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IGFA Legendary Captains and Crew

Criteria for LC&C Award Nomination
The primary criteria for receiving the LC&C Award from the IGFA is that the captain or crew member must have provided leadership in their trade and have earned the respect of their peers, thus making a meaningful contribution to the sport of recreational angling over an extended period of time. The nominee must demonstrate that he or she has espoused the ethical angling standards stated by the founders of the IGFA. A representative balance should be created wherever possible between various aspects for the sport including but not limited to saltwater/freshwater, inshore/offshore, east coast/west coast/gulf coast, foreign/domestic, coldwater/warmwater. To nominate a candidate please email Mike Myatt at mmyatt@igfa.org.
 

2011 Class

Ron Hamlin
Charlie Hayden
Allen and Buddy Merritt
Charles Perry
Omie Tillett
2012 Class

Bill Curtis
Bark Garnsey
Joe Mott
Chip Shafer
Laurie Woodbridge
2013 Class

Jimmie Albright
Snooks Fuller
Bob Lewis
Frank LoPreste
Laurie Mitchell
Gary Stuve
2014 Class

Mike Benitez
Gary Ellis
Bill Hatch
Randolph "Bouncer" Smith
Dennis "Brazakka" Wallace

Jimmie Albright

Capt. Jimmie Albright was a pioneer of the Florida Keys flats. He guided Joe Brooks to the first bonefish and tarpon on a fly, invented the Nail Knot and the Albright Special, and fished movie stars, dignitaries and sports figures, including Ted Williams.

 

Mike Benitez

Mike BenitezIn 1951, when Mike Benitez was 18, he started working as a mate on fishing boats. That same year Puerto Rico began bringing in experienced captains to promote the island as a sport fishing destination. Mike signed on, working with and learning from Art Wills, Tommy Gifford and Johnny Harms, fishing Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. A few years later, captain’s license in hand, Mike built his own boat, bought the charter business from Wills, and began his long and productive career.
Mike’s contributions to Puerto Rica sport fishing are many. A 756-pound blue marlin world record caught by his client in 1956 put the island on the map. In the 1960s and 1970s he was involved with The International Billfish Tournament at Club Náutico de San Juan, Johnny Harms’ marina in St. Thomas (where Mike fished in the summer), the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (the “Boy Scout” Tournament), and many more projects. Also in the 1970s he began exploring new destinations such as Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, Brazil, Venezuela, Panama and Australia, where in 1973 he caught a 1,162 pound black marlin with Capt. Peter Wright. And in the 1990s he operated a charter boat out of Madeira.
Mike never lost his passion for the sport in a career that spanned 60 years. He received the IGFA Chester H. Wolfe Outstanding Sportsmanship Award in 2011. And that same year, during the first IGFA Great Marlin Race, Mike implanted a satellite tag in a marlin that 120 days later surfaced off the Angola coast, 4,776 nautical miles from Puerto Rico. That date was January 5, 2012, two days after Mike Benitez’s passing.

 

Bill Curtis

In 1949 commercial photographer Bill Curtis arrived in Miami; nine years later he was guiding full-time in Biscayne Bay, which he continued to do until 2005. His vast experience, expertise, and professionalism – plus his dedication to the area’s resources and his innovations which include the poling platform – have made Curtis a living legend in the world of Florida light-tackle and flats fishing.

 

Gary Ellis

Gary EllisBorn in Sioux City, Iowa, Gary Ellis worked his way through a number of careers in a number of places – actor, model, radio, TV – before he moved to the Florida Keys in the late 1960s.
Catching one sailfish during a visit convinced him he wanted to stay in Islamorada and learn the water. He became a mate for Capt. Skip Bradeen, and still managed to keep one foot in his other occupation: doing travelogues, bit parts in movies, and commercials.
But the fishing won out. Gary studied the ecology of the Keys, gained an aptitude for analyzing conditions, and earned his captain’s license. And with help from a number of mentors, many of whom were Keys legends, he mastered backcountry guiding.
At the time there were only a few tournaments held in the Keys, and none in Islamorada or the Upper Keys. When Gary was named director of the newly-created Islamorada Fishing Tournament, it was the beginning of the more than four decades he has been involved in founding, organizing and directing tournaments in the Florida Keys.
In the mid-1980s, when Susan and Gary’s newborn daughter Nicole was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, they set out to find a way to fight it -- to raise awareness and funds for research. With the help of their clients and many friends, The Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series was founded in 1988. The first tournament raised $16,000. Over the years the Redbone’s numerous events -- across the U.S. and internationally – have raised over $20 million towards finding a cure for CF.

