Andy Mill met George H.W. Bush in 1987, the year before Bush was elected president. For the next 20 years, the two fished together often. Bush would call Mill with unmistakable inflection in his voice: “An-DY? What are you doing two weeks from tomorrow?” And they’d make a plan.
“He was one of the greatest enthusiasts I’ve ever fished with,” Mill says. Bush was a first-light-to-last-light kind of angler, never deterred by bad weather or getting skunked. “I never heard that guy complain about anything, ever.” There was always hope for tomorrow.
Mill, a two-time Olympian in downhill skiing and one of the most decorated tarpon anglers in the world, remembers Bush as a saltwater fanatic. He chased bonefish, but his dream was to land a tarpon in the Florida Keys. The pair fished spin and on the fly.
One of Mill’s favorite memories of Bush is from the mid-’90s. He calls it the “most expensive fish ever caught.” Bush and Mill flew to Panama in a private jet, then picked up the Panamanian president along with business tycoon Carlos Slim. Trailed by three military helicopters, they continued to Coiba, an island off Panama’s Pacific coast. They fished for three days and caught just a single roosterfish.
“You can only imagine what that fish was worth,” Mill says with a laugh. “Thank God I didn’t catch it.”
Bush’s sense of humor and playful competition marked every trip. “He’d say, ‘I think mine was a little bigger,’ ” Mill says. “When we were fishing, he wasn’t the leader of the free world. He was a fisherman, a pal.”
Ken Raynor, a golf professional and longtime friend of Bush’s, published a book in 2017 titled I Call Him “Mr. President”: Stories of Golf, Fishing, and Life With My Friend George H.W. Bush. The pair fished the surf in Kennebunkport, Maine, where Bush had a home. Raynor remembers Bush’s eagerness to run the boat when they headed out for stripers and bluefish. As president, he wasn’t allowed to drive himself, so when he got in the boat, “he liked to go hard to the fishing grounds,” Raynor says.
The pair chased Atlantic salmon in Labrador and Arctic char in Alaska, both on the fly. Raynor says he’ll remember Bush’s respect not just for the fish, but also for their environment. The 41st president of the United States is a 2019 inductee to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame.
In 2008, when Bush was 84, he landed his bucket-list tarpon. Accompanied by Mill and Capt. George Woods in the Keys, Bush used a spin rod and a live crab to hook his 130-pound quarry.
When Bush died last fall, Mill hadn’t seen him in a while. A rare disorder that mimics Parkinson’s disease limited Bush’s dexterity and ability to balance in a boat. Mill holds on to a pile of notes that Bush wrote him over the years and says he thinks about him often. He’ll remember his friend, the angler, watching the sun rise and waiting for the tug.