The IGFA Remembers Fly Fishing Legend Billy Pate


The end of an era came April 18, 2011 at 6:10 a.m. when William Wilson Pate, Jr. passed away at the age of 80.

     Born in Greenville, South Carolina, he was a son of the late WilliamWilson and Alethea Beckham Fennell Pate, and the brother of the late Wallace Fennell Pate, Sr.  He attended Greenville High School, class of 1947 and graduated from Davidson College, class of 1951.  He served in the U.S. Navy.  He was President of Wunda Weve Carpet Co. in Greenville, SC.

     The name ‘Billy Pate’ is linked with fly fishing records, a 35-year-long collaboration with Ted Jurascik’s Billy Pate fly reels, Billy Pate the angler, the author, the water skier with Dick Pope Jr., a true southern gentlemen.  Billy made, and kept friends, for many years - Dick Pope Jr., Joe Hudson, Jay Spivak, George Hommell, Jim Gilreath, Ted Jurascik, Johnny Morris and Raz Reid to name a few.  

     Billy was an innovator, unsurpassed as a fly fisherman, knowledgeable, a true sportsman.

     He made many videos, but the two most well known are the one in Key West with Capt. Nat Ragland and the other in Homosassa, Florida with Capt. Lee Baker.  He was regarded as one of the world’s foremost big-game fly fishermen.  He may be best known for his 188 lb world record tarpon caught on 16-pound tippet.  He held more significant saltwater fly fishing records than any other angler.  He was the first angler to catch a blue marlin on a fly rod, the first to catch a black marlin on fly, and the first to catch six billfish species on fly: blue, black, white and striped marlin, and Atlantic and Pacific sailfish.  He also set records for mako shark, jack crevalle, bonefish, channel bass, grouper and redfish.

     Billy fished over the years with many well-known professionals:  Capt. Hank Brown, Capt. Billy Knowles, Capt. Nat Ragland, Capt. John Kipp and Capt. Lee Baker, but for the last 30 years of his life he fished mainly with one….Capt. Lee Baker.  Billy fished the Islamorada Invitational Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament where he was Grand Champion four times (twice with Capt. Baker).  He and Boyd Walker started the Golden Fly Invitational Tarpon Tournament where he won the first year with Capt. Baker.  Lee and Billy fished the Costa Rica Fly Sailfish Tournament where they were partners – and they won.  Many times Billy and Lee traveled to Costa Rica just to fish – and fish they did…once for 21 straight days!

     Billy and Capt. George Hommell started World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada, Florida  – a premier tackle shop with the finest angling travel agency attached.  If you fished, you wanted World Wide to book your travel for they were experts.  Billy and George sold the business 28 years later to Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops and you will still find World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada.

     He was the founder and/or past board member of the following:  Everglades Protection Association, Trout Unlimited, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, the Don Hawley Foundation and the Pate Foundation.  He was a member of the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame, the Miami Beach Rod and Reel Club, Islamorada Fishing Club and Club Limited.

     Billy married and divorced several times over the years, but in 2004 he found Tetyana Kushynskaya in the Ukraine.  She is a tall, beautiful woman with flaming red hair, a concert pianist and teacher who soon became known to all as just Yana.  His friends found her to be one of the kindest, most thoughtful, considerate and loveable ladies in the world.  He had the good sense to marry her and bring her to Islamorada where she has delighted all.

     For the last four years of Billy’s life, Yana took amazing care of him as he sank into Alzheimer’s.  Her patience, dedication and strength kept him well fed, clean, safe and she took him everyplace with her.  Those of you who have cared for a loved one with this dreadful disease will know what an effort this is and the toll it takes on family and friends.  No one could have done any better.

     Billy is survived by his wife, Yana Pate; five nieces and nephews; Stella Law Pate Ford, Wallace Fennell Pate, Jr., Dorothy Pate Bridgers, Beckham Pate Dunbar and John McDonald Pate; and seven great-nieces and four great-nephews, and pre-deceased by one great-nephew.   

     Yana, Lee and Lee’s wife, Suzan Baker, met at Billy’s bedside on the morning of April 18 for a private service and then made arrangements for Billy to be cremated.  A memorial will be held in several weeks in the Everglades National Park area where all will be invited to come for a service and symbolic laying of a wreath.

    Memorials may be made to International Game Fish Association (IGFA) 300 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach, Florida 33004. 

     Condolences may be expressed online at  Dunbar Funeral Home & Crematory or you may contact Suzan Baker, [email protected] for further information.

Billy Pate was inducted into the IGFA International Fishing Hall of Fame in 2003.
Watch the video from the 2003 induction ceremony.