The United States reopened its embassy in Havana in August. No one knows how — or how quickly — relations with Cuba will change in the coming year, but experts predict there will be significant transformations. For now, President Obama has eased some travel and business restrictions, but the fact remains that only Congress can lift the 53-year-old embargo, something that is unlikely until after the November 2016 presidential election.
In the meantime, it is possible to visit Cuba and fish its waters legally. A destination-angling company experienced in Cuba travel, such as my Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures (yellowdogflyfishing.com), can manage the paperwork to travel from the United States to Cuba. We can assist in securing a people-to-people travel license through the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust in Florida. Travelers licensed through the BTT or another legal provider can arrange travel through a company such as mine or through other travel services or airlines serving Cuba.
LEGAL TRAVEL TO CUBA
Shortly after the landmark December 2014 announcement of a thaw in relations with Cuba, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments unveiled new rules easing travel and trade restrictions, giving U.S. travelers more opportunities to visit the island. One of the notable changes is that Americans no longer are required to obtain preapproval from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control before embarking on a trip to Cuba. As long as you self-certify that you are traveling in one of 12 categories — which include educational, religious, people-to-people, scientific, journalistic and humanitarian — you can visit the island without applying for permission. If you plan to go on your own boat, however, you still must obtain a Coast Guard permit.
Traveling to Cuba solely as a tourist or angler remains prohibited, but Yellow Dog or another knowledgeable angling-destination company can assist in arranging the people-to-people links that make travel there legal.
WHEN TO GO
You can fish Cuba sooner rather than later, but demand for prime fishing weeks is high, with much of the 2016 season already booked and filled. That said, my company still has some great dates available and other companies likely do, as well.
BOOK WITH AN EXPERIENCED COMPANY
All sorts of travel agents, booking services and even fly shops are jumping on the bandwagon to cash in on heightened demand for fishing in Cuba. The fact is that few of them have any real experience traveling in Cuba, fishing there or managing the logistics of a visit. This is a complex trip that’s not easy to organize. The country’s infrastructure is a mess, so agents must know the lay of the land. We first visited Cuba in the late 1990s, and since then nine of us at Yellow Dog have made dozens of trips to every major fishing destination on the island. Check websites for up-to-date information on fishing Cuba, then follow up with company reps to gauge their level of knowledge.
AIR TRAVEL TO CUBA
We’re already seeing U.S. carriers scheduling flights to Cuba from major airports, including O’Hare (Chicago), Baltimore-Washington, Dallas-Fort Worth, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Luis Muñoz Marín (San Juan, Puerto Rico). We expect more routes to open in the coming months as the Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Homeland Security update their rules. For now, most U.S.-to-Havana flights are operated by third-party charter companies. American, Delta, JetBlue, Sun Country and several other airlines operate chartered flights to the island and plan to convert those to scheduled commercial services as soon as possible.
Anglers wishing to arrange their own travel to Cuba can book a U.S.-to- Havana charter flight. It also is worth noting that travelers can use select U.S. credit and debit cards in Cuba, with more coming online. There is no longer a per diem rate for how much money visitors can spend once they reach the island, and U.S. travel and trip insurers now are authorized to provide insurance policies for those who travel to or within Cuba.
A NEW TOURNAMENT
A new Cuban marlin tournament, the Gamefish Grande Championship, is slated for June 20-25 in Varadero and June 27-July 2 in Havana. The Varadero base for tournament boats is the new Marina Gaviota, the largest marina in the Caribbean, at 1,160 slips. For the second leg, anglers will fish the “Hemingway Mile” off Havana, where Ernest Hemingway landed some of his record catches. Marina Hemingway will serve as the base and is the location of Gamefish Grande partner the Hemingway International Yacht Club. Active Interest Media’s Marine Group (which Anglers Journal is part of) is running the tourney in partnership with The Billfish Foundation, the Hemingway International Yacht Club and Marina Gaviota. For more information contact Jennifer Dudas at firstname.lastname@example.org.