Conversations with Ernest Hemingway
Fishing and hunting
HEMINGWAY’S FISHING BOAT, Pilar, is on display at his former home near Havana. He had the boat modified to his specifications. You can imagine him strapped into the single fighting chair, a cigar in gritted teeth, battling a monster marlin for hours.
“Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for,” ― Ernest Hemingway, “The Old Man and the Sea.”
During our Cuba trip, we visited Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s former home near Havana, which was restored and reopened in 1995 after years of decay following the author’s departure from the island he loved in 1961. It was said that Ava Gardner swam nude in his pool there. Unfortunately, the pool was drained and Ava wasn’t around, nor was Hemingway, but if you believe in ghosts, Finca Vigia has those kinds of vibes.
Hemingway left Cuba because our government threatened sanctions against his publishing in the U.S. if he stayed in Cuba under Castro. It doesn’t appear that Hemingway was close to Castro, but he did side with him against Batista during the revolution and they went fishing together afterward. Castro caught the biggest fish.
Papa, as Cubans call him, left lots of his stuff behind at his home, which sits on a hill with a view of Havana. A joint effort by Cuban and U.S. preservationists brought it back. His boat, Pilar, was brought up from the docks and is on display near the pool.
He was a passionate angler who grew up fishing the lakes and streams of Michigan, and eventually devoted most of his angling to big billfish in the deep blue waters off the island.
He wasn’t into catch-and-release. He fished to battle, conquer, kill and eat the things he caught. His later books, including “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Islands in the Stream” reflect his fascination with fighting (to the death) the ocean’s biggest and strongest denizens.
Except for Pilar, you don’t see or hear much about his love of fishing by walking around Finca Vigia or talking with the curators and guides. Visitors are not allowed inside the home, but all the windows are open and you can see into his rooms, where lots of trophy animal heads are mounted and cabinets are overflowing with books.
For a while, I just sat on a bench near Pilar and tried to imagine him fighting huge blue marlins from that single chair in the stern. I wondered what he would say about the kind of fishing I prefer – trout fishing in mountain streams. Then I remembered that he had a lot to say about trout fishing, particularly in his early writings, including “Big Two-Hearted River.”
There is great collection of his writings on angling entitled “Hemingway on Fishing,” which I read several years ago and picked up again just to reread some of the chapters.
Even then, he was a meat fisherman, and if I had been able to ask him about today’s catch-and-release practices, he would have dismissed it with a sneer as a waste of time. Yet, in a letter to his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, his description of heaven had a least one part on which we would agree.
“To me a heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well, and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on nine different floors and one house would be fitted up with special copies of the Dial printed on soft tissue and kept in the toilets on every floor, and in the other house we would use the American Mercury and the New Republic.” – Letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald (July 1, 1925).
FISHING NEAR SONOMA this week was best at the mouth of Sonoma Creek at the Highway 37 bridge where several larger sturgeon up to 62 inches were caught, reports Valerie Lightborne, of Leonard’s Bait Shop at Port Sonoma. Valerie has also gotten excellent sturgeon fishing reports from Napa River anglers and those fishing the Bay near the Pump House. She and Joel are having a hard time keeping live bait in stock because action is so hot and heavy.
Keith Fraser, at Loch Lomond Bait Shop in San Rafael, said all of this week’s tides are excellent and getting better. He added that not only are sturgeon biting, but so are larger striped bass.
Dungeness crab and rockfish combo trips are still big winners for clients of Capt. Rick Powers, of Bodega Bay Sportfishing. Rick’s boats are bringing home full limits on every trip.
Lake action locally remains slow and most of the rivers are still a little high. The Trinity River is probably the best bet right now for steelhead.