Fish Cuba Now! Support The Cuban People


The River

It winds through the northern edge of the Zapata swamp, defining the border of the largest fresh water preserve in the Caribbean. A mere two hours southeast of Havana, Rio Hatiquanico is an eighteen kilometer utopia for fishermen and a bird watcher’s paradise, characterizing the best of Cuba’s environmental wonders.
Snook and tarpon for anglers, manatees and crocodiles for the naturalist, it’s home to far too many species of fowl to list for the birders.
Chino and I met Filipe at the headwaters one morning accompanied by Michael, a fourteen year old American living in Columbia. The teenager is not an avid fisherman per say, but the young man has read about leaping tarpon and wants to try his hand.
The average visitor to Cuba would be hard pressed to locate the oft flooded road to the river, so much the better. Like many of this wonderful island’s secrets, you have to dig around to find it.
Penisula de Zapata is one of Cuba’s premier preserves. Its shape, resembles a Spanish boot, bordered on the east by the Bay of Cochino and ending at the Gulfo de Botapano to the west. At the heel of the boot is La Salina, one of Cuba’s premier bonefishing sites…. The toe, an isolated cienaga or swamp with no roads, no people, only accessible by machete blade or boat.
At the small dock, cool in the shade of giant trees, a brown stream flows over a small dam beginning its journey, winding and meandering, twisting and turning augmented by freshwater springs feeding clear cool water to the ever widening creek.
As we will soon see, the size of the tarpon will increase with the width of the river.
We’ll forgo the fly today substituting jigs and plugs cast with spinners. Fly is definitely an option but sinking tip line is crucial and casting in the narrow channels between thick foliage can be tricky.
Chino’s enthusiasm matches that of teenage Michael. He’s a fisherman, captain of a sportfishing boat at Marina Hemingway, winner of the 2013 Hemingway International Billfish tournament. But no matter the level of angling or the environment, with a fishing rod in hand, he transmutes back to childhood and the excitement of bringing home the snapper or jacks to augment the meager supplies of nineties Cuba.
Within minutes Chino hooks a nice snook right at the boat. The ten pound fish flashes a tannin tinted side with the defining black line denoting his species. “Conyo” yells Chino as the fish pulls the hook and disappears, returning sore mouth to his mangrove haunt.
The river widens and Michael gets his shot when a fifty pound tarpon grabs his rebalo plug and explodes leaping straight into the mangroves.
Filipe is desperate, attempting to turn the small craft around in the smaller river.
“I forgot to install the reverse in the engine last night” he says tongue and cheek. The equipment of this government controlled site is somewhat lacking. He uses a combination of motor and pole against the current and locates the braided line cut halfway through a tough mangrove branch the size of a man’s arm. But, there is no fish and no plug and Filipe’s disappointment is equally divided over the loss of both.
Two more bends and the river opened up to the width of an eight lane interstate highway. Filipe set two lines and we trolled plugs over a consistent bottom of hard sand averaging fourteen feet in depth. Michael and I would later confirm Filipe’s description with a cooling swim punctuated with Chino’s calls of “Look out, here comes a crocodile.”
We jumped another two tarpon losing both fish and another plug when the tarpon bit while Filipe was working on a line snafu.
A group of rowdy Australians passed and Filipe questioned their guide. “They jumps six fish.” He translated, “and landed one over one hundred pounds. It is always better to start early.”
As the boisterous Aussies disappeared back up river the quite peacefulness of the wonder river returned. Buzzards and hawks soared on tropical thermals about and the call of the large woodpecker announced the end of our excursion.
Filipe gave the helm to young Michael on the ride back, a gesture that put a bright smile on the young man’s face and helped erased the disappointment of not landing his first silver king.

