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

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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

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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

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FISH CUBA NOW!

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!
philkeywest@yahoo.com
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.

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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…..to 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

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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.”

Fish Cuba Now! Support the Cuban People – Wahoo! Wahoo!

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Wolfpacking Wahoo

November and December brings masses of migrating Wahoo, swimming a stone’s throw from the beach and dominating Cuba’s North coast fishery.
Fast, ferocious, excellent table fare, are words used to describe one of the swiftest and most sought after gamefish on planet Earth. In Cuba, these veracious eaters are treasured for their pack like attacks on trolling spreads, popping every clip, bending every rod and generating organized chaos on the back deck.
The migration brings them close, between the Marina Hemingway sea buoy and Mariel Harbor, less than 100 yards off the beach,
In celebration of the arrival of the wahoo, Fish Cuba Now has put together an exciting and affordable offshore angling package for those who want to experience world class fishing and tour historic Havana.
Fish Cuba Now handles all details including lodging, transportation and fishing with some of the most experienced captains in Cuba. Just bring the desire to battle one of the oceans greatest adversaries.
With over twenty-five years of angling experience in Cuba, Capt. Phil Thompson will assure your trip is the angling adventure of a lifetime.
Five day six night package for fall 2016.

*Airport service (airfare not included)
*Six nights lodging at Casa Estrella (within walking distance of Marina Hemingway)
*Three full days fishing
*Guided full day tour of Havana, Moro Castle, Hemingway’s house
*Car and driver at your disposal
*Meals include breakfast, lunch and a cook your catch traditional Cuban dinner
*All for only $1700.00/ person. (4 anglers)
Email or call today….Wahoo season is just around the corner and Cuba’s filing up fast.
Capt. Phil Thompson Pres.
Fishcubanow.com
fishcubanow@nauta.cu
US 813-770-4421
CU 535-483-4202

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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