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The IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum

By Joe Cornwall


There's nothing wrong with being in Florida in January.  Even if you're there on business.  A recent trip put me, serendipitously, into the same complex as the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum in lovely Ft. Lauderdale.  How could I resist a chance to visit?  Visitors are greeted with a breathtaking sculpture, a marlin in mid leap captures all the fury and immense power of which that creature is capable.  And this is even before you reach the front door!  

A stunning contemporary building, there's no doubting the focus of this effort.  This is the home of sportfishing and the legacy of a club who's philosophy is " founded on the beliefs that game fish species, related food fish, and their habitats are economic, social, recreational, and aesthetic assets which must be maintained, wisely used and perpetuated; and that the sport of angling is an important recreational, economic, and social activity which the public must be educated to pursue in a manner consistent with sound sporting and conservation practices."  It feels like home!


The IGFA has traditionally been thought of as an organization that focuses on big-game fishing in the world's oceans.  That perception is correct, but it only tells part of the story.  The IGFA did, in fact, have it's beginnings with the ocean-going big-game angler;  "Before 1939 there was no universal code of sporting ethics to guide ocean anglers in their pursuits. Some rules pertaining to sporting conduct were in effect at certain well-established fishing clubs but they varied according to the dictates of each club. The idea of a worldwide association of marine anglers had been brewing for some time in England, Australia, and the United States, and the first steps in this direction were taken in the late 1930ís by members of the British Tunny Club who hoped to establish headquarters in England to formulate rules for ethical angling." 


Officially established in 1939, the IGFA was originally created to serve as an interface between ichthyologic societies, governmental agencies and international organizations involved in the commercial and sport fishing industries.  31 years later the IGFA took a significant step in growing its audience.  In 1970, "E. K. Harry, then IGFA vice president, proposed opening the organization to individual membership to insure its continued funding, unify international anglers, and inform a much larger audience of the problems threatening fishery resources. Then, in 1978, Field & Stream magazine officially turned over its record-keeping responsibilities to IGFA. Thus the membership-driven organization that IGFA is today, responsible for all saltwater and freshwater world records and for spreading awareness of fishery and conservation issues to fishermen around the world, was formed."  I have been a member, on and off, since 1973 and still wear my very first IGFA membership patch proudly on my fly fishing vest.


If you think the IGFA is still about marlin, sailfish, sharks and tuna, you might be surprised to find that the very first exhibit one encounters as he enters the museum is a retrospective of Lee Wulff.  In the glass case in the entry foyer is the very last fly Lee ever tied - a saltwater pattern that was left in his vise on that fateful day in 1991.

The glass case is filled with treasures enough alone to keep an avid fly fisher dreaming for a full day.  The flies Lee tied are unique - he was obviously playing with splayed wings and heavy body palmering in an effort to move more water and create a sonic signature when the fly was fished.  Sound and vibration are critical components of an effective presentation, especially on the open ocean.  Wulff actually hooked and landed sailfish on a "dry fly" - a jointed, palmered pattern much like the one show above.  I wonder if we'd have patterns like this in our fly  boxes if Mr. Wulff had lived long enough to complete his experiments?  This fly certainly shows the perspective of someone who's seen a different side of the sport.


A stone-cold-mint example of a rare Garcia 2073 Lee Wulff fly rod also graces the exhibit.  There are many who'd pay a princely sum to own such a rod, or even to have an opportunity to simply cast one.


Many of the exhibits at the IGFA Museum are geared towards kids. There are machines that mimic the pull of a big game fish and allow the little tykes to sit in a fighting chair and get an idea of what the battle might be like. And there are plenty of exhibits that demonstrate the technology behind everything from fishing reels to rods, lines to hooks.  From the earliest history of the sport to the most contemporary bass blaster, all the various branches of the angling tree are there heavy with fruit.  This is a great stop for a family on vacation in south Florida!


There's plenty to keep a fly fanatic slack-jawed, however. This facility houses some serious treasures of our angling past.  There is an exhibit of original flies tied by Don Gapen, Ed Hewitt, Preston Jennings, Art Flick, Ray Bergman, Theodore Gordon, G. E. M. Skues, F. M. Halford, Harry and Else Darby and many, many more.  The one complaint I can legitimately voice regards the lighting of these exhibits.  The flies are small, some are exquisitely detailed.  Yet the lighting is so marginal that much of the beauty of the ties is lost.  One would be well prepared to bring a small, bright LED flashlight to better bring out the color and detail of the displayed patters.  Photographing the exhibits is nearly impossible due to glare on the Plexiglas case.


The E. K. Harry Library of Fishes is also housed at the IGFA museum.  Established in 1973 in response to the need for a permanent repository for angling literature, history, films, art, photographs, and artifacts, this library houses the most comprehensive collection in the world on game fish, angling, and related subjects. I am not certain how one can go about accessing this library, as it is segregated from the exhibits.  The Fly Fish Ohio team is currently working to get the museum curator, Mr. Chris Hess or perhaps the IGFA Librarian, Gail Morchower, to join us for an Adventures in Fly Fishing Podcast to talk about the collection.


Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the world records.  There are 170 species of game fish that earned world record status suspended over your head as you walk through the museum.  Each record fish has an informational plate detailing the date of catch, angler, and the place the fish was captured displayed on the floor under the mount. The largest mount is Alfred Dean's 2,664 lb great white shark caught in Australia in 1959. Nothing can prepare you for the actual size of an animal that impressive!  It's almost frightening to think someone would want to hook it!


When I look at the notes I took during my brief visit I smile at my last entry.  It says "If you want to remember why you fish, come here."  I know my time at the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum made me feel like a kid again!  f you find yourself in Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, do yourself a favor and take a couple hours to find your way over.  You won't regret it!

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