Donations Needed For Zapata Environmental Project…Support The Cuban People



U.S.-Cuba Ecotourism Cooperation:

A Fundraising Initiative for the Zapata Environmental Project

The Zapata Environmental Project, located on Cuba’s southern coast is the opportunity to work with resourceful Cuban entrepreneurs who are shaping their country’s future – from the arts and sciences to business and tourism. One such visionary is Felipe Rodriguez Alonso. Recognized as one of Cuba’s premier fly-fishing guides, Felipe has created a training program for Cuban youth to learn the basics of ecotourism and the need for sustainability of natural resources.
In the 1970s, Felipe served with the Cuban military in Angola. Today, two hours south of Havana, he battles to preserve the pristine mangrove flats, rivers, lakes and lagoons of the Zapata nature preserve (Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata). The Zapata Swamp conservation area is the largest preserve in the Caribbean, roughly twice the size of the Florida Everglades. The Zapata region is often compared to the Florida swamp in the scope and majesty of its flora and fauna. But while the Everglades has suffered from decades of misguided development, strict environmental regulation has allowed the Zapata nature preserve to retain its natural vitality – until now. Facing a marked increase in recreational use from international and U.S. visitors, its fragile resources are at potential risk.
Using a few donated supplies and his own modest resources, Felipe began teaching Cuban teenagers in the town of Jagüey Grande, located on the outskirts of the Zapata preserve. For more than a decade, Felipe has taught the basics of fly fishing to more than 40 Cuban youths, many from broken homes. Along with the instructions, Felipe also imparts the importance of catch-and-release practices and prohibitions on fish and lobster poaching, all to underscore the urgency of sound environmental protections.
In January 2017, Ocean Passages introduced Felipe to a group of American students from the University of Southern Maine, as well as crew members of the schooner Harvey Gamage, in the main plaza of Jagüey Grande to discuss what he calls The Zapata Environmental Project. Felipe explained that his students come from communities without much hope, and how the bonding experience of learning fly-fishing techniques builds self-confidence – and creates economic opportunity. The training offers fishing, language and entrepreneurial skills critical for future employment in the recreational fishing and tourism industry, which will continue to grow in the years ahead. Already, four of Felipe’s former students are working as ecotourism guides along Cuba’s southern coast – and Felipe himself guides the world-class Orvis fishing equipment company for Orvis fly fishing tours to Cuba.
The encounter between U.S. and Cuban students in Jagüey Grande made a deep and meaningful impression. One of our Ocean Passages students was so taken with the commitment of Felipe and his students that she wrote a business case study of the Escuela de Manglar for her tourism and economic development course at the University of Southern Maine. Since then, project director Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell, has met with Felipe in both the U.S. and in Cuba to further discuss a long-term partnership.
Over the next several years, Felipe hopes to put his training program on a more permanent footing in the Zapata region for use as an educational and ecotourism center. Located at the head of the Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Los Cochinos), the Zapata Envirnomental Project would be perfectly sited to train a new generation of Cuban guides for U.S. and international visitors to the Zapata Peninsula region. Felipe and his colleague Don Yoyi, owner of a fly fishing shop on the Playa Larga road near the Bay of Pigs, would develop the curriculum and infrastructure of the program with the assistance of the Zapata National Park and the Cuban Ministry of Culture.
These efforts would build upon the relationships that Felipe and Don have established with the National Enterprise for the Conservation of Flora and Fauna in Cuba. Once the program is established, the Cuban students could broaden their education through coursework and by performing environmental base-line studies of the Zapata nature preserve, measuring water quality, flora assessment, and fish and bird populations. Another member of our team, fishing captain Phil Thompson of Tampa and Havana, has developed relationships with Prof. Jay Shelton (Fisheries and Aquatic Ecology) and Prof. Kris Irwin (Environmental Education) of the University of Georgia that might directly contribute to Felipe’s program. Other supporters of the overall effort include Dr. Jorge Angulo (currently at the University of Florida, and former director, Center for Marine Studies, University of Havana); Aaron Adams and Will Benson of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust; Marty Arostegui, former board member of the International Game Fish Association; and Dan Whittle of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Development Strategy

A dedicated fund will provide the resources and equipment needed to put the Zapata Environment Program on a solid footing. The fundraising goal of $20,000 for Year One would cover personnel costs, computer and educational supplies, fishing equipment, and transportation costs so that Felipe’s students can spend as much time “in the field” as possible, practicing their skills in the Zapata nature preserve.
In Years Two to Four, a fundraising goal of an additional $80,000 would make possible a “leasing a modest farm and property somewhere along the Jagüey Grande to Playa Larga road, in the general vicinity of Don Yoyi’s fly fishing shop. Several sites of between 5 and 20 acres have been identified aside the Playa Larga road, some 10 kilometers north of the Bay of Pigs and on the outskirts of the entrance to the Zapata nature preserve, thus providing easy access to the recreational, sports fishing birding, and other environmental resources of the region. Felipe Rodriguez and Don Yoyi would secure the initial lease of the property, with resources from the Zapata Environmental Project fund also helping to support the operations, maintenance, and educational outreach of the project as it grows over time.


