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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Come to the Gardens

Who is that masked man?

Who is that masked man?

IMG_1174 (1)IMG_3869diveCome to the Gardens
A waning crescent moon hangs in a deep black sky sprinkled with stars. It’s quiet, very quiet, except for the rumble of distant thunder and the soft sounds of juvenile tarpon rising to breathe, rippling the mirrored surface of the mangrove lagoon. As if signaled by the faint light in the east, a school of jack crevalle erupts in a feeding frenzy. Then as quickly as it began, their fury ceases.
It’s a world away from the mad musical chaos of last night’s carnival in Havana, Cuba.
Yesterday’s six hour bus ride from Cuba’s capital followed by a three hour boat shuttle delivered our diverse group of anglers to tiny cay, 60 miles off Cuba’s southern shore. The Tortuga, our plush floating home lies anchored in a garden, an aquatic garden….”Jadines de la Reina”….”The Gardens of the Queen.”
Described by journalist, marine biologist and anglers from the world over as the most natural marine eco-system in the Caribbean, this diving and angling paradise awakes softly with the rising sun, much like a child emerging from peaceful slumber.
Soon, a dozen fly fishermen will stir with the new light. Rising to the aroma of island grown expresso coffee, they all seek the same goal – leaping tarpon, elusive permit, and tailing bonefish…. The flats slam.
Diehard fishermen will endure a brutal mid-August sun in Dolphin skiffs, gliding over crystal clear shallows while others spend the morning on the water and the balance of the day under it. Whether above or below, the sight of sharks, turtles, tarpon and Goliath grouper with little fear of humans await.
Christopher Columbus claimed this water wonder in 1492. The astounding beauty of its coral reefs, islands and aquatic life, visible from topside inspired the intrepid explorer to name it in honor of his beloved backer, Queen Isabella of Spain.
After what can only be described as a tropical lumberjack breakfast – guava, pineapple, ham omelets and more wonderful Cuban coffee, we prepare our lunch from a buffet table. Each angler builds a mid-day meal from an assortment of fruits, salad, lobster, pork, chicken and beef ropa veija (old clothes) from the lunch buffet. We will dine on one of the beautiful beaches in the shade of island palms.
Avalon fishing Charters – the exclusive licensee for the Gardens – provides mothership operations for fly fishing and diving. For almost two decades, Avalon’s zone management and catch and release practices have been praised by anglers and marine eco- experts.
Avalon guides are assigned specific zones within the boundaries of the preserve which are rotated daily. This unique management plan prevents slamming the hot spots.
Dr. David Vaughan director of Mote Marine’s coral growing and reef restoration projects visited the Gardens this past spring with other scientist studying the preserve’s flora and fauna. “
“The base corals are in great shape and the reef includes all the predator species.”
“I finished one dive,” he said emotionally. “Spit out my regulator and shouted….this is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Environmental Defense Fund’s Dan Whittle measures the Garden’s health by the number of predators. “This area has eight to ten times the sharks we see at other Caribbean destinations.”

Speeding off on a Yamaha powered skiff, our guide Tony heads for our assigned zone. Spreading out over the innumerable islands, coves, creeks, and ocean passes comprising this grand aquatic preserve, each captain will pick his spots free of competition.
Alek Rich, my angling partner and new friend has requested tarpon. The young man from Texas has yet to boat one on fly. Although tarpon season is mid-winter here, I dove among hundreds of juvenile fish hiding along the reef yesterday.
Tony poles us through a tidal pass squeezing between lush green mangroves and directs Alex’s cast along the deeper side. Using a steeple cast perfected on mountain streams, he lays a pinfish deceiver perfectly and the explosion is instant.
The thirty pound tarpon leaps away from the security of his root filled home and sprints for the open bay. Five jumps later Alex has his fish and the slam pursuit is on.
Next are bonefish which, as our week unfolds, will prove to be the bail out fish of the Garden. Bonefish in muds, in mangroves and atop open flats were seemingly available at will. Any time fishing slowed, we caught bones.
Alex’s first bone of the day would prove challenging. Casting to a group of tailing, fining fish frolicking in a small lagoon dotted with new mangrove growth, his first presentation is gobbled. Problem is the fly line is across a small sprout. Miraculously, the six pound fish bolts off and the line clears only to completely encircle another single rooted plant. With great poling and patients from the seasoned angler, the fish is cleared and boated….phase two of the slam completed.
Permit as always would prove difficult. Palometa is permit in Spanish…. it’s feminine. Permit on fly, like the pursuit of a beautiful woman requires time and work with a great deal of desire thrown in. On this particular day Alex suffered from a bit of buck fever on his permit presentations, something any saltwater fly fishermen understands.
On our arrival back at Tortuga, we were met by Milkis and Tania offering Mojitoes and ice cold towels, perfect after the hot August sun. On the back deck of the comfortable barge we debrief, brag, and recount the highlights of the day.
Chris and son Mike of Boulder Colorado stuck with bonefish most of the morning before breaking off for an afternoon dive. They released more than thirty.
Many firsts would occur during the week, like Vlad from Finland’s first flats slam. Alex and Mike’s first tarpon on fly and Reba’s solo sojourn into the Zen of silence – she was fishing alone, isolated by language.
Gardens of the Queen is reverently referred to as the most natural reef and island ecosystem in the Caribbean…. Sublime comes to mind. Here, man’s influence has been minimal. When poled individually, our group’s most common response to the Gardens after “great fishing” was, “there is no trash here”….Above or below the waterline.

Fish Cuba Now! A call to action.

400dpiLogo“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.”

Nov. 14th-17th fishing and diving – Cayo Levisa
Nov. 17th

John presents Rafeal with a spinner for his young son.

John presents Rafeal with a spinner for his young son.

30 Plus boat fleet arrives at Marina Hemingway from Key West.
Nov. 20th – Maria la Gorda, one of the top five dive sites in the world.
Nov.23rd-28th Wahoo tournament Marina Hemingway.
Dec. 1st-5th Tarpon and snook river fishing, Las Salenas Bonefish
Jan.31st, 2016 – Isle de la Juventud – Cuba’s largest out island on the “Backside of Paradise.”
3 day and week-long land based fishing trips starting at only $2200.
Feb.21st-28th – Cayo Santa Maria – Garden of the King.
“It’s clear this is a big bone & permit destination, we had a collective 25 plus shots at permit and saw at least half a dozen 8 pound plus bonefish….” Dave Baum Garden of the King – 2015

Fly direct and save.

Join me for what will be an unforgettable travel experiences and angling adventures.
Capt Phil Thompson
Fish Cuba Now does not charge a fee to travel under our Support the Cuban People umbrella. We ask only that you bring as much medicine and vitamins as you can.
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Free At Last! Let’s Sail to Cuba

9 2hi Phil,

I’ve been in touch with folks at Commerce and Treasury, and yes:

if the people on a boat are going to Cuba under one of the 12 categories approved for a OFAC general license (such as participation in a recognized sporting competition, like the Hemingway tournament), then no BIS license from Commerce is needed and the boat can stay in Cuba for up to 14 days. Also, the Treasury requirement for an OFAC passenger carrier certification license has also been eliminated for such boats.

So, all the boat needs is the CG-3300 permit to enter Cuban territorial waters.

Great progress !

Jeffrey

Dr. Jeffery Boutwell serves on the board of The Latin American Working Group in Washington D.C.

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