Fishing pioneer Hommell dies at 88

courtesy Kevin Wadlow/Florida Keys Keynoter

 

George HommellGeorge Hommell Jr., renowned as President George H.W. Bush's flats guide and co-founder of Islamorada's World Wide Sportsman store, died Saturday. He was 88.

Born in New York state, Hommell moved to Islamorada in 1945 and played a large role in making the Keys the sportfishing capital of the world.

"George brought presidents to us," said Gary Ellis, founder of the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series.

"In Mangrove Mike's, there's a photo of Ted Williams holding up a bonefish. George is polling the boat," Ellis said. "Those two probably did more for this fishing community than anyone can imagine."

"My father dedicated his life to promoting and perfecting the sport of backcountry fishing and conservation," said Mariellen Hommell.

"It was just fun being with George," said World Wide Sportsman manager Mark Klingbeil, who worked with Hommell for 15 years. "He was an inspiration to everyone here.

"He had 100,000 different stories," Klingbeil said. "If you were planning a trip somewhere, he had a story about it."

Ellis recalled how Hommell willingly shared advice and customers with a young crew of budding guides in the 1960 and 1970s.

"There were only a few guides in town and we all relied on him," Ellis said. "We'd meet at 6 a.m. at the Coral Grill, and he'd tell us the fish would be. We'd follow anywhere he went."

"George knew the waters and fish so well," Ellis said. "To a young guide, it was like having a direct connection to God."

With a relaxed demeanor not common to all flats guides, Hommell attracted a clientele that included luminaries like Paul Newman, Jack Nicklaus and Dan Rather in addition to Williams and Bush.

He was a founding member of the Islamorada Fishing Guides Association that promoted release fishing. A military veteran of World War II and Korea, Hommell taught himself to fly fish the flats and then shared his techniques with others. He created the first bead-eye fly, named the Hommell Evil Eye.

With famed angler Billy Pate, Hommell opened the original World Wide Sportsman in June 1967 as a specialty tackle shop and travel agency in Islamorada.

"Fly fishing was at the heart of the store," Klingbeil said. "They built the business and a reputation that made it one of the most-pursued destinations for anglers coming down."

Pate, who died in 2011, and Hommell collaborated to design fishing gear that has become a sport standard. Hommell met and befriended Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, who purchased the World Wide Sportsman and hired Hommell to run it as general manager. The current location opened in October 1997.

"George still held that position until he died Saturday," Klingbeil said. "He dedicated his life to his sport and store. He carried quite a legacy."

Survivors include Doris, his wife of 60 years; son, George III; and daughter Mariellen. "As well as a lifetime of friends and fishing buddies," Mariellen said.

A celebration of life is being planned. Memorials donations are suggested to the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (www.bonefishtarpontrust.org) or Florida Keys Wild Bird Center (www.fkwbc.org).


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