In any listing of “the Best” how do you rank one person over another? When it comes to anglers, the world of professional fishing provides a good jumping-off point, with its ample tournament results. We started there, then added other factors to the mix, including longevity, fishing records, and awards and honors that reflect the respect of angling peers. Only currently active anglers were considered. Here, then, in no particular order, are the 20 best fishermen on the water today.
If world records mean anything, Dr. Martin Arostegui is one hell of a fisherman. Arostegui has caught three hundred and twenty-six world records in his lifetime, according to IGFA World Records data. A retired emergency room doctor from Coral Gables, Florida, Arostegui made it his mission in life to catch record fish all over the world, usually with fly rods and flies he’s made himself. In 2005, Arostegui was presented the IGFA Lifetime Achievement Award.
In professional bass fishing, any discussion of “best” has to start with Kevin VanDam. The all-time money winner on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, VanDam earned more than $4.5 million through 2010, has four Bassmaster Classic titles and has reeled in more than 8,400 pounds of bass in competiton. Since he turned pro in 1992, VanDam, a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has earned berths in 20 consecutive Classics. “VanDam is as close to perfection as I’ve ever seen,” says ESPN commentator Mark Zona.
By the time Pete Maina was 11, he was guiding anglers in northern Wisconsin. Even then, the muskellunge was his favorite gamefish. Maina estimates that he’s caught muskies himself at more than 500 lakes around the nation and in Canada. “I’ve handled more than three thousand muskies at this point,” says Maina, 50. His biggest? A 55-inch behemoth he hooked in Lake St. Clair, on a Sebile Stick Shadd, in September 2010. He pioneered catch-and-release for muskies.
Philly-born and New Jersey-bred, Mike Iaconelli crashed the party of what had been essentially a tour of Southern anglers, winning the 2003 Bassmaster Classic. Overall, he’s reaped $1.7 million in cash and merchandise, and hauled in more than 4,000 pounds of bass. He has placed in the bass tour money more than 100 times, snagged five tournament wins and finished in the top ten 44 times. This, from an angler not yet 40 years old. Iaconelli spends a good 200 days a year on the water.
In England and Europe, the passion for catching monster carp rivals bass fishing here. And in the world of carp angling, England’s Terry Hearn is the top guy. Hearn made his name in 1996, when he hooked the British carp record of 55 pounds 13 ounces, a mirror carp named “Mary.” The Brits are fond of naming big carp, especially ones with local reputations–Hearn has also caught Bazil (45 lb. 6 oz.), Two Tone (50 lb. 13 oz.) and Heather the Leather (48 lb. 2 oz.), among hundreds of others.
“My next goal is seven hundred.” So said Patrick Sebile in May 2010, when he landed his 600th fish species, a vermilion rockfish, caught off the California coast. Sebile has held 300 IGFA, European and French records at one time or another. An IGFA representative and dedicated fish conservationist, Sebile has written seven books on fishing and is the founder of lure and tackle maker Sebile Innovative Fishing. Sebile lures have won praise from anglers worldwide.
Tommy Skarlis’s flamboyant ways have earned him the nickname “Hollywood” on the professional walleye angler’s tour. In 1996, Skarlis joined the Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) and began shouldering his way through the circuits, winning the PWT Angler of the Year title in 2004. He grabbed 23 top 10 finishes and qualified for the PWT Championship 13 straight times. In 2008, he finished first in the FLW Walleye Tour Championship and took top honors at the 2009 A.I.M. Pro Walleye Series tournament.
Mike Boedeker, 59, of Lansing, Michigan, fished the walleye and bass tournaments for 25 years before he took on the North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC). In 2010, Boedeker was a member of the U.S. icefishing team that won gold at World Championships in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and was also awarded a gold medal as the World Individual Champion. “Mike’s attention to detail is key,” says Jack Baker, president of the NAIFC. “He’s always one of the guys to beat on the circuit.”
It’s very high praise for any fisherman when you compare his book to Izaak Walton’s The Complete Angler, or McClane’s Standard Fishing Encyclopedia. And the Miami Herald cited both these classics when it reviewed A Passion for Tarpon, written by fishing great Andy Mill. Mill is a five-time winner of the Gold Cup Invitational Tarpon Fly Tournament. In 2004 alone, Mill hooked into 70 tarpon that weighed more than 80 pounds each. He reportedly landed each of those fish but one in 20 minutes or less.
In steelhead and salmon circles of the Pacific Northwest, bring up Buzz Ramsey’s name and you’ll likely hear the words “icon” and “authority.” Ramsey’s many accomplishments include catching a 25-pound steelhead and a massive 30-pound steelhead, both of which spent some time as IGFA records. Ramsey was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a “Legendary Angler” in 1995; he’s also a hall of famer with the Association of Northwest Steelheaders.
If longevity counts for anything in the world of angling, and we think it does, then all hail Bernard “Lefty” Kreh! For nearly five decades, Kreh has been teaching America the art and craft of fly fishing. He’s hobnobbed with presidents and celebrities, pioneered salt water fly fishing, and created one of the must-have flies, Lefty’s Deceiver. Honors? Too numerous to list, but consider: “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the American Sportfishing Association; the “Lifetime Contribution Award” by the North American Fly Tackle Trade Association; and “Legendary Communicator” by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, for his many fishing books and articles. Kreh’s fished in all 50 states and every province of Canada, plus numerous countries overseas. In the last decade, Kreh’s suffered a stroke, two heart attacks, and hurt his knee in a fall. But even in his mid-80s, he still gives fly fishing seminars, speaks out on fish conservation issues, and fishes as often as he can.
