Dania Beach, Fla. – The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) today announced its 2023 Tommy Gifford Award winners, an annually-bestowed accolade that recognizes captains, guides, or crew members who have made extraordinary contributions to recreational angling through innovation, leadership, or outstanding accomplishments in their trade.
Named for one of the greatest saltwater charter skippers of all time, Tommy Gifford Award recipients are selected through a rigorous nomination and vetting process conducted by the IGFA Legendary Captains and Crew Committee. This year’s recipients include accomplished journalist and offshore innovator Captain Karl Anderson; renowned billfish specialist and conservation catalyst Captain Gene Vanderhoek; boat-building innovator Captain Paul Spencer; seasoned saltwater authority and accomplished tournament winner Captain Ray Rosher; and renowned Key West charter Captain Brad Simonds. These industry legends will be honored later this year at the IGFA Tommy Gifford Awards Ceremony. Event details will be released in the coming weeks.
“Captains, guides, and crewmembers are often the unsung heroes of sport fishing,” said IGFA President Jason Schratwieser. “The Tommy Gifford Awards allow us to celebrate those individuals whose devotion to their craft has led to remarkable achievements and continued innovation, paving a promising pathway for the anglers of tomorrow.”
Tommy Gifford (1896-1970) is considered one of the most innovative blue water anglers and greatest game fish captains to have ever lived. Spanning the course of a 50-year career, Gifford cultivated an encyclopedic knowledge of game fishing techniques that led to serving as a guide and consultant to some of the most illustrious names in saltwater angling such as Ernest Hemingway, Michael Lerner, Charlie Lehman, and Van Campen Heilner. The spirit of the award pays homage to Gifford’s lifelong enthusiasm for the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. As famed sportfishing author Raymond Camp wrote, “Big game angling has a brief history, but Tommy Gifford’s name is sharply etched on every page.”
The 2023 recipients were selected by the IGFA Legendary Captains and Crew Committee, a distinguished panel of internationally renowned captains and mates chaired by Captain Skip Smith. Previous winners include Jose Wejebe, Allen and Buddy Merritt, Ron Hamlin, Charles Perry, Ralph Delph, Laurie Wright, Jimmie Albright, Bouncer Smith, Steve Lassley, Bubba Carter, R.T. Trosset, Billy Knowles, and more.
“On behalf of the Legendary Captains & Crew Committee, it is a privilege to recognize outstanding captains, guides, and crew members from around the world every year,” said committee chairman and 2021 honoree Skip Smith. “It is an honor to celebrate their accomplishments and keep the history of our sport alive.”
The 2023 Tommy Gifford Award recipients are:
Captain Karl Anderson held his first paid mates’ job at age 13 and has since risen to become a globally-known figure in the world of big game fishing. Having fished the world over from Key West to Australia to Nova Scotia and beyond, he captains and manages several custom sportfishing yachts to some of the world’s finest sportfishing destinations, with thousands of billfish and tuna releases to his credit. Beyond his remarkable work as captain, Anderson is also an accomplished journalist whose writing, photography, and video work have permeated a sweeping list of industry publications and resulted in many national awards. Anderson also serves as an International Representative for the IGFA and chairs the Rules and Recognition Committee of the IGFA’s North American Regional Council.
Gene Vander Hoek
Captain Gene Vander Hoek received his big break when his family moved to Kona, Hawaii, in 1969. By age 17 he caught his first marlin and has since amassed 32 IGFA World Records as captain, mate, or angler. An early pioneer in billfish conservation, Vander Hoek tagged and released the second marlin he ever caught. His creative efforts to compensate crew who previously relied on selling billfish for income helped lead the tag-and-release industry standard that is practiced along the Kona coast today. A mentor in his community, Gene is the only captain to ever land four blue marlin weighing more than 1,000 pounds. In addition to these impressive accomplishments, he is widely known for inventing the first plunger lure for marlin trolling in 1978.
Boat-building innovator Captain Paul Spencer began his career in the industry at the age of 12, working during the summer as an offshore mate. Raised on the waters of the Atlantic, throughout his youth he gained offshore experience from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Following a decade of running one of the best charter operations in renowned Oregon Inlet, North Carolina, Spencer set out to modernize the world of boat building in 1996, using his vast charter experience to trailblaze new ideas and surpass what had been done previously. The result is the world-renowned Spencer Yachts, recognized for their “Carolina Style” craftsmanship and unmatched sport fishing performance.
A third-generation Miami fisherman, Captain Ray Rosher has been captivated by the sea since boyhood. He launched his career as a professional crewman at the age of 16 and two decades later graduated as captain of his first charter boat, Miss Britt. Having spent more than 40 years working exclusively as a full-time fishing captain in both South Florida and international waters, Rosher’s chief objective is developing tactics to make sport fishing easier and more efficient, ensuring even inexperienced anglers can catch the fish of a lifetime. Leading with this passion for innovation and education, Rosher has contributed to advancements within nearly every aspect of fishing. Today, he continues to manage the South Florida three-boat fleet Miss Britt Charters and has more than 30 tournament wins to his name.
Captain Brad Simonds was born and raised in Massachusetts where he grew up freshwater fishing with his family. When a high school summer job offered the opportunity to work in bluewater fishing, he said yes and never looked back. With more than 40 years of experience as a charter captain, Simonds has fished the world over from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to Nova Scotia and beyond. In 2002, he decided to open his own daily charter service out of Key West on his 43-foot Torres, Southpaw, which in the two decades since has developed a reputation as one of the area’s most experienced and best-designed fishing boats.
For more information about the Tommy Gifford Awards or to make a nomination, go to www.igfa.org/tommy-gifford-award/.
About the International Game Fish Association (IGFA)
Founded in 1939, The International Game Fish Association is a nonprofit organization committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rulemaking, record keeping and recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the field of angling.