It is also hoped, once political conditions permit, that longer term fundraising will facilitate exchanges of U.S. and Cuban students in the areas of recreational tourism and economic development. For example, it may become possible to provide short-term internships in Maine for some of Felipe’s students, who could then spend several weeks during the summer with local recreational fishing organizations and companies. Likewise, the fund could provide resources for Maine students to travel to Cuba for internships with The Zapata Environmental Project and similar Cuban enterprises.
By contributing to Felipe Rodriguez and his work with Cuban young people, The Zapata Environmental Project Fund will also support the mission of facilitating direct engagement between Cubans and Americans that promotes sustainable tourism and economic development in both countries. Especially in rural areas such as the Zapata Peninsula and the Bay of Pigs, the promotion of local Cuban resources to better serve international recreational tourists can have a dramatic effect on the incomes and livelihoods of the Cuban people. As we’ve seen over the past several years, there has been a significant number of Cuban entrepreneurs opening their own casas particulares (B&B’s), paladares (home restaurants), and other businesses catering to foreign visitors. Training a new generation of Cubans to serve the recreational and ecotourism industries can both help provide needed jobs and preserve Cuba’s natural resources.
The photo below shows Felipe (white cap) sitting with acclaimed Cuban-American fly-fisherman Marty Arostegui (blue cap) and Jose Ramon Cruz, President of the Cuban Recreational Fishing Association (blue shirt), with Felipe’s students at the sport fishing center on the Rio Hatiguanico in the Zapata Peninsula nature preserve. The young people you see in this photo are Cuba’s future, dedicated to preserving the magnificent natural resources of the Zapata nature preserve and throughout Cuba. With our help, they can build a bright future for themselves, their country, and for those of us who will enjoy the sport fishing, ecotourism, and recreational treasures of Cuba for years to come.

Find out how to receive one of these beautiful, one of a kind,  hand carved. Cuban creations by Cuban artist Don YoYi while contributing to preserving the environment and developing  leaders for tomorrow.

“We cut a tree, we plant a tree.” Don Yoyi

Zapata Environmental Project



Zapata Environmental Project



Nearly two million Cuban Americans reside in the United States. But to those who live around Marina Hemingway, the port 10 miles from Havana, there is only one Yuma Cubano, Spanish slang for the American Cuban.

It’s a nickname Ruskin’s Phil Thompson earned by residing near Cuba’s main recreational marina for 24 of the last 36 months as he helped a local fisherman start the Zapata Environmental Project. The program teaches Cuban kids how to preserve nature and earn money through eco-tourism.

It will officially launch this summer at Los Morejones fly fishing shop, on 6 acres of land situated near the main entrance of southern Cuba’s 1.2-million-acre Zapata National Park nature sanctuary.

There, children will gather at no cost to learn fly casting and bait-making techniques, marine biology, business, English and more.

But for this to happen, the 66-year-old Thompson said, “I first had to stop thinking like an American and start thinking like a Cuban.”

He was in Tampa in late April as part of a one-week tour of Florida fly shops to promote fishing-themed, hand-carved wooden Cuban art to be sold to help raise $5,000 for the project. The wares, such as tackle boxes and sculptures of tarpon, are made by the proprietor of Los Morejones.

The art will be available locally by the end of June at Tampa’s Minnows & Monsters Tackle Rod, Thompson said, or through

Importing and selling Cuban art is legal under the Cuban Embargo.

Thompson’s proceeds will be used to provide equipment that students can use to monitor and manage the ecosystem by, for instance, testing water quality and keeping track of the fish population.

Thompson fished in Cuba as far back as 1993 and has long thought that it could be a source of tourist revenue for those residing outside the busy cities most foreigners visit.

So, in 2015, he started his Support the Cuban People Fishing Program to teach anglers how to operate charter businesses.

It was through those classes he met Felipe Alonso, a fishing guide in the Zapata who, from his home, educated kids how to forge careers like his.