Speaking of longevity, don’t forget Rick Clunn, a staple in the professional bass circuit for 38 years. In that time, he’s tallied 122 top ten finishes and 17 tournament wins, plus hooked into some $2.9 million in career earnings. Clunn’s also a four-time Bass Masters Classic World Champion, who was inducted into both the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. His largest bass ever caught was just an ounce under 14 pounds; all told, he’s hauled in more than 10,000 pounds of tournament bass. This year, Clunn will be on the water once again, fishing for a living.
Consider Martin as one of the founding fathers of modern bass fishing. He’s the host of Fishing with Roland Martin on the Versus network and was one of the first anglers to popularize the idea of patterning fish. In Martin’s long career he’s had his fair share of success: 19 pro tournament wins, 9 B.A.S.S. Angler-of-the-Year titles, almost 100 top 10 finishes and 20 second place B.A.S.S. finishes.
A native of Glidden, Wisconsin, Parsons was a dentist for 15 years before he traded in his drills and his chair for a boat and a walleye rod–a career move that definitely worked out for him. One of the most accomplished anglers in professional walleye fishing, Gary Parsons is the only person to win Angler of the Year awards in all three professional walleye circuits. He’s also nailed down 11 walleye tournament wins. Parsons was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a “Legendary Angler.” When not fishing, he’s a co-host on the popular The Next Bite television show.
People who want to catch big trout and salmon on Lake Michigan inevitably find themselves hiring out charter boat Captain Denny Grinold (pictured right). Fishing the great lakes since 1973, Grinold operates “Old Grin,” a 33-foot Bertram Sportfisherman, out of Grand Haven, Michigan. “He’s the premier charter captain of Lake Michigan,” says Jim Martin, conservation director for Berkely’s Pure Fishing. “An excellent angler for great lakes salmon.” He’s also a dedicated fishery conservationist, recently honored by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission for his work to protect and enhance Great Lakes fisheries.
Fishing since childhood, native Oklahoman David Moore dedicated himself to carp angling two decades ago. He was a member of Team USA at the World Carp Championship in Romania in 1999 and 2002, and led Team USA at the World Carp Classic at Lac de Madine, France in the fall of 2009. Moore and his fishing partner took top honors at the Nature’s Trophies Carp Challenge in Ogdensburg New York, in 2010, landing a total weight of 377 lbs. 12 oz. Moore is co-founder of the American Carp Society (ACS) and serves as tournament director for the CARP Tournament Series, based in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He was honored in 2004 by the Carp Anglers Group with a lifetime achievement award for his passionate promotion of American carp angling.
In 1989, Tony Bean’s Smallmouth Guide was published, and it helped put smallmouth bass fishing, and Bean (pictured right), very much on the angling map. Bean, a native Tennessean, was a fishing guide on Percy Priest Lake outside Nashville. With the book, he soon became a Diawa field staffer, and helped design Diawa’s first smallmouth bass rod–a rod named after him. His largest smallie? An 8-pound, 7-ouncer he caught in 1977 at Woods Reservoir, in central Tennessee. When not guiding and fishing, Bean held fishing seminars and workshops, but dropped out of sight a few years back. He recently returned to the fishing scene with a new book, Smallmouth Secrets, filled with old school smallie advice from Bean’s 30-plus years of fishing.
Retired school teacher David Pickering is considered by many to be Rhode Island’s best striper fisherman. Not without reason–he’s landed over 45,000 stripers, averaging over 2,000 striped bass a year from shore. He’s been known to fish from boat and kayak, too. Upper Narragansett Bay is among his favorite haunts. Inland, Pickering catches his share of bass and trout, too. All told, he puts in about 250 fishing days per year. When not fishing, he’s an in-demand presenter for fishing seminars in the region. Photo: Rhode Island Striped Bass blog
Captain Bobby McGuinness
Operating from his home port of Golfito, Costa Rico, Captain Bobby McGuinness has guided his charter clients to more than 170 world salt water records. Of these, over 120 are IGFA records, including, recently, an 11 lb 4 oz. Pacific agujon needlefish, an all-tackle record, and a 190 lb bluefin tuna landed on a 16 lb. line. No wonder Captain McGuinness’ nickname is “Fish Magnet.” In tribute to his 30 years of chartering prowess, McGuinness was honored with IGFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in the top Guides/Captains category, in March 2011.
Heather Michelle Harkavy
Though she’s just 16-years-old, Heather Michelle Harkavy, of Coral Springs, Florida, has already scored 81 IGFA world records. Among those is a 27 lb. greater amberjack caught while fishing off McClellanville, South Carolina. Guided by Chris Morrison, Harkavy’s amber jack took her 30 minutes to land and qualified her for IGFA’s women’s 10 kg (20 lb) tippet record. “She is a great young angler,” says Jack Vitek, IGFA world records coordinator, “especially with light tackle and fly rod fishing. She displays fairly elevated styles of fishing for such a young person.”
We take a look at the 20 best anglers and what makes them so great. From bass pros to retired school teachers, this group has it all.