Q: Who has had the biggest impact on the sport of big-game fishing?
There’s no doubt the Rybovich family has had a huge impact on sport fishing. They built the first boats specifically designed to fish and the first to have outriggers, transom doors, fighting chairs and a lot of the accessories we take for granted. When anglers and crews wanted to venture farther — back when going over to Bimini was a big deal — they started building bigger boats to explore more distant destinations. Today’s boatbuilders have refined that concept, and motherships take that to the next level by giving owners the ability to travel and fish pretty much anywhere in the world. But it all started with John, Emil and Tommy Rybovich.
Skip Smith would be my pick. He was one of the first to travel and fish in what later became known as some of the top destinations in the world with the Dunaways. They were one of the first teams to develop specialized light-tackle techniques like pitch-baiting for marlin and sails, and they set a ton of world records along the way. Skip also pioneered new ways to fish for swordfish, like deep-dropping in the daytime and trolling at night. And he’s still very active in the fishing community, starting new tournaments in different places in the Caribbean, leading the IGFA’s Legendary Captains and Crews program, and more.
Certainly one of the most influential guys is my father, Frank Johnson. In the late 1970s, along with Peter B. Wright and McGrew Rice, they developed a soft-headed fishing lure originally made of inner tubes that were split, glued and rolled together. They called it the Kaka Kaka, and the original Softhead was born. Either as teasers or lures, Softheads have caught more than 200 IGFA records all over the world. Dad also designed the original Unibutt, the Roller Troller, Squirt Squid and many more. In fact, there are so many great fishing products that my father has been involved with manufacturing and developing that I cannot even name all of them.
There is no single person I could say is the most influential. Michael Lerner created the foundation as we know it; Zane Grey and Ernest Hemingway brought fishing to the masses. Anglers like Dean, Glassell and Marron proved it was possible to land giant fish, and Stewart Campbell, the Dunaways, Mike Levitt, and Leo Cloosterman accomplished seemingly impossible feats on light tackle. Billy Pate and Stu Apte helped merge big-game angling and fly-fishing. Captains like Tommy Gifford inspired today’s legendary new breed. It’s the sum of the parts that makes fishing what it is today.