 

Snooks Fuller

Capt. Snooks Fuller started chartering in the early 1950’s on the legendary Lady Doreen. One of the most famous and influential game fishermen in New Zealand, he was a pioneer of light tackle and the first to use fiberglass rods.

 

Bark Garnsey

Bark Garnsey grew up at Hillsboro Inlet in the early 1950s, surrounded by some of the best and most knowledgeable captains and mates, and it is here that his lifelong passion for the sport and extraordinary career began. Garnsey is recognized worldwide for his superb fishing, boat-handling and communication skills, and for re-writing the book on billfish records with angler Stewart Campbell.

 

Ron Hamlin

Ron Hamlin is considered one of the most innovative captains and accomplished anglers.  At the age of 15 he started training as a mate; a year later he was working with Capt. Frank Ardine on the Sail Ahoy.  He tagged his first sailfish in 1960; today that number has grown to five figures.   Hamlin got his first job as a captain in 1971 and the same year he won the Walker’s Cay Blue Marlin Tournament, the first of many tournament wins.  Always on the hunt for new and better fishing grounds, Hamlin has fished all over the world.  He and his crew were the first Americans to fish Venezuela’s La Guaira Bank, and he caught the first thousand-pound blue marlin in the country.   For more than 40 years his innovations, including wind-on leaders spliced with Dacron, formaldehyde baits, pitch-bait techniques, and his pledge in 1998 to fish only with circle hooks, have all revolutionized and had an enormous impact on the sport.  With more than 25,000 billfish releases to his credit, Ron Hamlin has spent his career not simply breaking records, but shattering them.

 

Bill Hatch

Bill HatchA successful businessman from Iowa, who never saw the ocean until he was 30 years old and who was prone to severe seasickness, Bill Hatch was an unlikely fishing pioneer. But he became one of the most creative, experienced, widely-traveled and popular guides of all time.
It was Bill Hatch more than anyone who inaugurated the sport of sailfishing. While in Miami recuperating from an accident, Hatch quickly became interested in offshore fishing, and before long had his own cruiser. He was initially attracted to kingfishing, using the mullet strip-baits of the era. But he soon became fascinated by sailfish. Little was known about the species since it was considered a nuisance and of no commercial value, and Bill Hatch became the first angler to catch a sailfish off Miami. His keen observations of their feeding habits, and experiments with baits and techniques, led to his development of the first strip bait. And then one day in 1915 he came up with the real secret to consistent captures -- the drop-back method. Today, 100 years later, the technique remains integral to the sport.
Hatch became the most sought-after guide in Florida and elsewhere. He was one of the earliest in Bahamas waters, guided Oliver Grinnell to the first successful rod-and-reel catch of a broadbill in the Atlantic -- off Montauk -- in 1927, helped pioneer marlin fishing off the Maryland coast, twice served as coach of the U.S. team in the International Tuna Cup Match (including the first contest in September 1937), and accompanied Michael Lerner on his expeditions to Australian and Peruvian waters.

 

Charlie Hayden

A year after Charlie Hayden left his studies at Temple University in 1953 he was mating for fishing luminaries such as Red Stuart and Tommy Gifford, working out of Miami Beach’s Chamber of Commerce docks.   He soon became one of the area’s most sought-after mates, fishing the who’s who of the Atlantic sport-fishing fleet, in places such as Bimini, Cat Cay, Ocean City, Oregon Inlet and Montauk.  In the mid-1960s Hayden developed his reputation as a bait-rigging specialist with his perfect presentation of splittail mullet to the giant tuna running in the Bahamas.  In 1973 he spent 16 weeks in Australia, running Garrick Agnew’s 53-foot boat and catching 83 black marlin in 16 days, a number of which weighed over 1,000 pounds.   But he returned to his first love, working the chair and rigging baits, and by the 1980s, Charlie “Splittail” Hayden was big-game fishing’s main bait supplier, the first to air-freight coolers of bait worldwide to traveling crews.

 

 

Bob Lewis

The origins of kite fishing can be traced to innovative Pacific islanders, but it was Capt. Bob Lewis who refined the technique of using a kite to catch sailfish in South Florida waters, and shared his kites – and his extensive knowledge – with others.

 

 

Frank LoPreste

Frank LoPreste, owner-operator of the Royal Polaris, is a living legend of San Diego long-range fishing. He is known for pioneering Clipperton Atoll, developing new long-range techniques and taking others -- such as kite fishing -- to new heights.

