Skip to main content

Big Game Fishing with Papa


Ernest Hemingway, also known affectionately as “Papa”—a nickname he picked up in Paris, France, in the 1920s—is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in 20th-century American literature. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning author penned such well-known works as The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, which acutely showcases Hemingway’s obsession with big gamefish and the sea.

This photo illustrates that passion. It was taken in 1935 after a remarkable day aboard the author’s legendary Wheeler boat, Pilar, while fishing for marlin out of Bimini in the Bahamas. Pictured are Hemingway and his three sons—Jack, Patrick and Gregory.

The catch is impressive on its own but is even more remarkable considering the competition anglers like Hemingway faced against predators in the open ocean. Once an angler hooked a fish, the commotion would attract sharks. If the fish was not played quickly the sharks would “apple core” the angler’s quarry down to the spine. It was not uncommon to bring aboard only half a fish with a dangling spine.

The same fate beset the character Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. In the story, Santiago sets out from Cuba in a small skiff into the Straits of Florida and hooks a massive blue marlin, which he fights with a handline for three days. Once the 18-foot marlin is alongside, Santiago heads for home. Tragically, the bleeding fish attracts sharks that eventually consume everything but the marlin’s skeleton and head, nearly breaking Santiago’s spirit. It’s easy to see from where Hemingway drew inspiration for the book. 

This article was originally published in the November 2021 issue.



A Big-Apple Builder

Howard Wheeler founded Wheeler Shipyard in 1910, and for more than five decades the New York City company would be one of America’s most innovative and influential builders.