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Growing Up Garmany: A Southern Fishing Tradition

One captain’s influence on his three sons runs deep

February 17, 2021
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A family sits on a boat deck.
A family affair: Thomas, Bobby, Robert and William Garmany catch up after a day of marlin fishing off Charleston, South Carolina. Cameron J. Rhodes

When Robert Garmany was just a 13-year-old kid first learning what it feels like to fight a determined 300-plus-pound blue marlin, he contemplated quitting an hour into the grueling battle. Once the exhausted teenager announced that he couldn’t keep on fighting, his father, Capt. Bobby Garmany, roared down from the bridge of Boodaddy, “Garmanys do not quit!”

With lightheartedness and reverence, Robert recalls: “I’ll leave out the rest of what he said, but from that moment on, I knew our dad had a different standard of excellence for his sons than anyone else around him. I knew I had to finish the battle.” Courtesy of his father’s assertiveness and his own determination, Robert pushed through and released his first blue marlin, reinforcing a lesson that still resonates today as one of the proudest moments of his life.

All three of Bobby Garmany’s sons—Robert, William and Thomas—have carried their father’s high standard of excellence into adulthood. Now in their 20s and 30s, they each have successful careers in sport fishing and other outdoor-­related industries. Bobby’s sons have established themselves as skilled, hardworking and decorated young men—something all three sons attribute to their father and the lessons he shared with them as kids.

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A black and white image of Bobby Garmany.
A leader in conservation, Bobby is ­chairman of the Tournament Committee for the prestigious South Carolina Governor’s Cup series. Courtesy Bobby Garmany

The Judge

Anyone familiar with Charleston, South Carolina’s sport-fishing community knows that Capt. Bobby is undoubtedly one of its cornerstones. Throughout his 35-year career as a professional fisherman, he has worked for many competitive programs, including a long line of incredible boats such as Tuna Tango, Boodaddy, Prime Time, Rookie IV, Sportin’ Life and now the Charleston-based Bench Mark. He is a regular competitor in the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series and is tied for the most overall wins by a captain, having won the series on different boats in 1995, 1999 and 2016. Bobby has fished all over the world but currently spends summers along the Atlantic Coast of the United States and winters in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. As committed to the stewardship of marine resources as he is to maintaining boats and finding fish, he currently serves as an adviser to the South Carolina Governor’s Cup as the chair of its Tournament Committee, a body that proposes series rules and encourages the conservation of billfish species. His past and current contributions to the future of sport fishing will benefit his sons, future generations of Garmanys, and the billfish community as a whole.

Like his children, Bobby was introduced to fishing by his family. His father and grandfather took him offshore for the first time when he was just 7 years old. When reflecting on why he later chose to pursue a career in sport fishing, Bobby says: “Some friends of the family hired professional captains, and when they walked into a room, they were treated like rock stars. I saw how well-respected they were and thought that was very cool!” Bobby has certainly earned a rock-star status of his own. He’s a hero to many and is known locally in Charleston as “the Judge.” Michael Runey, a longtime friend, first dubbed Bobby with the playful moniker 20 years ago: “Bobby is such a friendly, outspoken guy, who is always willing to help people back at the dock. People are always calling him for information on where the fish were that day,” he says. “Bobby would sit in the cockpit and hold court with everyone, so I started calling him the Judge. I would say to everyone, ‘Please rise!’” Runey later ­purchased a judge’s robe and gavel for Bobby to use when holding court with his fellow fishermen. Even amid all of this deserved fanfare, the Judge remains humble. He genuinely credits his family for his fishing accomplishments, explaining it was all for them and because of them.

Vintage photo of a man and child fishing.
Teaching a young Thomas the simple childhood joys of fishing. Courtesy Bobby Garmany

Family First

Time spent at home with family is even more precious when your job requires extensive travel. While his boys were growing up, Bobby followed the fish south in the winter, spending considerable time away from his young family. He made sure to squeeze in quality time with his kids, scheduling duck and deer hunts in the fall and in between fishing trips. “Even when we went duck hunting, we would carry rods in the river to catch redfish during slow hunts,” Robert says. If there was an opportunity to fish, the ­family would take it. And in those moments spent fishing and hunting with their father, the boys learned patience, the importance of attention to detail, humility and the value of family time. Thomas says, “Dad taught us that, in all things, you learn more with your eyes and ears open than with your mouth open.”

