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The People We Meet

The legacies of the legends and the stories they tell

May 4, 2021
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Two hands shaking.
There are plenty of opportunities to meet the legends of the sport. Oleh Slepchenko/shutterstock.com

When I was a young fisherman coming up through the ranks many years ago, I heard plenty of stories from others who had come before me and had done it all. Then one day I got the chance to meet a few of those captains, mates and anglers, and it seemed like they spoke a different language as they talked about the countries they had traveled to and the fish they had caught there—it was unheard of back then, at least to me.

Most of these people were great storytellers, and I was in awe. I had learned to listen—not talk—when around people like this, and it made a big impression on my career in sport fishing. All I could think about was catching giant bluefin tuna, huge marlin, and hundreds of sailfish. Maybe one day, I thought.

Once, in St. Thomas, we had a great day catching blue marlin, and as I walked though the bar, I could hear some of the other crews and anglers talking about their days as well. I remember hearing one angler talking about catching his first blue that day, and with the excitement in his voice, it sounded better than any story I could tell, even today. This guy was a natural. Some people just have a knack for stories; the rest of us have to rely on our photos.

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I remember the first time I met Peter B. Wright, hearing his stories of catching grander blacks in Australia, or when I was next to the Staros brothers and JoJo del Guercio, hearing about the giant bluefin tuna off Cat Cay in the Bahamas. The stories from Joe Mott and Allen Merritt during the swordfish boom off South Florida. I also met a few humble ones, such as Bark Garnsey, Charles Perry and Stewart Campbell. I could listen to those guys forever. Phrases such as “back then” or “back in the old days” were repeated quite a few times. Then you realize, they must have been really thick—or really big—back then. These guys had all been there and done that.

Then there are the boat owners, guests, and locals we meet around the marinas and through our travels to different countries. Not only do we meet the captains and anglers, but even a few celebrities who like to fish. We have professional athletes, musicians and more than a few billionaires who enjoy the sport, people like the late Don Tyson—walking down the dock in shorts and a T-shirt, you wouldn’t think he was even a boat owner, much less king of a worldwide chicken empire. Then you get to fish with some of these people, and it seems like we have been connected with them forever, especially these days with our cellphones and the apps we use to share fishing reports and photos, and to just keep in touch.

During quite a few of the tournaments we fish every year, there are usually plenty of opportunities where we can meet the men who design and build the boats we fish from: guys like Mike Rybovich, Roy Merritt, John Bayliss, Paul Spencer and Pat Healey, to name a few. These people are very approachable, and they love to talk boats and fishing. They are all just as passionate about it as we are. Then there are the artists who capture those beautiful scenes of the offshore world: Guy Harvey, Dennis Friel, Cary Chen and RJ Boyle are just some of the many talented artists who are also very approachable, and they also enjoy talking about their passion. You probably have a few T-shirts sporting their art.

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At the IGFA Legendary Captains and Crew ceremony each year, where we present the Tommy Gifford Award, we hear some of the best stories from those who are nominated. Usually it’s not about catching one particular fish, but rather the people who influenced the legends of the sport and the crews that helped them in their careers. For example, when we presented Capt. Chip Shafer with this award, the crews who worked for him read like a who’s who of fishing, and the stories they told were certainly memorable. So, as we learn from the ­old-timers and pass along our fishing secrets to the next generation, we pass along a lot of good ­memories as well.

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