Jun 9, 2011

Fishing History is Fun

by Peter B Wright

In 1986 we were fishing one of the last Giant Tuna tournaments to be held in the Bahamas. Fishing was ok that week but we wound up winning with one fish. Ralph Mongeau caught a 615 pound tuna aboard “Raptor” on a classic day with a stiff southeast breeze. The tuna were pouring but not biting, well and ours was the biggest fish caught that week.

One evening, we watched movies from the International Game Fishing Association’s (IGFA) film library. Hundreds of anglers had donated their old fishing films and many of them had been copied onto video tape. The first film was shot in the early 1950’s and had wonderful action shots including footage taken from a small airplane that  showed huge schools of tuna crossing the shallow flats south of Cat Cay. We could see fish peel off from the school and strike the bait trolled behind boats that were the state of the art “fishing cruisers” of that time, according to the announcer.

The film that really got us excited showed one of the greatest fishing guides of all time, Tommy Gifford. I met Gifford several times when I was a teenager and was most impressed with what a crusty old so and so he was, yet, he never paid me too much attention – I wish I had seen the movie before I met him. One way or another, I would have pestered him into letting me hang around, ride along, or something.

Marlin were already being caught in the Pacific by pioneering Australians, New Zealanders and Hawaiians. The Avalon Tuna Club was already a going concern with many striped marlin catches and Zane Grey was making expeditions to the South Pacific islands that have not been matched even with today’s motherships.

Ernest Hemingway advised Gifford of commercial marlin fishing techniques used in Cuba (later immortalized in his novel “The Old Man and the Sea”). Mike Lerner (proprietor and a founder of the Lerner Stores as well as the  major financial contributor for the fledgling IGFA)  chartered Gifford in 1934  to try for a blue marlin off Bimini. Gifford and Lerner decided to give these big cousins of sailfish a try. The movie footage is superb by any standards, doubly so considering when it was taken. Greyhounding marlin with a recognizable but unspoilt Bimini in the background, drew applause from the watching anglers and crew.

When Gifford put on a life jacket as he prepared to wire a good sized blue marlin, Lerner had, alongside the boat, cries of surprise and comments of sarcasm coming from the salty viewers. Then, Gifford billed the marlin like a sailfish. Cheers of surprise and approval echoed through the warm Bahamian night as Gifford billed a series of marlin ranging up to almost 500 pounds!

There were no gaffs -just a short nuggety young man who never let go once he had hold of a bill!  “What a stud! I don’t believe it and I’m seeing it!” were two of the many shouted comments as Gifford was shaken like a rag doll. Never once did he relinquish a grip. It is still one of the most awesome fishing movies I have ever seen.   

The IGFA museum in Dania, FL is the ultimate destination for angling enthusiasts and those interested in the complete historical record of the sport. It is open to the public 7 days a week

I had been impressed by the IGFA Hall of Fame and Museum when I attended its opening but hadn’t had a chance to check out the library with its video viewing and reading rooms. “Mike, I used to come and hang out once in a while and look at the old books when the office was in Pompano. Is the library open to the public?” I asked the then IGFA president Mike Leech at a chance meeting. “You mean you haven’t been in yet?” was his astonished reply. Two days later, I drove down and was floored by what I found. Leech introduced me to head librarian Gail Morchower, who showed me through a state of the art facility that has since seen a fair bit of me. (A few years ago I was inducted into the Hall Of Fame and some of my log books are now included.)

First, we entered a rare book room containing first editions (all of Zane Grey for starters) and original albums and logs donated by pioneering anglers. The humidity and temperature controlled room is a fishing history researcher’s nirvana. The books can be viewed and read but not removed from the library.

There are two video viewing rooms with comfortable seating to view the more than 1500 videos, including copies of the early movies mentioned above (and hundreds more!) You would have trouble reading just the current magazines as fast as they come in and there is a huge library of older periodicals as well as over 12,000 books. You can find books, videos and magazines from a computer list of titles, authors, and subjects. (It took Morchower about 30 seconds to tell me the year of the video I had seen in Bimini 15 years earlier.)

The IGFA Hall of Fame and Museum is open 10 to 6 daily and admission is free for IGFA members. The airy and spacious reading rooms offer superb views of four wetland ecological zones. Library, museum and ecological classroom, the only thing you won’t have enough of is time.

For a complete list of our other featured blog posts and to see the full line of Guy Harvey Sportswear, please visit: www.guyharveysportswear.com

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