The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) announced its 2024 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 Captain Bobby Buswell, a pioneer of charter boat fishing on the Florida Gulf Coast; Captain Charlie Chambers, renowned for helping put the Cairns fishery on the map; Captain Jerry Black, a pioneer in the U.S. Virgin Islands, establishing the famed Lagoon Fishing Center; Captain Steve Huff, a legendary figure in saltwater inshore fishing, known by many as the “Godfather of Guides”; Captain Arch Bracher, widely regarded as the best white marlin captain in the Mid-Atlantic; and Captain John Batterton, whose global fishing experiences and record-breaking achievements showcase a lifelong dedication to the sport.
These industry legends will be honored later this year at the IGFA Tommy Gifford Awards Ceremony, taking place Thursday, October 31, 2024 at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Additional event details will be released in the coming weeks.
“The Tommy Gifford Awards serve as a distinguished platform to honor the exceptional individuals whose unwavering dedication has resulted in remarkable angling achievements and ongoing innovation,” said IGFA President Jason Schratwieser. “This prestigious recognition not only pays homage to the legends of our past, like award namesake Captain Tommy Gifford, but also celebrates the contemporary trailblazers who shape the future of angling each day.”
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 2024 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 recipients of the IGFA Tommy Gifford Award 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.
“In the dynamic world of sportfishing, the invaluable contributions of captains, guides, and crew members are frequently overlooked. The IGFA takes immense pride in shining a spotlight on these unsung heroes, celebrating their remarkable accomplishments, and recording their indelible place in the rich tapestry of angling history,” said 2021 honoree and committee chairman Skip Smith. “On behalf of the Legendary Captains & Crew Committee, it is an honor to celebrate the pivotal role they play in shaping the legacy of our beloved sport.”
The 2023 Tommy Gifford Award recipients are:
Captain John Batterton’s love for fishing was ignited at a young age during his family’s outings in Tutukaka, New Zealand. Starting as a deckhand on the Waimana, John quickly built a career around his passion. Running the charter boats Lady Clareand Harlequin, he became a force in the Bay of Islands Swordfish Club, breaking records and leading expeditions targeting record-sized fish. Teaming up with Guy and Eryn Jacobsen, John’s strategic approach to light tackle fishing resulted in breaking numerous IGFA World Records worldwide on the acclaimed Hookin’ Bull. His global fishing experiences include premier destinations like Kona, Madeira, Cape Verde, Nova Scotia, Cairns, Tonga, and New Caledonia. John’s lifelong friendships with passionate anglers underscore his dedication to the sport.
Captain Jerry Black, born and raised in Palm Beach County, Florida, US, discovered his love for water and fishing early on. Running the charter boat Secret out of Riviera Beach, Florida, and later overseeing the construction of a boat for Laurence Rockefeller, Jerry’s journey led him to the U.S. Virgin Islands. A pioneer of the famed “North Drop”, he co-established the Lagoon Fishing Center in St. Thomas, making the Virgin Islands the “blue marlin capital of the world” at that time. Jerry’s association with the discovery of the renowned “North Drop” fishery in the Virgin Islands and his role in spreading the footprint of the sport solidify his status as a pioneering figure in big game fishing.
Captain Arch Bracher, widely recognized as the best white marlin captain in the Mid-Atlantic, began his fishing journey with numerous childhood tournament awards. Working as a mate on the BobKat and later the Temptress, Arch’s dedication to the sport stood above the rest. Since 1990, he’s been running his own boats, with the Pelican and a 56 ft Paul Mann becoming staples in the revered Oregon Inlet fishing scene. Arch’s unparalleled tournament success and influence on captains and mates in the Outer Banks and beyond highlight his commitment to both fishing and angler education. His three decades in the region showcase the true essence of being a sportfishing captain and a leader in the industry.
Captain Bobby Buswell, born on March 5, 1933, established himself as the premier charter boat operator on the Florida Gulf Coast. Acquiring his Captain’s license at 18, he ran the successful Lucky Strike, showcasing his exceptional catches of tarpon, kingfish, grouper, and sailfish. A tournament legend, Bobby earned numerous trophies along the Florida Gulf coast and even secured second place in the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament in Boca Grande, Florida. Fishing well into his 70s, Bobby’s reputation extended beyond charters, with a following of clients and fellow anglers inspired by his legendary techniques. His dedication to both fishing and mentorship makes him a standout figure on the west coast of Florida and in the world of sportfishing.
Captain Charlie Chambers, known for operating the Tennessee 1, 2, and 3 boats and later the Blue Rhapsody, is a trailblazer and a pioneer in exploring the renowned Cairns big game fishery. As the skipper for prominent anglers Bob and Dolly Dyer, Charlie’s legacy includes multiple IGFA World Records and several other captures exceeding 1,000 pounds. Charlie’s early and successful TV show, Pick A Box, introduced Aussies to big game angling, cementing his role as a key figure in the sport’s history. As a fixture in the Australian big game angling scene, Charlie’s angling exploits and adventures on the Ribbon Reefs and Lizard Island have left an indelible mark on the fishery.
Captain Steve Huff’s lifelong dedication to saltwater fishing began at the age of 10 when he caught his first snook. A University of Miami graduate, Steve moved to the Florida Keys in the 1960s and became a guide, quickly earning a reputation for his work ethic, knowledge, and respect for the sport. Booking up to 300 days a year, his clientele became regulars and friends. A pioneer in both the Florida Keys and Homosassa fisheries, Steve guided clients to some of the most impressive IGFA World Records of all time. Some of his most noteworthy IGFA World Record achievements as a guide include Del Brown’s 41-pound, 8-ounce permit on 4-kg (8-lb) tippet, Nathanial Linville’s 140-pound, 4-ounce tarpon on 3-kg (6-lb) tippet, and a total of six different tippet class records for tarpon with Tom Evans. An accomplished angler in his own right, Steve’s personal best fish as an angler, a 186-pound tarpon on 16-pound tippet, surpassed the IGFA World Record at that time by 10 pounds, but he never lodged the claim out of respect to his client pursuing the record. Steve’s influence on the sport extends beyond his time on the water. He has dedicated his professional life to protecting the sanctity of the sport through his unwavering example, therefore etching his name in the annals of angling history forever.