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A man stands in a boat helm next to two children.
The next generation emerges: Grandsons Hunter and Will Garmany join Bobby on the bridge. Cameron J. Rhodes

Although the boys might not have known it at the time, the lessons they learned during those trips would get them through some of the toughest moments of their lives. Through hunting and fishing, their father had taught them that they could overcome adversity through determination, diligence and teamwork. Above all else, they learned that family always comes first. That being said, no lesson could have fully prepared the boys for the tragic loss of their mother, Susan Garmany, in 2015. The family bonds of love, support and appreciation that were formed on chilly mornings at the river and warm days on the sea helped them amid their grief.

While fishing is certainly not responsible for such strength in the face of adversity, the family’s shared experiences on the water lent themselves to growth, perseverance, and even healing. When describing his family, Robert says: “We might fight like cats and dogs sometimes, but if someone messes with one of us, they get all of us. We are a very close-knit ­family even though we aren’t together all the time. Not a day goes by that I don’t speak with my brothers and dad.” And when the Garmanys catch up with each other at a distance or in person, they naturally trade stories about their prize Labrador retrievers, noteworthy fishing reports and favorite hunting spots.

A billfish jumps out of the water on the leader.
While the family enjoys all kinds of hunting and fishing, chasing billfish remains at the very top of the list. Cameron J. Rhodes

Born to Fish

With brains practically genetically wired for sport fishing, it was no surprise that all three boys found work as mates. “Growing up, we were not necessarily encouraged to fish as much as we were just surrounded by it. Our family get-togethers usually involve an activity that includes either a fishing rod or a gun, so I think it was kind of inevitable that we would pursue careers in the outdoors,” William says. In truth, the seeds for those lifelong passions were planted so early on in their lives that it’s difficult to distinguish nature from nurture. As soon as they could walk, Robert, William and Thomas each toddled alongside their grandfather to the edge of a backyard fish pond with a cane pole in hand. They were so little that they can’t even remember the first moments that would help define their careers.

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A sport fishing boat on the water.
Bench Mark returns to her home port in Charleston after a day offshore with Bobby at the helm. Cameron J. Rhodes

Robert and William chose to work as mates throughout high school and college—rigging baits, cleaning teak, and competing in tournaments at home in Charleston and in other areas along the East Coast of the United States. While William continued to fish throughout the US and the Caribbean for a number of years, Robert worked in some of Charleston’s best tackle shops. He learned vital information about the tackle business and saw opportunities for professional growth in tackle manufacturing and distribution. He started to dream of a career with Big Rock Sports, one of the largest fishing and sporting-goods distribution companies in the United States, Canada and Costa Rica. “If a fisherman buys tackle or sporting goods from a tackle shop, there is a very good chance it came from Big Rock Sports,” Robert says.

Read Next: Learn what it takes to be successful in tournament fishing.

It’s been almost six years since Robert went to work for Big Rock Sports. The moment was a bittersweet one for him. “My mom and dad had given me a Filson briefcase for Christmas, saying that this would be the year that great things would happen for me,” he says. “Little did I know she would pass away less than a month later, and that I would land my dream job just three months after.” Although the year was riddled with immense hardship, Robert found great success, demonstrating excellent salesmanship and professionalism in his new role. He enjoyed the work so much that he later encouraged William to join the team. They both now happily work for the company, each getting a first, hands-on look at new fishing and hunting products before they hit the market.

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A man prepares a fishing cockpit for fishing.
Thomas sets up the cockpit prior to the start of yet another tournament. Cameron J. Rhodes

Thomas, the youngest of the Garmany brothers, is known playfully among family, friends and competitors as Smalls. He is a stellar angler and full-time professional mate working aboard Outage out of Los Sueños and fishing with other highly competitive programs throughout the year. With an uncommonly ­infectious laugh and spirited sense of humor, Thomas is the life of every party. After helping secure Jackpot’s 2019 South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series title, he was aptly named Mate of the Year. His family turned out to ­celebrate Thomas during the ceremony—toasting, hugging and posing for ­photographs. It’s a Garmany tradition to share in one another’s victories. After all, it’s all because of family.