Since this was in line with what Thompson was doing, he offered to help Alonso expand the program beyond instructing a few children how to cast and make fly fishing bait.

The plan became to have Cuban and American marine biologists donate time to teach kids about their science and how to apply it to eco-tourism.

So, Thompson recruited Jay Shelton and Kris Irwin, University of Georgia professors with resumes that include establishing a Costa Rican satellite campus focused on environmental sustainability.

“Zapata is a pristine environment with minimal human impact,” Irwin said.

“As we look to the future, is human extraction and exploitation going to increase? I think we all agree it is. They need to make informed decisions about what is the most sustainable way to benefit from this resource.”

The professors signed on nearly two years ago, yet the project stalled.

“It’s because I kept thinking like an American,” Thompson said.

He was initially trying to help fisherman Alonso afford a farm on which to build a campus — an “American way of doing business,” Thompson said.

Buying such a large plot on the island is nearly impossible. Cuban friends finally made him realize that he needed to find a Cuban with land who was willing to share it out of generosity.

Then, last fall, he was introduced to Don YoYi, an artist who runs Los Morejones fly shop on land his family has owned for six generations.

During their first conversation, Thompson said, YoYi agreed to host the project for free, plus provide his wooden art to be sold in Florida.

“We were last in Cuba in June of 2016,” said professor Shelton. “We wanted to go back the day we went home. We have been hopeful and dreaming for Phil and Filepe to succeed. This is exciting.”


“97 Miles South – Key West To Cuba” Fisherman’s Review

97 Miles South
By: Captain Phil Thompson
Reviewed by: Chris O’Byrne

Fishing, travel, fishing, love, fishing, adventure, fishing, fighting bad guys, and fishing; 97 Miles South, by Captain Phil Thompson has all the ingredients of a great story.
In this entertaining short novel, the American crew of a tournament fishing yacht cruises to Havana Harbor for the Hemingway Marlin Tournament, but those majestic fish are only their first challenge. Some of man’s most harrowing antagonists: nature, economic philosophy, and love, take their turns confronting the crew. On top of the vivid descriptions of beautiful land and sea, and action that had me cheering, this fast-moving story delivers significant information.
In the tradition of important books like Atlas Shrugged, The Casual Vacancy, and Animal Farm, tropical fishing is the lens through which Captain Phil displays the human struggle to overcome the oppressive promises of Communism. With insights based on years spent in Cuba, Captain Phil shows us the life of those forgotten people under what he describes as “the invisible dome of isolation.”
Even with the important and enlightening information, 97 Miles is an emotional love story at its heart. All the struggles of relationships, yours or your fishing buddy’s, are played out with a long list of well-drawn characters we care about. The heroes fight for love, victory, and freedom with the same sneaky skills they use to trick fish. Captain Phil blends the struggles of the sporting life, human life, and the life of the heart with ridiculous hilarity and rich images of people in action.
Off shore, in shore, and fly anglers will enjoy this book, as the many fishing scenes, even underwater, are described in such detail that the reader’s hands will hurt. Story lovers who enjoy tense plot lines will bight their fingernails to the nub waiting for the heroes’ successes in dangerous missions outside of fishing. Travelers, experienced and would be, will enjoy 97 Miles, Captain Phil’s third novel, as he guides his characters to varied locations we may not be able to visit in real life but come to know in this novel. Beginning in Key West, The heroes travel across the Gulf Stream, to the bright clubs and dark corners of Havana, up to the impoverished mountain communities of Cuba, and to La Finca Vigía, The Cuban home of Ernest Hemingway.
Not surprisingly, the person behind this well told story is a fisherman. Captain Phil ( has lived the life in the book as a boat captain, professional fishing, and scuba dive guide. In this enjoyable novel, available at The Andy Thornal Company, Captain Phil shows that he is not only a skilled writer, but an experienced professional of all the outdoor sports he describes.

