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All The President's Fish

Fishing interests honor President Bush's legacy of conservation

George H.W. Bush landed this 135-pound tarpon six years ago with guide George Wood. (Andy Mills photo) George H.W. Bush landed this 135-pound tarpon six years ago with guide George Wood. (Andy Mills photo)

By: Mike Suchan

Former President George H.W. Bush is a real fisherman. He wasn’t a president who had a rod slapped in his hands for a photo op.

Google “Presidents Fishing” and H.W. images are splashed among the likes of FDR, Hoover, Truman and Eisenhower. Gerald Ford is in the search – asleep at the rod. Obama is even shown fly fishing, but his administration has been more at odds with the sport fishing industry than hailed for promoting it.

Bush (right) and B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott fish Scott’s lake in Alabama around 1989. (Courtesy Alabama Dept. of Archives and History)

Bush (right) and B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott fish Scott’s lake in Alabama around 1989. (Courtesy Alabama Dept. of Archives and History)

Bush lived fishing. There are images of the 41st President practicing all sorts of fishing, including one in which he maneuvers his rod around his son (President No. 43 and also an avid angler) to uncross their lines. He’s also pictured waste deep casting in crashing surf and on various outings from Kennebunkport, Maine.

He favored Florida flats fishing, and one photo there stands out – Bush with a 135-pound tarpon he caught 6 years ago. A little controversy surrounded the catch, as conspiracists called for Bush and guide George Wood to be cited for illegal handling of the silver king.

This scribe contacted Capt. Rob Beaton of Florida Fish and Wildlife, who exonerated Bush fully, saying zooming in on Andy Mill’s photos show the fish was indeed tagged.

"Once that tag is on the fish, you can take it on board and have your kids ride it like a bull," Beaton said.

Bush had asked Mills, a U.S. Olympic skier who’s big in the Florida fishing scene, to do an “old man a favor” by helping him accomplish “the pinnacle of fishing” by landing one fly fishing, but he settled for the 135-pounder caught on a live crab.

“It was a thrill of a lifetime,” Bush said at the time.

After Mill took the photo of the big tarpon on the laps of Bush and Wood, it was released alive, with Bush vowing to have a replica hang in his Presidential Library.

Johnny Morris holds a huge bass caught fishing with Bush at Ray Scott’s lake. (Courtesy Bass Pro Shops)

Johnny Morris holds a huge bass caught fishing with Bush on Ray Scott's lake. (Courtesy Ray Scott Trophy Bass Retreat)

That love of fishing translated into policies to conserve fisheries and habitat, and his lifelong efforts were honored Wednesday by conservation and sportfishing leaders. A delegation, led by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, gathered in Kennebunkport to help Bush celebrate his 90th birthday, go fishing and recognize his lifetime commitment.

Morris fished numerous venues with Bush, from the Arctic to the Ozarks, and called him “one of the best ambassadors the sport of fishing has ever had.”

“Most people aren’t fully aware of all that President Bush has done for conservation,” Morris said. “During his presidency, he established 56 new wildlife refuges, more than even President Theodore Roosevelt, conserving more than three million acres of nationally significant public land.

“It is an honor to present my longtime friend with Bass Pro Shops Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award. President Bush is a remarkable man who has had an immeasurably profound, positive impact on our nation’s fish and wildlife resources.”

Bush also was presented the inaugural KeepAmericaFishing™ Lifetime Achievement award by Mike Nussman, president and CEO of The American Sportfishing Association’s (ASA). Nussman pointed out his conservation work.

“What most people don’t know is that when Bush was Vice President, he played a key role in assuring the passage of the 1984 amendments to the Sport Fish Restoration Act – an action second only to the original Act’s passage in 1950,” said Nussman, adding that as President he rescued the Act when funding was threatened. “He played a key role in ensuring recreational fishing’s future.”

During the meeting, Morris announced that Bass Pro Shops was presenting a $125,000 gift in President Bush’s name to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation (RBFF) for its Hispanic angling and boating participation campaign called “Vamos a Pescar,” to engage the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population in fishing and boating.

Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, announced a partnership to provide $1 million to the new President George H. W. Bush Conservation Fund, which will benefit Atlantic Coast fish species including Atlantic salmon, river herring and American shad.

President George H.W. Bush was honored by fishing industry icons: (from left) Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops; Matt Connolly, president of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust; George Dunklin, Jr., president of Ducks Unlimited; and Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association. (Courtesy Bass Pro Shops)
President George H.W. Bush was honored by fishing industry icons: (from left) Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops; Matt Connolly, president of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust; George Dunklin, Jr., president of Ducks Unlimited; and Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association.
(Courtesy Bass Pro Shops)

And Bush could have a favorite fishing area named after him. Matt Connolly, president of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, is working to rename the Florida Keys’ “Little Basin” Flat to “Two Georges Flat,” in honor of Bush and his close friend and legendary guide, the late George Hommell, Jr.

George Dunklin, Jr., president of Ducks Unlimited, presented Bush with a beautiful piece of waterfowl art, "Reydell Hole." He also shared a heartfelt letter from Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall, who served as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during Bush 43’s presidency. Hall outlined how Bush Sr. was responsible for conserving millions of acres by establishing the first national policy goal of “no net loss” of wetlands and for signing the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA).

So whether you’re out shooting ducks, or fighting bonefish or striper, pause a second to thank this champion of the outdoors, George Herbert Walker Bush.

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