Last week when Pete posted the piece on the relaxing of political ties between the U.S. and Cuba – and the renewed possibilities of U.S. anglers being able to fish the mythical lakes on the island – it jogged my memory of the first (maybe the only) bass tournament ever held on the island. That event was sponsored by the now-defunct American Bass Fishing organization, used Dan Snow as the conduit for getting a number of American anglers from the U.S. to Cuba via a tortuous path through Mexico.
By 1978 ABF had become a force in the competitive bass fishing arena and had not only swayed some anglers from B.A.S.S. but also had developed their own share of exceptional tournament anglers. Some of those anglers, such as Guy Eaker and Hank Parker, would, in turn, become household names as they eventually ventured over to B.A.S.S.
But let’s get back to the U.S./Cuba event.
The March/April 1978 issue of American Bass Fisherman had a 13-page spread on the event that covered not only the tournament but also the anglers and their tortuous trip. The cast of anglers was a who’s who in bass fishing at the time. That list included; Hank Parker, Guy Eaker, Shag Shahid, Shorty Evans, Arnold Philbeck, Bruce Cunagin, Herman Gettelfinger, Walt Sawicki, Joe Verbeck, Charlie Hardy, Don Butler, Roger Moore, Ernest Neil, Ken Stumpf and Lee Henry. Jerry McKinnis was scheduled to fish but his plane got iced over in the states and missed the event.
Others present, either as ABF / Cuba Tours, USA representatives or as observers included Wayne Dyer (ABF president), Dan Snow (president of Cuba Tours, USA) Jim Bagley, Ron Haddock (president of the Bass Caster’s Association), Larry Heath (BCA Tournament Director), Russ Miller (Cuba Tours, USA partner), Tom Wellborn (Bass Research Foundation) and Kim Whitaker (Rebel Lures).
The article speaks of the history of bass in Cuba (which were initially stocked in 1916), Wayne Dyer’s history with fishing Cuba (which started in the early 50s with a fish camp located at Treasure Lake) and, of course the tournament.
The tournament was set up as a team event where an American angler would be paired with a Cuban. The reason for this was the Cubans were inferior to the U.S. anglers and the tournament directors, both U.S. and Cuban, didn’t want to start an international uprise if/when the Americans beat the Cubans. This would become evident to the American anglers once they saw the equipment the Cubans used; Russian rods and Czech reels and worms made out of melted-down tire rubber.
The entire article, which is an amazing look back in history, is posted below.
As a caveat, I’d heard from bass fishing historian Dan Basore, who fished Cuba in the 70s, that the bass fishing there had been destroyed due to the Cuban government bringing in giant catfish as a food source. He said the catfish have eaten everything in the lakes and ruined a once-amazing fishery. This report was from 2014. To see if I could verify that, now eight years later, I Googled “Bass Fishing in Cuba.” What I came up with is there are still bass in Cuba. Maybe not the population there was in the 70s and early 80s but there are still bass.
One article I found, from Field and Stream, published in July 2021, noted that the fishing wasn’t off-the-hook, but they did catch fish. The group fished Lake Hanabanilla where, “A few scattered and smallish afternoon catches kept fish-despair at bay, but the action was slow.” Then they trekked nine hours to Lake Leonero.
Their luck at Leonero was better but nothing to write home about. They group caught bass up to 7-11 with 3- to 4-pounders the norm. As for numbers, “we never hit triple digits either day at Leonero.” To qualify that statement, the author said, “But this line of thinking, we decided, is knuckle-headed at best. Fishing can be qualified but not quantified, especially in Cuba, where almost nothing can be quantified.”
The article went on to describe the pains they had to deal with getting into the country as well as the pains getting around the country.
The second link I found was for Trek International Safaris. Trek offers a package to fish Treasure Lake Cuba. The package is for a five-day / four-night trip that gives four anglers the chance to fish the lake for three days. There is no mention of price, but they do say, “the lake is not currently producing large trophy bass, there are plenty of fish in the 3- to 12-pound range and with current schedules for major re-stocking coming soon we expect trophy fish and more of them as a result.” It appears the site has not been updated since 2018 so I’m not sure what to expect.
Cuba was an early bucket-list destination of mine what I was a kid due to all the hoopla written about it in Bassmaster and other magazines. But after reading the above article and Trek’s website, I think I’ll pass.