 

Allen and Buddy Merritt

In the 1930s, teenagers Allen and Buddy Merritt were already integral parts of their father Roy’s sport- fishing operation and the famed Caliban Fleet, spending winters in Florida and summers in Long Island, where they were already hailed as two of New York’s top charter skippers.   In 1948 Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works was built in Pompano Beach.  While Allen and Buddy ran the charter fleet, Pop kept busy in the yard, and within five years the business went from servicing boats to building them.  Allen and Buddy eventually took on the operations of the famed boatyard, but not before they made their individual marks on the sport and became part of the elite group of most successful tuna captains in history.

Buddy, extremely competitive by nature, was known for his innovations in boat and tackle design and techniques.  In the 1940s he began fishing baits far back, he revolutionized tuna fishing at Cat Cay by using a mast to spot and bait fish -- the first to do so – and he designed the Merritt 37, considered by many the perfect tuna-fishing boat.  Buddy was the first to catch three swordfish on rod and reel in one day, and in 1963 won both the Cat Cay and Bimini Tuna Tournaments.  In 1969, when he traveled to Newfoundland to experience his last tuna season, Buddy caught a record 16 giant tuna in one day.

Buddy suggested Bill Carpenter hire Allen for the 1951 Cat Cay Tournament and Allen went on to dominate the event in the 1950s and 60s.  With Carpenter as angler and George Staros as mate he won seven out of 10 tournaments and took third three other times, an unrivaled achievement.  All the wins and record catches were no fluke, for Allen was widely respected for his knowledge, his skills, and his demeanor “under fire.”   During the 1968 tuna season in Newfoundland, Allen caught a record 15 giants, a feat only bested by his brother’s 16 the following year.

 

 

Laurie Mitchell

Capt. Laurie Mitchell persuaded Zane Grey to fish Nova Scotia’s legendary bluefin waters in the 1920s, and then became Grey’s fishing companion. Mitchell often outfished him, however: the all-tackle black marlin record he set stood for decades.

 

Joe Mott

At the age of 19 Joe Mott was running his own boat, setting the groundwork for his well-deserved reputation as one of the best all-around captains to ever hail out of Hillsboro Inlet. When the lucrative cobia fishery was just coming into its own, Mott was there; he played a major role in the growth of swordfishing in South Florida; and he was a pioneer of Cozumel sailfishing in the 1960s.

 
Charles Perry

Charles Perry may be the best heavy-tackle wireman in the world today.  He started fishing out of Oregon Inlet, NC, with his father, Capt. Charlie Perry, when he was six years old. He fished mostly inshore until he was 13, when he headed offshore with Captains Murray Cudworth and Tony Tillet.  But Perry really caught the bug while on R & R in Australia during the Vietnam War.  He fished the 1973 black marlin season in Cairns (and a total of 20 seasons on the Great Barrier Reef) and caught a number of granders.  He also fished for 14 years with Bark Garnsey and Stewart Campbell in West Africa, the Canary Islands and Madeira, and spent many seasons marlin fishing in St. Thomas and fishing for Bluefin tuna in Bimini and Cat Cay.

 

Chip Shafer

In 1973 Chip Shafer worked as a mate in Hatteras, with veteran captains who became his mentors. The following year he began running the Temptress between North Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas -- later adding Mexico and Venezuela – making a name for himself with tournament wins, double grand slams, and in 2004 a record-setting 500 billfish caught on fly with angler Nick Smith.

 

Randolph "Bouncer" Smith

Randolph Fishing has been Randolph Smith’s life. At five he was chasing bluegills in Michigan; at eight he was rigging his own ballyhoo and catching sailfish on family vacations in Florida.
By 1957 he had moved to Miami, where in his mid-teens he sold pilchards on the pier. At the age of 18 he was working driftboats, and in early 1968 became a licensed captain. For a few years in the mid-70s he ran a flats skiff in Islamorada, then returned to Fort Lauderdale, where he’s credited with bringing kite fishing to local waters and being one of the first to promote downriggers. In 1978 Bouncer returned to Miami – his 25’ Dusky the only mid-sized charter operation advertised in three counties – where he became a pioneer and leader in the development of light-tackle angling.
Bouncer’s name is synonymous with South Florida sport fishing. His experience and knowledge are vast and not limited to one species, or one technique, or one area. He’s devoted his life to sharing his passion and respect for the sport through radio, television, articles, videos and seminars. And he’s committed to the sport fishing community -- always available to answer a question or give advice, and always there when nonprofits and charitable organizations come calling.
Bouncer is an advocate for conservation and responsible fishing practices, and he became a strong supporter of circle hooks in the 1990s after hearing Tim Choate and Ron Hamlin promote their use. Bouncer has led dozens of anglers -- and himself – to world records. And he’s received many impressive awards -- including The MET’s Hyman Trophy and numerous top Guide and Captain honors -- all of which speak to his high standards and sportsmanship.

