The fishing world lost a friend when George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, died on Nov. 30 at age 94.
Bush was a fisherman through and through, and not just for photo ops. The man had a passion for the outdoors, and he led by example.
I always admired that about him. He was our fishing president, and I always felt he represented America’s common people.
As a spokesman for National Fishing Week, he once said, “Fishing is a means of restoring our bonds with nature and sharing special moments with family and friends.”
Imagine placing a cast under the watchful eye of a Secret Service agent. Bush did constantly. Whether it be casting for trophy largemouth bass on a freshwater lake or trolling for tarpon in the Gulf of Mexico, Bush was at home in the outdoors.
When I interviewed BASS founder Ray Scott several years ago, he took great pride in the fact that he got to be good friends with Bush. Scott invited the president to fish with him at his private lake in Alabama, and they immediately hit it off. Scott went on to host Bush’s wife, Barbara, and his son, President George W. Bush, over the years.
Scott was so impressed with the Bush family that he renamed his private body of water Presidents Lake.
“I think Barbara held bragging rights in the family. She caught a bass that was over 5 pounds when she fished with me,” Scott told me. “But they could all catch fish. And you could tell that they all just enjoyed the outdoors.”
George H.W. Bush would bring fishing into the national spotlight regularly, whether it be on his trips to his retreat, Kennebunkport, Maine, where he fished for stripers or to Florida, where he fished for tarpon and other saltwater species.
His passion for fishing also showed in his policy decisions. As vice president, he played a major role in the passage of the Wallop-Breaux amendments to the Sport Fish Restoration Act, a tax on fishing equipment that generated millions of dollars for sportfish access, restoration, education and other projects.
As president, he established 56 new wildlife refuges, restored 3 million acres of wetlands and signed the Clean Air Act reauthorization that required cleaner energy.
He was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Keep America Fishing for his commitment to recreational fishing.
But one his greatest achievements in my eyes came when he caught a 135-pound tarpon in the Gulf of Mexico at age 84.
Well-done, President Bush. We will miss you.
Photo by the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library