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.