Roy B. Dean

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Roy B. Dean1895 – 1990
2008 Inductee

On January 1, 1921, Dr. Roy B. Dean crossed the U.S. border into Mexico. He remained there 60 years, establishing a dental practice and becoming the first to specialize in orthodontics in Latin America.  Dean and his wife Dita Lou also pioneered the waters off both Mexican coasts, becoming staunch and vocal advocates of the excellent angling opportunities in their adopted country.
One of Dean’s dental school instructors was Tuna Club member Dr. George Chuck, who introduced Dean to light-tackle angling.  Doc embraced the sport, and it was his enthusiasm for light-tackle sailfishing in particular that led to the formation of the Sailfish and Tarpon Club of Mexico in 1943.  Three years later this club became the first organization to sponsor the tagging of sailfish. With tags supplied by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and later by Pan American World Airways in cooperation with the IGFA, more than 2,000 fish were tagged and released.  Though fisheries experts denied it, Doc had long suspected there were white marlin in the Mexican Caribbean.  Based on his research he determined they would be found in the deep, rough waters off Cozumel.  In May 1962, Doc and Dita made a trip east, where Doc captured the first white marlin on rod and reel in Mexican waters.  The couple frequently returned to the Yucatan to fish; however, more often than not if was for the bonefish and permit which had captured their fancy.
In the process of establishing the Sailfish and Tarpon Club, Doc had contacted the fledgling IGFA for assistance and information.  His frequent correspondence with Francesca LaMonte was filled with valuable insights about Mexico’s abundant sport fish, and Pacific billfish migration data that was shared with U.S. fisheries agencies, and it led to his appointment as an International Committee member in 1944.  Roy Dean served the IGFA for 45 years, and according to E. K. Harry was an “invaluable diplomat.”  From the many contacts he made as Mexico’s representative came the idea of an international fishing tournament.  Fishing “rodeos” were popular in Mexico at the time, but Doc envisioned something different:  a competition between IGFA club members using light tackle, abiding by IGFA rules, and releasing fish.  When the promoter refused to let Dean’s four-man team compete in the rodeo, the men fished their own tournament -- as one-man teams.  Doc won, and his Sailfish and Tarpon Club claimed the first plaque on the “Big Belt” trophy, an ornate leather fighting belt Doc had designed as a rodeo prize.
It was March 1946, and this was the first event of the International Light Tackle Tournament Association and the first international billfish tournament fished under IGFA rules.  Long before people realized that billfish stocks could be overfished, Doc’s conservation ethic was an integral part of ILTTA’s philosophy. ILTTA tournaments became the first all-release billfish events, and the organization’s high standards were the basis for many prestigious tournaments that followed, such as the Masters and the HIBT.  In November 1946 Doc’s Sailfish and Tarpon Club hosted the first invitational tournament, the following year it was held in Panama, and in 1948 the Miami Rod and Reel Club served as host.  By this time the International Light Tackle Tournament Association had a governing body and a format:  three-person teams from IGFA member clubs fishing separately according to IGFA rules, changing boats and partners each day, using hooks and line provided by the host club, and releasing all fish.  Doc insisted on good sportsmanship and the highest ethical standards; teams competed for the honor of having their club’s name engraved on the coveted Belt, and there were no cash prizes.   Roy Dean died Nov. 27, 1990, the day before the start of the 50th ILTTA Tournament.   He dedicated his life to the sport and to conserving the resource he so loved.  With Dita at his side he fished every inch of Mexican coastline and beyond, often under hazardous and primitive conditions, always promoting the catch-and-release ethic.  Doc often remarked, “I would rather make a friend than catch a fish,” and his legacy of good will and sharing is reflected in the ILTTA members who have continued, over the past 60 years, to open new fishing grounds, teach locals how to rig baits and catch fish, and help countries establish sportfishing industries.  ILTTA’s first Big Belt trophy has been on permanent display at the IGFA since being retired after the 50th ILTTA Tournament.  It is only fitting that Roy B. Dean now assumes his own place of honor in the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.