In Line with Hemingway’s Hooks
Fishing almost becomes its own character in many of Earnest Hemmingway’s novels, probably because he was so intensely passionate about it. He particularly loved getting out on the water when he lived in Cuba. For good reason: This Caribbean country offers secluded waters with an abundance of bonefish, tarpon, permit, and many other coveted species of fish.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Hemingway was one of the first explorers to set sail off the shores of Cayo Guillermo on Cuba’s northeastern coast, searching for marlin and swordfish in the Atlantic Ocean. Connected to Cayo Coco by a 15km (9-mile) pedraplén (a walkway that bridges the distance btw. the mainland and the cays), this area boasts clear turquoise water and spectacular beaches including Playa El Paso, Playa del Medio, and Playa Larga. There’s even a deep sea fishing competition here named in honor of Hemingway that’s been going on since the 1950s.
Cayo Guillermo is a good place to start your fishing adventure in Cuba. Relax at an all-inclusive resort and book a short fishing excursion with Marlin Marina ( 33/30-1737-1323) to catch some marlin of your own. After you’ve chilled out for a few days, you’ll want to venture a bit farther for the real excitement.
From Cayo Coco, it’s about an hour and a half drive southeast to Jucaro, the main port in Jardines de la Reina, or Gardens of the Queen. This is the departure point for most multi-day fishing trips in Jardins de la Reina. The 160km-long (100-mile) chain of uninhabited cayes (keys) is protected by the third-longest barrier reef in the world. In Jucaro, you can either board a “live-aboard” yacht (Halcon, La Reina, or Caballones) or a transport boat to take you to La Tortuga, the double-decker floating houseboat hotel that’s permanently secured in a small protected channel about 3 hours from Jucaro. Whichever you choose, you’ll spend your days at sea—with a small group of other anglers and without cellphone or e-mail access—just trying to reel in some big ’ol bonefish, tarpon, and permit. The saltwater fly-fishing grand slam would be to catch all three on the same day, but that’s nearly impossible. Permits are particularly difficult to get a hold of; they’re elusive, skittish, and smart. There are plenty of other fish here too, including snapper, a variety of jacks, and grouper.
Trying to wrestle any 30-pound fish out of the water is no small feat, and any experienced angler knows it. As you maneuver your fishing rod, trying to hold on, the thrill of the fight—and eventually the catch—pulses through your whole body. As Hemingway once said during a 1965 interview in The Atlantic Monthly, “It’s wonderful to get out on the water. It’s the last free place there is, the sea.” —JS
Tour: Avalon Cuban Fishing Centers ( 011/39-335-814-9111; www.cubanfishingcenters.com).
When to Go: Oct–Aug.
Aeropuerto Internacional Jardines del Rey.