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A breakthrough for U.S., Cuba and fishin' the flats

Excuse me if I don't Rubio on the Cuba thing. I'm among millions of baby boomers, old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis (1962), who think the Big Chill between the U.S. and Isle de Castro went on way, way — two ways — too long. And I think I speak for several hundred thousand American sports anglers who heard yesterday's news about the thaw with Havana and asked: "How's the fishin' down there?"

By the looks of things, pretty damn awesome.

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All due respect to the objecting Sen. Marco Rubio, I can't wait to go to Cayo Romano. Or Cayo Largo. Or Cayo Cruz.

In fact, so much of the Cuban coast looks (via Google Earth) like a Bucket List destination for the sports angler, especially those of us who enjoy taking a fly rod into the salt. We're talking tarpon, bonefish, permit, snook, snapper, barracuda and all the jacks — crevalle jack, black jack, bar jack, amberjack. Cuba has many miles of white-sand "flats," shallow waters where you can wade and fish. Some of these waters have not seen sportfishing in more than 50 years.

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Recognizing the appeal of these areas to people who like to fish when they travel, the Cuban government has protected them as national marine parks; the only commercial fishing is for lobster.

I realize that websites for fishing services always make things sound better than they are, but I can't resist sharing this: "Think about a place where you can fish more than 100 miles of flats without seeing another fisherman, a place where you can catch seven species of fish in one day, a place where big bonefish run toward your fly even when it hits the water too hard, rather than streaking off the flat in the other direction ..."

You don't have to enjoy fishing to see where I'm going here.

For decades, we've seen Cuba as a problem rather than an opportunity. The Big Chill with Cuba went on too long and made life harder than it had to be for millions of people. Most Americans lost track of our reasons for the Big Chill years ago — if they ever understood them at all. As President Obama, who is 53, said Wednesday: "Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that's rooted in events that took place before most of us were born."

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So, good for Obama. And good for Alan Gross, the Marylander who was released Wednesday after five years in a Cuban prison and who will be forever linked to the Big Thaw with Havana. Good for the 53 other political prisoners who will be released as a result of the agreement. Good for Cuban families who have relatives in the United States. Good for tourism. Good for trade. Good for baseball. Good for business.

The downside is the unknown — whether establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba will open up life and liberty for the people of the island and curtail human rights abuses. That seems to be a big concern of the old Castro-haters and the usual 24-7-365 Obama critics on the right. The same crowd seems far less concerned about detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison or the torture of suspected terrorists by the CIA. But I digress.

What we should be looking at here is how this agreement helps people in Cuba and how it helps Americans. Frankly, it's hard to see how talking and trading hurts. It's 90 miles from Florida. It's sitting right there. If the Cuban economy can grow and create a middle class, Cubans can buy cars, refrigerators and smartphones from us — assuming they don't buy them directly from China first. Anyway, let's work this out. Let's not make a problem out of an opportunity.

Americans want to do business there. Americans want to take vacations there.

I want to go fishing in Cuba.

Michael Reid feels the same way. He came pretty close to saying, "Wow," when I spoke to him on the phone from his home in Montana Wednesday afternoon.

Get this: Reid, who lived in Maryland until a few years ago, has a home in Stevensville, Mont., and is the senior wood buyer for Paul Reed Smith Guitars in Stevensville, Md. He travels a lot, works from home, and visits PRS Guitars from time to time.

He also does a lot of saltwater fly fishing in the Bahamas — specifically on the Marls of Abaco, a bonefish habitat on the western shore of Great Abaco Island. "Look at that," he said as he scrutinized Cuba via Google Earth, noting that the flats on the northern edge of Cuba appear to be much larger than the Marls. "You know," he said, "it's probably easy to fly from the Bahamas to Cuba."

Reid wasn't talking about aviation, but about documents needed for travel. The agreement Obama announced Wednesday is supposed to broaden the reasons Americans can travel legally to Cuba.

Here's hoping "fly fishing for tarpon" makes the list.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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