Fish Cuba Now! Support The Cuban People….Rumors from the Garden


Cuba is a rumor mill, especially when the buzz involves ex-president Fidel Castro Ruiz. One thing we know for sure…. the aging leader is an environmentalist.
Castro – soon after the revolution – began replanting clear cut forest, experimenting with environmental friendly farming and launched a process which resulted in almost a quarter of the island’s lands and aquatic treasures now protected in parks and preserves.
One pristine site is “Jardines de la Reina” – Gardens of the Queen. A string of archipelagos roughly the size of the Florida Keys, the Garden was first discovered and named by Columbus to honor Queen Isabella of Spain.
For more than fifty years this island paradise has been off limits to all but restricted commercial lobster harvesting.
The Ocean Doctor claims, “The Gardes was Cuba’s first preserve.”
Wikipedia says, “It was one of Castro’s favorite underwater fishing spots.”
According to Cuba’s coconut telegraph, it was the bearded socialist’s love of a beautiful woman that led to the preservation of this unique ecosystem.
Seems back in the 1960s, while on a tour of Cuba’s old city Trinidad de Cuba, Fidel fell for the lovely Dalia Soto. At the time, the blond hair, green eyed school teacher was serving as secretary of the Sugar Works Union.
Dalia was a free diver of some note and had been to the garden spearfishing. She suggested her new suitor visit the area and, when the trip was over, a relationship which would eventually lead to marriage had blossomed. In addition, the aquatic wonder that enthralls us today was for the second time in recorded history…. revered in honor of a woman.

Fish Cuba Now! Support The Cuban People…Hemingway Yacht Club Turns 25


Club Natico Turns 25

If you’ve sailed, cruised or fished the waters of Cuba, chances are you’ve visited Marina Hemingway. Located nine miles west of Havana, the marina has been the primary nautical link to Cuba for the boating world. Built in 1958 by then President Batista, the marina lay unfinished until Cuba opened its doors to tourism in 1985. Since then, sailors, tournament fishermen and broken boaters have found the welcome mat out, no matter your nationality or circumstances.

Food, fuel and protected slips are not the only attractions. A port of entry to the country and convenient access to the centuries old capital of Cuba are strong draws that lure boaters from across the world to Marina Hemingway.

Mega yachts stop on the way to and from winter haunts in the Caribbean. Sport fishing boats on the way to the spring sailfish push off the Yucatan refuel, and multi-engine center consoles complete their dash across the 90 mile Florida Straits at the Marina named for the famous fisherman, writer and resident of Cuba, Ernest Hemingway.

Located just inside the marina gates sits the Hemingway International Yacht Club. On special occasions, its yardarm, bow shaped ocean blue wall and two story building is adorned with flags from too many countries to count, flapping in the tropical trades.

Inside the tidy clubhouse, hang yacht club burgees from around the globe. Photos of Fidel and Ernest, plaques, awards and mementos of past achievements adorn the walls alongside pictures of record Blue Marlin and Mahi. The Club’s bar and spacious patio is a watering hole for sailors, yachtsmen and fishermen who sip Mojitoes, spin yarns and share the latest nautical news.

On May 21st of 2017, the club celebrated its 25th birthday, a unique milestone for the the only private yacht club in Cuba. In pre-revolution Cuba, there were more than one hundred yacht clubs and sailing organizations on the island. Branded by the revolution as a bourgeois activity, yachting was discouraged along with golf, the Beatles and Hollywood movies.

But 25 years ago this past May, Jose Escrisch convinced the government that Cuba’s future must include mariners. Cuba’s geographic location as the gateway to the Caribbean made Marina Hemingway too important a resource to ignore.

From the dream of one man and with and a small injection of private funds, the Hemingway Yacht Club has steadily grown in size and stature. It currently enjoys reciprocal relations with over 6oo yacht clubs, fishing and sailing organization worldwide.

Commodore Escrish, a native of Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city came to Havana to attend the Cuban Naval academy.
After graduation he received a commission and rose swiftly through the ranks to captain. After a brief stint in the USSR, Escrich returned to the academy as an instructor until he resigned to head Marlin company, which at the time oversaw operations of all the marinas in Cuba.

Today, the Commodore maintains a daunting schedule, directing his small dedicated staff in welcoming American yachting organizations, magazines, movie makers and boating industry representatives, all clamoring for time. In addition, Eschich has traveled to the States numerous times to brief race officials, fellow Commodores and regatta organizers on how best to navigate the waters of recently opened Cuba.

From January of 2017 through the 25th anniversary, the club will have hosted a dozen visiting clubs, regattas and rallys with pig roasts, Cuban rum and salsa dancing. The season kicked off with the resumption of the historic St. Petersburg, Florida to Havana Race in February, after a 54 year hiatus. The culmination of this busy year will be the Hemingway International Billfish Championship which last year featured nearly 100 competitors from eight countries, including more than 70 American boats.