 
Gary Stuve

Capt. Gary Stuve is a third-generation waterman who worked his way up the ranks – to five Cat Cay Tuna Tournament wins and to a one-day catch (and release) of 73 bluefin tuna off Hatteras. His passionate concern for the species has him working closely with Tag-a-Giant.

 

Omie Tillett

Omie Tillett was born in 1929 on the Outer Banks with fishing in his blood.  At the age of 10 he was baiting hooks, tending lines and cleaning fish on his dad, Sam’s, boat; at 20 he was taking fishing parties out, the beginning of  50 years of guiding anglers to notable catches  and pioneering Gulf Stream fishing for white marlin, dolphin and blue marlin.   In 1951 he helped move a small, fledgling charter fleet from Nag’s Head to a new location that became the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.  And Omie’s early decision to build boats in the off-season played a pivotal role in North Carolina’s evolution into a premier custom boat-building state.  Though the entire Tillett family is recognized for pioneering sport fishing on the Outer Banks, Omie’s reputation, skills and creations became particularly legendary among fishermen, captains and boatbuilders, as did the local tradition, started by Omie, of blessing the fleet in the morning just as boats clear the inlet.

 

Dennis "Brazakka" Wallace

Dennis Capt. Dennis Wallace, who is universally known as “Brazakka,” an Aboriginal term for “wild man,” is one of the world’s great black marlin captains and an untiring promoter of Australian sport fishing.
At age 15 Brazakka began working trawlers off the New South Wales coast. Three years later he had enough sea hours to gain his “Masters ticket” and become one of the youngest skippers on Australia’s eastern coast. As game fishing began to take hold in Cairns in the mid-1960s, Brazakka decided that was where he wanted to be. In 1968 he became the third charter operator in the local fleet after buying George Bransford’s Sea Baby. But he soon realized it made more sense to lease private boats for the season, and he did so from 1970 until 1975, during which time he weighed 18 granders.
Over 40 years his reputation as a skilled skipper grew, and he attracted clients from all over the world. He designed the 54’ Sea Venture, the first self-contained, live-aboard game fishing boat, and was fully booked every year. Always colorful, Brazakka became a personality -- featured in beer commercials, the movie Brazakka’s Reef with Lee Marvin, and the Australian version of 60 Minutes. President Jimmy Carter was a client, as was Don Tyson. However his most famous may have been actor Lee Marvin. The two met in a Kona bar in early 1973, and over 12 seasons with Brazakka Marvin weighed 13 granders – one weighing 1,320 pounds -- and tagged at least a dozen more.
Brazakka fished off-season too: armed with a helicopter pilot’s license he took anglers “heli-fishing” for barramundi.

 

Laurie Woodbridge

A skilled plumber by trade, Australian Laurie Woodbridge learned his craft serving as deckhand for George Bransford, and in 1973 Woodbridge acquired Sea Baby II for himself -- and became a legend skippering her. Multiple tournament wins and multiple black marlin granders followed, including Morton May’s 1,347 lb catch, still the 80 lb line class world record, making Woodbridge one of the most successful captains in the history of Cairns.

 

Tommy Gifford Award


Tommy Gifford (1896-1970) is considered one of the most innovative bluewater anglers who ever lived, and one of the greatest charter skippers to guide anglers to the major game fishes of the sea.  He began his chartering career in Miami in 1920 at age 23, and within a few seasons had made a reputation for himself. Gifford was the first to use spreader outriggers on the East coast and the first to catch an Atlantic blue marlin with the new devices. Over the course of his 50-year career, he developed an encyclopedic knowledge of game fish and techniques to catch them, and he served as guide and consultant to some of the most famous names in saltwater angling, including Ernest Hemingway, Michael Lerner, Charlie Lehman and Van Campen Heilner. He never lost his zest for the sea, or his awe at the creatures beneath the waves. Raymond Camp wrote, "Big game angling has a brief history, but Tommy Gifford's name is sharply etched on every page."

The Tommy Gifford Award is presented to the Legendary Captains and Crew nominees by a select committee of internationally renown captains and mates.

Karl Anderson Bouncer Smith
Bobby Brown - Vice Chair Skip Smith - Chair
Bark Garnsey Gary Stuve
Steve Lassley Laurie Wright
Charles Perry Peter Wright