SI Vault
March 27, 1961
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March 27, 1961


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Captain Johnnie Cass, the famous salt-water guide who introduced Martin Kane to permit fishing (see page 58), was lucky enough to be present at still another great moment in history. He was there when Ernest Hemingway fought his first tuna. It was in 1934, when Cass was guiding sports fishermen at Bimini.

" Hemingway arrived in his boat, the Pilar," Cass recalls, "at a time when everyone was taking big tuna. One of the fishermen was having wonderful luck, hanging two or three big ones a day. But this fellow was a bit of a joker and he kept assuring Hemingway that there was nothing to catching tuna, even big ones. No fight in them, he said, and they came up to the boat as easily as you'd whistle in a retriever. After a few days of this Hemingway was convinced. After all, this fellow was an expert. He was bringing in lots of big tuna, though in view of what he had to say you might wonder why he bothered.

"Everyone but Hemingway was in on the joke. So when word came in to the docks one afternoon that Hemingway finally had hooked a big tuna all the boats raced out to watch the fun.

"We watched him fight the fish all afternoon. It was giving him a very hard time and everyone was laughing like mad. When it got too dark to see him we returned to the dock to hear what he would say when he came in.

"He came in, finally, dog-tired after fighting the fish for five hours, and he was as mad as the tuna must have been.

"He was roaring angry at the joker, who left in a hurry after hearing Hemingway bellow what he was going to do to him. The joker just stayed out of sight until Hemingway left Bimini.

"I think he wouldn't have been so mad if it hadn't been for the sharks. That fish would have gone about 450 pounds but just as he got ready to boat it the sharks closed in and stripped it to head, skeleton and tail, just like the big fish in The Old Man and the Sea."

Well, it was another fish in another country and it was nearly 20 years later, but that riddled, remembered tuna gave "Papa" a pretty good novel and a lot of money.


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