Johnny Morris pledges $100k lead gift on behalf of Bass Pro Shops
A picturesque spring sunset over the flats was the backdrop for the inaugural Bonefish and Tarpon Trust George Hommell Jr. Florida Keys Habitat Fundraiser, held at World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada, FL. Conservation-minded anglers, guides and friends gathered on the beach to celebrate the life and memory of one of the pioneers of flats fishing and conservation efforts in the Florida Keys.
George Hommell Jr. was an angling legend. He is credited with refining the techniques for poling for bonefish, was one of the first people to trailer his boat around to find fish, and also developed a number of important shrimp fly patterns, including the Hommell Evil Eye. In 1964 George helped baseball legend Ted Williams initiate the Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament and shortly after, in 1967, Hommell founded World Wide Sportsman alongside clients Carl Navarre and Billy Pate. Hommell was also a devout conservationist. He promoted tarpon and bonefish protection and Everglades Restoration through World Wide Sportsman, promoted awareness about the importance of seagrass preservation, and under his leadership, Bayside Marina became the first certified “green” marina in the Keys. In a wonderful tribute to Hommell’s legacy, attendees committed $205,000 to the BTT George Hommell Jr. Florida Keys Habitat Fund. A $100,000 lead gift was announced by Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris – a dear friend of Hommell – making it the single largest corporate gift in BTT’s history.
The evening was kicked off by a lively cocktail hour and opening remarks from BTT Chairman of the Board, Tom Davidson, who thanked Event Chairman Bill Stroh and his committee on a job well done. Hall of Fame angler Stu Apte provided an entertaining trip down memory lane and George Hommell Jr.’s daughter, M.E. Hommell-Chidiac, reminisced fondly about her father before introducing Morris as the evening’s keynote speaker.
Morris, a founding member of BTT, recalled many memories of Hommell, whom he purchased World Wide Sportsman from in 1997, which led to a lifelong friendship. He recited a quote from writer Kip Farrington, saying “In a life spent fishing, I’ve come to realize it’s not the big fish that you catch, but the people you meet and the friends that you make along the way that matter the most…in all this time, I can say, I’ve never met a grander gentleman, or a more passionate, inspirational person than Mary Ellen and George’s dad, George Hommell Jr.” The highlight of Morris’ speech came when he pledged $100,000 on behalf of Bass Pro Shops to the Hommell Fund to help BTT in their efforts to investigate the causes of the bonefish decline in the Keys and to carry forward
George Hommell Jr.’s hope that the Florida Keys flats could be returned to their former glory.
In response to John Morris’ pledge, BTT President Matt Connolly remarked that, “Johnny is not only an entrepreneur, but a citizen conservationist, which is what BTT is all about…we will compound this and have it pay dividends in the Florida Keys.”
The evening rounded out with a science presentation from BTT’s Director of Operations, Dr. Aaron Adams, discussing BTT’s five-year strategic plan to protect and restore the Florida Keys flats and particularly the bonefish populations. The plan includes conducting research on the genetic population of bonefish to see whether Keys bonefish are self-recruiting (spawn locally) or if Keys juveniles are spawned in other locations, a contaminant study to determine whether water contaminants are affecting bonefish well-being, and conducting wide-scale water quality assessments throughout the Keys.
Additionally, BTT will work on identifying and protecting critical juvenile and spawning bonefish habitats to protect the future of the populations. Through this research, BTT hopes to determine the causes of the bonefish decline in the Keys and take future steps to address them so we can restore the health of the bonefish populations and the overall health of the Florida Keys flats.
Dr. Adams was followed by a moving presentation from 30-year veteran Keys fishing guide, Captain Bob Branham. Branham drew on a map of Key Biscayne to Lower Matecumbe Key to highlight locations where bonefish were once found on a regular basis in the Upper Keys. He then used a black marker to shade out the numerous spots where bonefish are rarely seen today and asked that attendees help him and his fellow Keys fishing guides by supporting BTT’s efforts.
BTT is a fisheries conservation organization dedicated to enhancing global bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats through stewardship, research, education and advocacy. If you would like to learn more about Bonefish and Tarpon Trust’s efforts in the Keys, please contact Alex Lovett-Woodsum at 617.872.4807 or [email protected] or visit our website at www.btt.org.