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A display of fish at the Dry Tortuga National Park Ferry.

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A boat in Key West Harbor

Fishing rods on display at Sloppy Joe's.

An important dimension of Hemingway's novels To Have and Have Not, and The Old Man and the Sea, is Hemingway's love of the sport of fishing. The first photo here was taken at Conch Harbor Marina in Old Key West, also known as Dry Tortugas National Park Ferry. There were many fish displays and many boats, including some signs signaling to more of the Tortugas. The second photo was taken at Sloppy Joe’s, a friend of Hemingway whose bar he went to daily. This bar is a staple place for all lovers of Hemingway as he was known to go there with his friends constantly. The gift shop contains Hemingway merchandise, there are Hemingway named drinks, and fish with fishing poles and boats all over the walls as decor.  Hemingway loved fishing and valued fishing as much more than a leisure activity. He was a huge fisherman for a few reasons: his competitive attitude, bonding time with his buddies, and used this time to read, relax, or get his mind off of things. Hemingway incorporated fishing in many of his novels including one of his most famous, The Old Man and the Sea. Many of his friends had boats and loved fishing as well. The days of fishing for Ernest were some of his best. While falling in love with Key West, one of the things he adored about it was the water scene. There are many marinas that are known for having Ernest and his friends fish and keep their boats there. Toward the beginning of his stay at Key West, McIver talks about his fascination and love for the place he had moved to, “The magic of Key West was beginning to seduce Ernest. Free of distractions, he could concentrate on A Farewell To Arms during the mornings, then relax in the afternoons or evenings with a rod and reel” (10). An important memory of fishing for Hemingway was, “Near the end of may, earnest finally boated the kind of fish he had envisioned for the Pilar (his boat), the biggest Atlantic Sailfish even taken on rod and reel. Unfortunately, it could not be claimed as an official worlds record, 9 ft long 120 pounds (32). Hemingway boasted about this to many of his friends who fished with him, including Charles Thompson. Additionally, Hemingway used the boat for catching up on some reading during the mornings. Although his boat, the Pilar, was always equipped with fishing tackle equipment. 


Both images, taken in the Custom House Museum, (filled with things to represent his life including a typewriter, boxing gloves, and more) specifically show Hemingway as a proud fisherman, and Hemingway as a fisherman with his close friends, catching some large fish as a competitive but relaxing hobby.

A bronze Hemingway sculpture.

A photo of Hemingway and friends fishing.

Key Terms for Fishing

Fishing was important to Hemingway, so in his novel To Have and Have Not, there are many fishing terminology regarding the boat. Most of the novel takes place revolving around a boat, or simply traveling across the water. In the novel, Harry Morgan is a charter boat captain, works in  a sector of Key West that was only about 30 years old but sporting didn’t take off until the 1910’s. Hemingway Learned the business through locals. His close friend and local Charles Thompson, owned the local marina and bait shop.

Some terms Hemingway used in To Have and Have Not:

  1. “Smack”- describes any cutter-styled fishing vessel. Fishing boats with large internal holding compartments built below deck to keep catches alive until they reach market.

  2. “House of Hardy” (p 12)  is the brand name of a British sporting good manufacturer founded in 1872. -“Angling tackle” was considered premium, a Hardy reel and rod shows Harry Morgan’s struggling as a charter boat captain. Affluent clientele would expect high end equipment.  

  3. “Still fishing”: allowing the bait to lie stationary in the water so the fish come to it

  4. A “Binnacle” case stands in front of a ships wheel to hold navigational instruments

  5. “Snapper line” is one of a number of short lines each carrying a baited book, attached at regular distances along the main line

  6. “Grains pole”: A long instrument with one of more barbed prongs for spearing or harpooning fish

  7. “Grease cups..stuffing boxes” chamber around propelled shaft where it exits a hull. The box prevents water from leaking back into a vessel.

  8. “Scupper drain”: built into the edge of a deck to remove standing rain or seawater

  9. “Barkentine rigged three-master”: Three mast sailing vessel

  10. “Yawl Rigged”: Ship has stalled aft mast and sail at the very back of the vessel

Hemingway mentions fishing in some technical terms throughout the novel,

“I looked back and his bait was trolling nice, just bouncing along on the swell, and the two teasers were diving and jumping. We were going just about the right speed and I headed her into the stream” (12).

Additionally, this annotation is specifically important because the water and boats comes up specifically when he is traveling to Key West. This acts as a liminal space when he is transporting immigrants, or illegal substances on the water.

Not only did Hemingway have his boat (see in the next annotation), but tis friend Sloppy Joe Russel had a boat he was very familiar with, “Anita."


A model of Hemingway's boat, the Pilar. 

Photo courtesy of Chandler Culotta '21

The Pilar: Hemingway’s boat was a crucial part of his life. His boat, the Pilar, was used to read, for leisure, fishing (competitively or just for fun) and last but not least, for parties. Many celebrations were thrown on Hemingway’s boat, whether he was just happy about a catch, or he was enjoying life. 

Ernest Hemingway's Favorite Bar in Key West, Sloppy Joe's


Above: Photo by Chandler Culotta, 2021.

Left: Historical photos of the original Sloppy Joe's from the Custom's House museum. 

Unfortunately, another major part of Hemingway's life was drinking. See our discussion of the role that alcoholism played in his depression in our highlight of that issue. Many tourists come to Key West and take refreshment at Sloppy Joe's bar, believing that Hemingway drank there, but the original site of Sloppy Joe's was actually where the bar Captain Tony's currently stands. 


Images from present day Captain Tony's, with displays of dollar bills and brassieres. Photos by UT students, 2021. 


Hemingway's hat (left) and a stool with his nickname painted on to it (above). In the bar, there are stools painted with the name of all the celebrities that have visited, including Truman Capote, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, and many more. Photos by Chandler Culotta, 2021.


Photo: Chandler Culotta, Hemingway House, Key West, 2021. 


Framed checks from Hemingway's paid writing jobs, on display at the Hemingway house, Key West. Photo by Chandler Culotta, 2021. 

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