cuba

Hemingway Marina Havana Cuba

Is Cuba on the Horizon for boaters?

According to Commodore Jose Escrich, head of Cuba’s Club Natico, U.S. regulations restricting boat travel to the island are about to change. Citing an unnamed official from the American Interest Section in Havana, the head of the only non-government supported boating organization in Cuba said restrictions on private U.S. boats crossing the straits will be relaxed or ignored beginning sometime in March. Actively enforced during the second Bush administration, tight regulations have kept all but a trickle of mariners from cruising the largest of the Antilles Island.
For U.S. boat owners desiring to cruise Cuba, hope arrived with President Obama’s announcement in December 2014 calling for the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with our island neighbor.
Lying a day’s sail from Key West or less than three hours for the average power boater, Cuba’s close proximity, great fishing, diving and cruising grounds are a treasure U.S. boaters yearn to explore. According to recent estimates, eighty-thousand American boat owners are poised to cruise Cuban waters.
An easing of restrictions would be welcomed news for Club Natico which host the Hemingway Billfish Tournament, the oldest competition of its’ kind in the world. Ernest Hemingway launched the tournament bearing his name in 1950. At the time the famous writer was vice president of the newly formed International Gamefish Association. American participation in the contest would boost registrations and transform it into one of the richest blue marlin tournaments in the world.
In South Florida to receive an achievement award from the International Seakeepers Society, Commodore Escrich met with various yacht club officers and boating organization representatives from around the country.