Fulfilling a promise to her ill father, angler Meredith McCord rips through the record books and becomes a fly-fishing icon.
[by Chris Santella]
When Meredith McCord learned that her father and lifetime fishing partner, Frederick “Rick” McCord, had Stage IV kidney cancer, she went fishing. Fishing with a purpose, that is—she had vowed to compile 100 world records before her dad passed on. But her real story began some 35 years earlier, on Lake of the Woods in Ontario, Canada.
“I was the oldest of three siblings in Houston, and my family had a summer cabin up north,” McCord said. “We’d go every year. My dad and all his family had grown up hunting and fishing in Louisiana. It was always a big part of their lives, and my dad was taking us out fishing from an early age. When I was five, I was allowed to take a boat out with a fivehorsepower Johnson; by age ten, I had graduated to a ten horsepower. I remember very clearly my evening routine at the time. We’d have dinner, I’d take a bath, put on my nightgown and life vest, and then head out and fish for muskies, pike, bass, and walleyes.” At that time, McCord used a spinning rod.
By her teenage years, McCord’s summer trips to Canada were augmented with weekends in the countryside outside of Houston, fishing for bass on a small lake that her father, who’d been successful in the real estate business, built. It wasn’t until her family began spending time on Ambergris Caye in the early 1990s that fly fishing entered the picture.
“Before visiting Belize, I knew nothing of fly fishing,” McCord continued. “We didn’t watch much television in our house and I knew nothing about Lefty Kreh or Flip Pallot and The Walker’s Cay Chronicles. We would go out after bonefish with George Bradley, but we’d use a spinning rod and shrimp. At that point, someone suggested that I should try fly fishing, as it was more challenging . . . and that I seemed to like a challenge. It was about this time that A River Runs Through It came out. Not only was the cinematography beautiful in the film, the fly casting and the brotherly competition appealed to me.”
After McCord graduated from Vanderbilt University and secured a job in Atlanta for the fall, she relocated to Jackson, Wyoming, for the summer, in large part to take up the art of fly fishing. A number of kind, seasoned anglers took her under their wings, and she had the chance to fish many of the region’s great trout streams. Around this time, her father simultaneously began to take up fly fishing with his group of friends.
Fast-forward to 2005. Rick McCord was invited to join a group of friends to fish at Alphonse Island in the Seychelles with a group of 11 other anglers. Three months before the trip was scheduled to take place, one angler canceled. Knowing that his daughter was an eager and competent angler, McCord suggested that Meredith fill out the open spot. The response from the assembled anglers was a resounding “No! This is a guys’ trip!” As the trip drew closer and the spot remained unspoken for, the group relented. “Fishing in the Seychelles was my first hard-core fly fishing trip,” McCord said. “That’s when my passion for fly fishing really turned on.”
McCord availed herself well enough to garner future invitations, and her skills continued to improve. In the fall of 2012, she was in the Bahamas, where an episode of Buccaneers & Bones was being filmed. She ended up hanging out with a member of the cast, actor Liam Neeson, and provided him with some casting tips and pinot noir drinking company. Before the week was out, one of the producers approached her and asked if she’d ever thought of doing TV work. They also asked who she was—meaning, what was her claim to fame in the fly fishing world? Beyond being a passionate angler with the good fortune to be able to travel and fish, Meredith had no claim to fame.
“I wasn’t a ‘someone,’” she added. “Shortly afterwards, someone suggested that I could gain more legitimacy in the industry by getting an IGFA world record.”
The notion of formalizing documentation and recognition for the biggest species of fish caught—world records— is a conceit that dates back less than 80 years. As the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) website details:
Before 1939 there was no universal code of sporting ethics to guide ocean anglers in their pursuits. Some rules pertaining to sporting conduct were in effect at certain well-established fishing clubs but they varied according to the dictates of each club. The idea of a worldwide association of marine anglers had been brewing for some time in England, Australia, and the United States, and the first steps in this direction were taken in the late 1930’s by members of the British Tunny Club who hoped to establish headquarters in England to formulate rules for ethical angling.
The IGFA came into being on June 7, 1939, and in its early days, the organization’s focus was very much on large oceangoing species—Atlantic bluefin tuna, marlin, and other billfish. The group slowly added other saltwater targets, and much later, freshwater species. Different styles of fishing were also recognized as eligible for records, including fly fishing. Today, more than 100 freshwater species qualify for world records, and an even greater number of saltwater fish. Add to the number of species seven different tippet classes (ranging up to 20-pound test), and you have a veritable boatload of records available for the picking. Depending on your angling circle, some categories, say snook on 2-pound test, might carry a bit more weight than smallmouth buffalo on 16-pound test.