Commodore Escrich is responsible for the survival of the Hemingway tournament, now in its 67th year. (“The Man Who Would Not Let The Hemingway Die”). Through many lean years the Commodore convince the powers at be to continue the contest despite a lack of competitors. “We must not let the tournament die.” He declared in a 2013 interview. Participation in the Hemingway had dropped to nine boats and the few tournament supporters were pulling out. With recently relaxed regulations for American boaters, the tournament has the potential to become one of the premier billfish competitions in the world.

Although the club encourages membership, it never turns away visiting mariners. On most days, you will find Cuban captains and sailors from the neighboring pueblos of Jaimanitas and Sante Fe conversing with foreign yachtsmen and stray tourist who make the short hop from Havana to glimpse life outside the bustling capital. The gathering of diverse peoples is the mission statement of the club. The Commodore and his staff strive to create an environment where the interaction of people from all countries, all backgrounds, and all political persuasions come together as friends and neighbors, all fellow travelers on the planter Earth’s great oceans.
“I began this organization based on the premise the boating community has a bond that crosses politics and ideologies.” says Escrich. “When one comes to the aid of a fellow sailor in peril, the question is not of politics. The question is how may I help? I believe Senor Hemingway would agree.”

Fish Cuba Now! Support The Cuban People….Hemingway Tournament 2017





Support The Cuban People

2017 Hemingway International Billfish Championship
May 29th – June 4th

Fish one of the most prestigious contest in the angling world featuring Cuban hand made works of art trophies.

Namesake of the pioneer of Marlin fishing, the Hemingway tournament offers some of the finest billfish angling in the world. Three and one half days of action within site of the historic city of Havana, this tournament features a chance to legally fish Cuban waters under U.S. Travel laws.

Fish Cuba Now is proud to offer charters which include modern boats and equipment and veteran captains and mates. Accommodations, tours of old Havana and all entry fees and party passes included.

Email or call today for the angling adventure of a lifetime!
011 535 483 4202

FISH CUBA NOW! Support The Cuban People….Bailing Out With Bonefish

IMG_3825Bailout – 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 not able to find, feed or land their target species. But, to fishing guides – being compensated for their expertise – wind, clouds, murky water or a lack of interest are merely 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 rod in hand, if the wind is wrong, the tarpon develop lockjaw.
On those days a Key’s guide may turn to barracuda as a bail out fish. Although exciting when hooked, jumping, snapping and armed with dangerous incisors, a ten pound cuda is not a hundred pound tarpon.
Capt. Grizz pursues marlin on fly – his territory, Cabo San Lucas Mexico. Twelve weight rods and a “tease them up and toss” technique is his preferred method for stripped, black, blue marlin and sailfish.
“Veteran captains know when it is not going to happen.” He says. “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.
“Jardines de la Renia”- “Gardens of the Queen” 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 – that has allowed it to lay virtually untouched by man.
This collection of uninhabited barrier Keys separates the shallow bay of Gulfo de Ana Maria from the rich blue waters of the Caribbean. Beyond the deserted white sand beaches and the pristine coral reefs, the ocean bottom drops to infinity.
My new friend Alek 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.”

Alek and our Avalon fishing guide Tony are at the same stage of life, 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.
Alek recently graduated from Tulane with a degree in finance and has begun his banking career in Texas.
Tony just completed the two year training program required by all Avalon guides and now poles fly clients from across the globe over the pristine flats of the Gardens.
Both are smart, observant, and anxious to make a mark in their chosen fields.
Awed by the raw beauty of our surroundings, the young man from Texas had been justifiably distracted. Then, this beginning banker’s analytical training emerged as he began to decipher 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 will go not catching fish.” I explained to Alek one afternoon. “And, they all have a bailout plan.”
“It’s just bazaar.” Alek countered. “The guides are using one of the most sot after fly targets in the world to break the boredom… bailout.”
We were sipping mojitos mixed and delivered to the rear deck of our mothership “Tortuga” by Milkis, Avalon’s beautiful blond bartender. Avalon Fishing Center is the exclusive angling company of the Gardens. 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, Colorado added they had stayed with the bones one full morning, releasing over thirty before breaking off for an afternoon dive. “We first caught them in muds.” Mike said. “But when the tide got high we found them in the mangroves, fining and tailing.
Walt from Sarasota, Florida added the fish were well above the size of the vast schools he’s fished in Mexico. “We had them pretty much at will there too.” He offered. “But, they weren’t nearly the size of these.”
Whether this steady stream of bonefish can be counted on year round is an unknown to our group. But, it suffices to say that in August of 2015, sixty miles off the south coast of Cuba, bailing out with bonefish was the plan.

