This is a tribute to my friend Billy Pate who died on April 19 at the age of 81. The name Billy Pate is linked with incredible, mind blowing, fly fishing records, as well as with the renowned Billy Pate Fly Reels made by Ted Jurascik and designed with Billy's close collaboration (a series of reels that were among the first to feature an anti-reverse system, and have since caught 225 world records on fly).
The amazing thing is that Billy was not a professional (guide, outfitter, captain, writer, instructor, agent...) in the sense that fly fishing was not his livelihood, he did at some point co-own a very famous shop in Islamorada "World Wide Sportsman" for many years (together with Islamorada fishing guide George Hommell) but he did it out of pure passion since as wealthy person he did not need it to make a living; he was just an incredible genuine sincere passionate fly fisherman, the ultimate international all time sportsman.
Billy was a huge innovator, unsurpassed as a fly fisherman, knowledgeable, a champion angler and a world class gentleman. He pioneered many incredible things which I'll try to point out.
Billy drew world wide notoriety in 1982 for a 188 pound tarpon he caught on 16-pound test tippet, a class record that stood for 21 years, and a fish that was at the time, the largest tarpon ever caught on a fly.
His world record tarpon drew instant notoriety that followed Billy throughout his life. He made many videos and fished countless countries (me favorite video being "The Challenge of the Giant Tarpon" that Billy gave me back in the early '90s). He pioneered fishing for sailfish and marlin on fly from scratch, I can remember Billy telling me his thoughts of how to pursuit that accomplishment: it had to be a "team effort" that would start with teasing the fish until it "lit up", stopping the engine, picking up the teaser and instantly casting the fly, hoping for the billfish to go for it.
A holder of many fly rod world records including tarpon, all types of billfish, mako shark, jack crevalle, bonefish, redfish and grouper, Billy was one of the first to discover giant tarpon off the African coast after exploring and scouting even the coast of Brazil, and was the first to catch six billfish species on fly --- blue, black, white and striped marlin, and Atlantic and Pacific sailfish.
Billy may be world known for two passions, tarpon and steelhead; however what most of the world may not know about is Billy's passion for huge brown trout and his great irresistible passion for Patagonia. Billy came down to Argentina for 25 straight years in search of the world record brown trout on fly, and he came "this" close to reaching his goal. He would stay at the Hosteria Chimehuin earlier and at Roca Jalil's cabins later, both in the town of Junin de los Andes in northern Patagonia for two or three months every year (Feb, March, April), and he would fish the boca stretch of the Chimehuin River every day from dawn to dusk.
Billy was also one of the true pioneers of fly fishing in Argentina to the point that there is a very famous huge flat rock at the boca of the Chimehuin named after him: the Billy Pate Rock, from which he liked to fish (unlike most of the boca fishers at the time).
According to Billy, it was the late Joe Brooks who first told him about the wonders of the Chimehuin "boca" and its huge brown trout. The famous Joe Brooks, a champion fisherman a great fly fishing writer and a big boca fan, known as the inventor of the term "boca fever"; Joe Brooks was also a true pioneer of fly fishing in Argentina, but that is part of another story.
Billy made many good and loyal friends in Argentina, he has fished hundreds of times with Argtentine fishing pioneers and legends such as Jorge Donovan, Bebe Anchorena, Eliseo Fernandez, Prince Charles Radziwill to mention some, all of whom he became close friends with. He shared with them those magical early years of fly fishing in Patagonia and I was fortunate enough to witness those magical times during the later part of that era too. He was as much of a fly fishing Argentine pioneer as they were. I was amaized at the deep admiration Billy had for Bebe Anchorena. According to his sayings to me he thought Bebe was the finest fly-fisherman that ever walked the face of the Earth after catching a world record brown trout on a fly as well as a record bonefish, not to mention the two 17-pound brown trout Bebe caught on dry fly.
I first met Billy in the early '70s at the Hosteria Chimehuin in Junin de los Andes where he liked to stay, that was the time I first fished with him and we became instant friends.
In 1976 Billy participated of an expedition to the Bermejo River in the Salta Province in northern Argentina together with Mono Villa (who filmed the expedition), Bill Barnes, Jorge Donovan, Dionisio Angel, Diego Guglielmi and others, to explore the possibilities of fishing for golden freshwater dorado on fly. Billy caught several golden dorado, his biggest was 15 kilos (33 pounds) the biggest that trip (and maybe a world record on fly at that time, who knows ...), while Bill Barnes caught golden dorado up to 12 kilos. So Billy can be regarded also as a pioneer of fly fishing for golden dorado, few people may be aware of this.
I have had the privilege and honor to fish with my friend Billy Pate both in the US and in Argentina. In 2003 Billy was elected to the IGFA hall of fame, an honor he cherished highly (he called me to let me know, he was so delighted!). The last time I saw Billy Pate was in October of 2007 on my 4-day visit at his home in Islamorada, Florida, where he lived with his latest wife Yana until he sank into Alzheimers shortly after. This is a tribute to Billy Pate, the all time sportsman, the world class gentleman, the fly fisherman I've admired the most !!!
Owner of Patagonia Outfitters