George Hommell Jr

 

 


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2015 Inductee

Like many of the early Florida Keys anglers, George Frederick Hommell, Jr. got his fly fishing start somewhere else. For him, it was in the trout streams of his childhood home in Haines Falls, New York, where he fished just about every stream he could find. After serving in both the U.S. Navy and Air Force in World War II and Korea, Hommell moved to Islamorada, Florida. Of course he took to fishing. “Down in the Keys there wasn’t much else to do back then and this was something I enjoyed immensely,” he said. At that time, fly fishing in the Keys was in its infancy and there was only a small fraternity of guides in the early 50s who helped to pioneer the sport of flats fishing and evolve it into what it is today. Among those guides was George, who quietly made his mark in just about every aspect of saltwater fishing as a guide, fly tier, tackle expert, conservationist, mentor and businessman, during a remarkable 60-plus years of Keys fishing.


Hommell started fly fishing the flats with no real knowledge of how to do it, but he learned quickly and became a full-time guide in 1952. George was not satisfied with just leaving the dock to accommodate a client and was one of the first guides to trailer his skiff wherever needed in order to find the best possible locale to find a good bite. His favorite spot back then was near Loggerhead Key, where droves of tarpon, bonefish and permit would gather. He fished this spot so often that the other guides came to call it “Hommell’s Corner.” He was one of the first to set the bar for the decorum and professionalism recognized by Islamorada fishing guides today and to say that he was well-respected by his peers would be an understatement. IGFA Hall of Fame inductee member Stu Apte said of Hommell, “If I had to hire a guide for myself, George would probably be the one I would choose.” Fellow Hall of Famer Lefty Kreh noted that, of the small group of early guides in the Keys, “George was the leader of the group and the most innovative.” Hommell’s client and good friend, baseball great Ted Williams, once remarked, “He has eyes for bonefish like no one else, ever.”


George helped refine the techniques for poling for bonefish and contributed to up and coming fly patterns, including the first bead-eye fly, ominously called the Hommell Evil Eye. He had many loyal and famous clients, including Mac Miller, the aforementioned Ted Williams, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, Hugh Heffner, and various diplomats, including President George H.W. Bush. He helped his anglers achieve many world records and tournament wins, but what mattered to him most was that everyone has a good time.


In 1967, George, along with former fishing clients and friends Billy Pate and Carl Navarre, founded World Wide Sportsman, a shop that was one of the first of its kind and remains one of the great landmarks in the Florida Keys. World Wide Sportsman made saltwater fly fishing more accessible worldwide and helped to grow the sport. It was George who coined the phrase “Sportfishing Capital of the World” for his business, which later went on to be adopted as the official motto of Islamorada. Bass Pro Shops owner and IGFA Hall of Fame member Johnny Morris purchased World Wide Sportsman in 1995, but George could still be found at the store most days until the end of his life, always willing to give advice to anyone who asked or just share a fishing story or two.


By the 1970s, George had become one of the early champions of fishing conservation. Keys’ guides started to notice that catch numbers were declining and George became one of the first proponents of catch and release fishing. He promoted tarpon and bonefish protection and Everglades Restoration through World Wide Sportsman, promoted awareness about the importance of sea grass preservation, and received the IGFA Conservation Award in recognition of his numerous contributions to conservation causes. He was a founding member of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Islamorada Gold Cup Tarpon Championship, Islamorada Fishing Club, and Islamorada Fishing Guides’ Association.


George came to share a lifelong friendship filled with fishing adventures with U.S. President George H.W. Bush.  Although he officially retired as an active fishing guide in 1988, Hommell continued to guide President Bush whenever he visited Islamorada. This relationship would prove valuable to the fish as well as the two men, since their many days on the water together allowed numerous opportunities to discuss growing concerns regarding the fish and marine wildlife as well as water quality. President Bush determined that he should form a committee focusing on these issues and asked George if he would be interested in putting together a crack team and chairing it. Thus, the INTERCOM Committee formed in 1988. Hommell invited some heavy hitters to be part of the committee including Curt Gowdy, Perry Bass, George Barley and Johnny Morris. The committee’s findings and proposals led to controls over commercial harvests, agricultural runoffs, the plight of the bluefin tuna, oil drilling in the Everglades and other important topics. For his innovations in light tackle and fly fishing, promotion of the sport, and conservation efforts, the IGFA celebrates George Hommell, Jr.