Fish Cuba Now! Support the Cuban People – Zapata Enviromental School


img_4637Ruskin fisherman works to preserve Cuba’s environment
Paul Guzzo, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 15, 2016 6:00am

Ruskin’s Phil Thompson is helping to start a program in Cuba focused on teaching skills needed to protect nature and earn a living through eco-tourism to children living around the island’s Zapata Swamp National Park
TAMPA — Phil Thompson has cast enough fishing line in Cuba that it has become a second home for the Ruskin native and resident.

“Oh man, I love Cuba,” said Thompson, 64, who has been participating in fishing tournaments there since 1993. “I love its people. I love its culture. I love its beautiful nature.”
So Thompson feels a responsibility to help protect the island’s pristine nature reserves, some of which are being threatened by an onslaught of tourist anglers.
Thompson has spent the past year recruiting a collection of Americans — including the grandson of Ernest Hemingway — to help teach kids living around the island’s Zapata Swamp National Park how to protect the ecosystems and earn a living via ecotourism.
“Zapata is one of Cuba’s most beautiful sanctuaries,” Thompson said. “The kids there are its future stewards.”
Titled “The Guiding Youth Project,” the after-school and weekend program is still in its planning phase. But sponsors hope it eventually will include classroom facilities and will recruit Cuban citizens to teach the children about all aspects of environmental sustainability.
Under U.S. law, Americans still can’t visit Cuba for tourism reasons. A trip must fall under one of 12 categories, including education, humanitarian, scientific research and athletic competition. Fishing tournaments in Cuba fall under the last category.
But recreational fishing there is considered a tourist activity.
It now seems doubtful that the United States’ Cuba tourism ban will be lifted under President-elect Donald Trump’s administration. Trump has promised to reverse President Barack Obama’s executive orders that move toward normalizing relations with the island nation.
Still, even without Americans, the Cuban tourism industry is surging and Thompson said these visitors are beginning to realize that the island’s nature reserves are as beautiful as its popular beaches.
He is concerned that overfishing and new waterside hotels to house tourists could damage the nation’s ecosystem. But Thompson also believes there can be a balance between business and environmental protection.
Rather than building giant resorts, he said, small bed-and-breakfasts and inns that cater to ecotourists can have a positive impact on the economy without hurting the environment.
Last year, he started his own “Support the Cuban People Fishing Program” that teaches Cuban anglers proper catch-and-release techniques and how to run small charter boat operations that focus on quality outings instead of the quantity of fish reeled in.
It was while holding such classes that Thompson met Felipe Alonso, a fishing guide in the Zapata Park on Cuba’s southern coast.
Alonso instructs at-risk children how to work in his field. As adults, he hopes, they will feel compelled to protect Cuban nature sanctuaries against overdevelopment, even if tourism dollars prove a big temptation.
Thompson agreed to help the Cuban fishing guide expand his program, enlisting Patrick Hemingway — grandson of the American author beloved in Cuba — and Jeffrey Boutwell, board member with the Latin America Working Group Education Fund in Washington, D.C.
“It’s not that anyone wants to keep Zapata restrictive or for the privileged,” Boutwell said, “But it has to be managed in an environmentally sound way and in a way that allows only a certain amount of traffic. That takes knowledge.”
Thompson also recruited Jay Shelton and Kris Irwin, professors from the University of Georgia who are already involved with their institution’s satellite campus in Costa Rica, where university students learn about environmental sustainability on a 155-acre campus that doubles as a nature preserve.
Shelton and Irwin are applying for grants to purchase computers, scientific equipment and classroom supplies for the Cuban program. And schools and community centers in that area have expressed interest in hosting the program until land can be acquired on which to build facilities.
“We will make this happen,” Thompson said. “I guarantee it.”