Michael Lerner, the founder of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), was a force to be reckoned with in the sport fishing world. The first meeting of the IGFA was held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on June 7, 1939, just months before the beginning of World War II. The first meeting, discussed on 77th Street, turned into 75 years of contribution to marine science and conservation.
Lerner went from being an executive of Lerner Shops, a national chain of women's fashion and accessories (now, New York & Company), to a well-traveled angler. He didn't travel to far and wide places alone. He and his wife, Helen, fished for blue marlin in Bimini, striped marlin and swordfish off Chile, black marlin in Australia and New Zealand, swordfish off Peru, and tuna off Nova Scotia.
His expeditions were some of the firsts within the marine science community. He created relationships with the scientists of the American Museum of Natural History to further explore the oceans with their support. From 1935 to 1941, Lerner and his team led expedition parties to study game fish. The research broke new ground in the understanding of many saltwater species.
For a man that caught some of the most historical fish, he never received any records for them. He disqualified himself. No skin off his back, he was in it for the long haul. It wasn’t all about trophy catches; it was also about the people behind those reels.
His profile in the June 1945 issue of Life magazine referenced him as “The Good Will Ambassador of American Fishermen” by the National Association of Rod and Gun Editors members for his contributions to the sport as well as to the war effort. In 1942, he was a chairman of a committee, which devised kits for service men — one was an emergency kit, the other a fishing kit. The fishing kit contained dehydrated baits, six lines, a net, a knife and gloves. Lerner visited base camps to show movies and conducted an overseas tour that gave servicemen fishing pointers.
His fishing trips were the tales of legends — getting the scoop from the everyman to the rich man. One of those trips was his Nova Scotia fishing feat, which began from a chat with a gas station proprietor. He struck blue gold in those waters, a total of 5,526 pounds of bluefin tuna caught in 11 days. It was the technique that made those numbers count. A technique that worked for years, one that stemmed from his fishing pal, Ernest Hemingway.
The technique that he used, as described in Life, was “to strike the fish with every available ounce of strength, to set the hook at the earliest possible moment and then to fight every minute to bring the fish to the boat.”
Lerner was more than an angler; he was an explorer carrying the field of marine science on his back. In Life, he said, “Nobody knows very much, scientifically, about the fish in the Indian Ocean.”
That was his mindset. What’s next to find, where can I find it and how can it help.