Two black labs sit on chairs on a boat.
Black Labs Ella and Shine are frequent guests on the boat. Cameron J. Rhodes

Competing with Kin

While Bobby’s sons have fished with him during tournaments before, there have also been many times when the Garmanys have gone head-to-head in competition, battling against one another for big checks and bragging rights. Some might expect that those scenarios would get ruthless, but it’s actually quite the opposite. The competition is fierce, but it’s all fueled by mutual respect and support. “It is hard sometimes because I want them to succeed. But I am a very competitive person by nature, so I still do all I can to win,” Bobby says. “When it’s all said and done, we are all still wishing each other well.” Competitiveness, sportsmanship and family pride appear to be hereditary among the Garmanys. “I go into a tournament with the fullest intention of winning,” William explains. “I know my dad and brothers will say the same thing—in the end, I am so proud of them when they do well. But I still hope they get second place behind me!”

A man and a kid using a fishing reel.
Robert and Hunter check out the tackle. Cameron J. Rhodes

It’s certainly a complicated feeling to want to win while also wishing the best for your kin. In some ways, it can make the competition even more dramatic and exciting. During the 2010 Megadock Billfishing Tournament, Bobby and Thomas went fish-for-fish aboard Bench Mark and Reel Passion, respectively. Going into the last day of the tournament, Bobby and crew were in first place but were already fished out. Reel Passion sat in second and still had another day to compete for the win. Bobby kept his phone close, waiting to hear reports from the water and news from his son. The wait was torturous. “That sure was a long day for the Bench Mark crew,” Bobby recalls. “After lines out, Thomas finally called me and said, ‘You got it.’ That was a really cool moment for a father and son.” Those few days of competition spoke to their connection, not only as father and son, but also as mentor and student. “My dad has always been a great mentor and is the nicest person I’ve known in my life,” Thomas says. “He’s also one of the best fishermen I’ve ever met. He’s taught me countless skills, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without him.” Bobby is Thomas’ hero. In many ways, that relationship is a mutual one. Bobby admires his young son too. Both men hope to fish tournaments with each other again in the future, competing for titles as a team. Thomas says, “I haven’t fished a tournament with my dad since I was 14, but I can’t wait to be able to do it again in the future.”

A man rigs and prepares bait.
William preps the baits; each son is an accomplished mate and angler. Cameron J. Rhodes

A Look to the Future

Now the family of four generations of men is busy raising the youngest generation of Garmany boys, again sharing life lessons through fishing. “I have two boys who are already ate up with fishing and hunting,” William says. “I hope they learn so much from fishing: a solid work ethic, the thrill of competition, honest sportsmanship, and the joy of being on the ocean with friends and family.” William’s young sons, Will and Hunter, will certainly have access to great teachers. Their grandfather, father and uncles will offer an education they won’t find at any school.

Regardless of whether Will and Hunter go on to pursue careers in sport ­fishing and other related industries, the Garmany standard of excellence will help them in all aspects of their lives. Their relationships, education and professions will benefit from the Garmany propensity for hard work, humility and perseverance, traits already coursing through their own veins. Just like he did when he was their age, William hopes his sons will “learn something new every day, learn from every fish or lack of fish, learn from every mistake and victory, and listen to those who have come before them.” He says: “They don’t have to do things exactly like us. They can put their own spin on things. And mainly, I want them to have a lot of fun.”

Four men stand behind a fighting chair on a boat deck.
The Bench Mark team celebrates a hard-fought victory in the 2019 Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament. Cameron J. Rhodes

When walking through the history of this family and its optimistic future, it’s plain to see that Bobby Garmany has clearly had significant influence on his sons. Robert, William and Thomas are now each on their own paths and building their own legacies. They’ve taken the gifts and lessons passed down from generations of Garmanys in order to do what truly makes them happy. Not many people get to live that kind of life, one where all-consuming passions yield real work. Bobby opened the very doors to his sons’ futures by teaching them to pursue their dreams, to give their best, and to never quit. Bobby smiles and says: “It makes me realize that we did something right. They really are fine young men.”

All rise for the Judge.

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