Every fisherman dreams of catching a really big bass, a trophy-size trout or a monster marlin, and many aspiring anglers seek inspiration for their next outing with a pilgrimage to the International Game Fish Association's Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach, Fla. (pop. 20,061).
The gleaming, 12,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 1999, is an international destination for game fisherman and contains every world-record fish that the association has collected since its establishment in 1939. But it's much more than a place to showcase trophies and plaques. It's also a paradise for fishing history buffs, or for casual anglers seeking practical, up-to-date information on techniques and equipment.
"This is nirvana for fisherman," says Gail Morchower, IGFA librarian and Hall of Fame manager. "They come here and don't want to leave."
A popular destination within the museum is the E.K. Harry Library of Fishes, home to 1,700 videos, 13,000 books, hundreds of photographs and films documenting everything from author-adventurer Zane Gray's 1930's New Zealand excursions to famous angler-artist Guy Harvey's most recent marlin hunt.
An immense silver broadbill swordfish fountain marks the entranceway to the museum. Once inside, visitors are greeted by a large "school" of fish suspended from the ceiling by invisible wires. Every imaginable color and species of game fish are represented by a replica mount in a one-of-a-kind, world-record display, from a relatively humble 8-pound bass to a daunting, 246-pound porbeagle shark and the undeniably impressive 1,402-pound Atlantic blue marlin.
The main hall branches off into a dozen themed sections, including the World Records Gallery, with a virtual bait and tackle shop; the Fish Gallery, with an interactive display that allows visitors to discover how a fish "hears" through vibrations in the water; and the Wetlands Walk, a swamp, marshland and mangrove environment with real alligators and other wildlife.
The place where anglers tend to linger is in the Catch Gallery, where videotaped tips on fly fishing, surf casting, trolling and other techniques are available at the touch of a button. The gallery's star attractions are the fishing simulators, where anglers can "catch" a marlin, tarpon, sailfish, bass or trout, courtesy of an interactive video and fishing rods programmed to tug and pull like a real fighting fish is on the line.
During a visit to the museum with her mom, Aubree Rivera, 9, of nearby Davie (pop. 75,720), raves about reeling in a keeper on one of the simulators. "Once I played in it for two hours!" the youngster says.
More than 100,000 visitors tour the museum every year. Many, like the Riveras, are locals or tourists visiting the Fort Lauderdale area. But on any given day, anglers from Germany, Scotland and Australia are just as likely to be among those perusing the sprawling display of 100-year-old baits, leisurely examining the hundreds of other fishing exhibits, or soaking up the museum's message of keeping the sport alive and thriving.
"This is a destination for fisherman from all over the world," Morchower says. "Sports fishing has had an amazing and glorious history, and it can have an amazing future if we all do our best to help with conservation and preserving the fisheries for future generations."