Fishing and Boating in Cuba - 1 of 3 (too many words for 1 post)

IdlewildeIdlewilde Posts: 1,357 Officer
The day will come when the US eases or eliminates travel restrictions on US citizens traveling to Cuba, and when that day comes there will be a flood of boaters and anglers traveling to Cuba both by air and by boat. Some Us citizens and boaters are already going in spite of the restrictions. Cuba lies 92nm (not 90 as everyone says) or 106 statute miles south of Key West, and 208 nautical/240 statute miles wsw of Miami - yes, it's a loooong way from Miami - a lot further than most people think, and if go by boat from Miami, you are going against the Gulf Stream all the way!

LOTS or people have misconceptions about Cuba, as there are all kinds of hearsay, rumors, and propaganda put out by those who are anti-Castro, as well as by those who just don't know what's going on on the island.

Hopefully the below will clear up some rumors, I heard, he said, and other incorrect information. Please do not turn this post into a political discussion as this information is not intended to be pro or anti-Castro, pro or anti-Cuban, or pro or anti-travel to Cuba. However, you should know that the US Government (Treasury Department, Dept of OFAC) has restrictions on US citizens paying for travel to, or for anything within Cuba. Travel at your own risk, or fly with a company who can legally take you to Cuba if you just want to go as a tourist. FYI there are dozens of company's taking groups of Americans to Cuba on religious, humanitarian, medical, educational, and other tours, and in addition there are literally hundreds of other Americans traveling to Cuba independently and w/o a license every month.

First a little history on Cuba that you may knot be aware of - this information will help you understand the status of the fishery in Cuba today. January 1959, Castro and the Revolutionaries finally defeat the Batista government. 1961, the US backed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs was an enormous failure. 1962, Castro forms an alliance with the USSR and agrees to let the USSR place Russian missiles on Cuban soil, which resulted is the US's Naval Blockade of Cuba. During this time (1961/62), the USSR's leader (Khrushchev) agrees to provide food and other assistance to Cuba, and this alliance continued until the USSR fell apart (perestroika/glasnost) starting in December 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR was split into various new countries. Subsequently all Russian aid to Cuba ceased in 1991.

Prior to the Russians pulling out of Cuba in 1991, they were providing approximately 60% of all the food Cubans were eating, and their favorite meat was beef, pork, and chicken, in that order - and yes a little locally caught fish. Up until 1991, Cuba's fresh and saltwater fisheries were equal to none - big bass in many lakes (interestingly many Cubans call bass "trout", because that is the word they were taught in school), bonefish, permit, mutton snapper (yes, muttons on the flats), and tarpon in the near shore waters, along with loads of marlin (both blue & white), sailfish, great wahoo fishing, and yft in the blue water near shore. Their fishery continued to be excellent thru 1991 because the Russians were providing the bulk of the beef, pork, chicken,and other food stuffs, and what the Ruskies were not providing was home grown in Cuba - with the fresh and saltwater fishery was left alone to prosper.

But in 1991 when Russia was dissolving and they pulled entirely out of Cuba, the Cuban people were faced with a major problem, ie. 60% of their food was no longer available. So what is a person/family's first need? Right - food/something to eat, as they were truly in a survivalist mode when the Ruskies disappeared. So if food is not being given to you anymore, you have no money, and no food is available in stores, where do you get something to eat? Right, you catch, kill, and eat whatever you can catch = birds, dogs, cats (yes dogs & cats - when you are desperate you are desperate), and of course fish.

Regressing for a moment, starting in 1948, and continuing through 1954 the US helped Cuba build numerous dams and stocked these new freshwater impoundments with largemouth bass from Florida, and in the ensuing years the Cuban fresh water bass population grew to be as good, and in some expert's opinion, better than Florida's. But those fish have virtually disappeared over the past 20 years due to subsistence fishing, and today the Cuban bass fishery is basically dead, so if you are interested in bass fishing in Cuba you are out of luck unless you just have to do it for the experience. So can you still catch largemouth bass in Cuba? Yes, but you will work your **** off to catch a few 1-3 pounders. If you want to bass fish, stay in the US. But if you just have to bass fish in Cuba you want to go to Lake Hanabanilla - undoubtedly the most beautiful lake in Cuba, where there is a funky, old, 1 star Russian built hotel, and that's all that is there (4 hr drive from Havana on unmarked roads, so get a private driver- otherwise you will never find it).

Cuba had some of the best bonefishing in the world - maybe the best. There was a guy from Norway who in hte early 1990's caught 60/70/day, several days in a row in one area in the early 1990's, and I have talked to others who had similar results back then. But no more. There are still a few bonefish left in a few areas, but most bonefish flats and adjacent channels have been netted into oblivion via gill nets. To get to what are now the best bonefish, permit, and tarpon areas in the islands south of Cuba is very expensive, and these are leased operations, so there is no doing it on your own, and the reason these areas still have fish is because they are so remote. There are a few bf left on Cuba's north and south coasts, but very few. And there are a few tarpon along the north and south coast with some sight fishing, and some blind casting for mostly medium size fish in the 40-80 lb class. There is however, an amazing mutton snapper fishery using topwater plugs in Cuba, but it's a chore to find these areas - actually it's a chore to get anywhere in Cuba as transportation is not something they do well.

Offshore of Havana used to be some of the best wahoo and blue marlin fishing anywhere in the America's, but their saltwater fishery has been equally decimated. Now there are nets and longlines everywhere - inshore, offshore, every day, 24 hours/day, and they have been there since the mid-1990's. Now you'll spend days before you even have a shot at a marlin due to all of the long lines. They have marlin and wahoo tournaments out of Marina Hemingway (8km west of downtown), and in the 1980's and early 90's those tournaments caught a lot of bill fish, dolphin, and wahoo - but in contrast, todays' tournaments produce very very few fish. As an example, in last years Hemingway Marlin Tournament with 31 boats fishing 8am to 6pm for four days, there were only 4 blue marlin and 3 white marlin caught, whereas the same tournament in the late 1980's and early 1990's produced marlin catches of 60-80 fish per tournament. Today you have a better chance of catching a blue marlin or wahoo off of Key West than Havana. Why? = those dozens of long lines that are always in the water.

This is 1 of 3 posts - if you want to read more about boating and fishing in Cuba, see Post's 2 and 3.

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