The Ernest Hemingway International Billfish Tournament, the oldest tourism-sporting event of its kind in the world and a must for adventuresome fishing fans seeking excitement, is held every year along the Cuban coastline.
Scholars who have devoted themselves to researching the origins and development of this exciting tournament say it started on an unspecified day in the year of 1924, when the first big blue marlin was caught off the coast of Havana. By the 1930's, catching big fish in the shores just off Havana gained remarkable popularity.
According to data collected so far, the first official capture was recorded in 1933, setting a record with a 468 lb blue marlin. This record was surpassed 10 years later by a 480 lb fish.
In 1932, Ernest Hemingway learned of this sport through Joe Russell, a friend of his that owned the fishing boat Anita, a vessel which was actually used more often than not in smuggling alcohol from Cuba to the U.S. during the Prohibition.
It is said that the American writer became quite passionate about this kind of fishing and that he even managed to capture at least 54 specimens, which were brought aboard the Anita.
According to some historians, marlin fishing was first practiced as a sport in May 1936. The first competitive tournament of its kind in Cuba took place in 1938 and was organized by the Santa Cruz Yacht Club, located 50 kilometers from the Cuban capital. This initiative was echoed four years later by the Havana Yacht Club, which organized its own version of the sporting event.
Years later, a group of fishing fans asked Hemingway for his cooperation to organize a marlin fishing tournament named in his honour since they knew of the passion Hemingway had for the sport and the sea. It is said he accepted, especially at the insistence of a friend and fellow fisherman named Manuel Bell, also known as Blakaman.
Thus, on May 26, 1950, 36 boats left the very exclusive Miramar Yacht Club in Havana coastline in search of the Ernest Hemingway trophy. Hemingway himself donated the Cup that would be presented to the winner in each competition. The original trophy piece disappeared and may today be part of some private collection.
On May 12, 1960, Hemingway participated in the prize-giving ceremony of the 10th Marlin Fishing Tournament. There took place the only meeting between Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Hemingway. The tournament was discontinued in 1961 and 1962 for unknown reasons. It resumed in 1963 and until 1977 was listed as a national event. It wasn’t until a year later in 1978 that the event became international.
The International Marlin Fishing Tournament has a prominent spot on the agenda of activities organized each year by the Ernest Hemingway International Yacht Club. The Club was created on May 21, 1992 in western Havana, under the leadership of Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, one of the most active promoters of the sport as well as sea protection and preservation activist.
The competition follows the regulations of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), with teams of four anglers per boat and four 50 lb lines in the water. Furthermore, a catch and release standard has been in effect since 1997 with the added support of the Billfish Foundation.
The International Ernest Hemingway Marlin Fishing Tournament is included by the IGFA in the network of most important world competitions that qualify for the finals that the institution organizes each year off the coast of Baja California, United States.