Junior Lee Collis, winner of an early B.A.S.S. event and a competitor in the 1973 Bassmaster Classic, died Wednesday, March 27, at the age of 83 near his home in Milledgeville, Ga.
Collis fished 13 tournaments in his B.A.S.S. career, qualifying for one Bassmaster Classic and winning an extremely tough tournament in South Carolina, but it was in his native Georgia where he earned his reputation as an outstanding bass angler, winning numerous local tournaments and helping to found the Atlanta Bass Club in 1969.
Collis started bass fishing at the age of 10 when two men asked the young farm boy to run their 5 hp outboard while they fished. "They gave me an old reel that I couldn't cast and a plug called the Creek Chub Pikie.
"They never caught a fish all day," he said. "I caught my limit —I swear —and they gave me the plug." It was the beginning of a passion that lasted until the day Collis died.
After serving in the U.S. Army Air Force as a young man, Collis moved to Atlanta and found work as a truck driver. After more than 30 years behind the wheel, he retired to the shores of Lake Sinclair.
"He was one of the early crankbait experts," said his longtime friend and tackle manufacturer, J.J. Polak. "He was good with a jig, a spinnerbait or a plastic worm, but he was something special with a deep-diving crankbait on Georgia lakes. He used to decorate his Christmas tree with Bagley DB3s."
In 1973, Collis qualified for his only Bassmaster Classic. His appearance was notable for several reasons. He was the very first Georgian to qualify for the championship. No other Peach State angler would make it until 1978.
Second, Collis was the original victim of the Classic's local angler jinx. The 1973 championship was held on Clarks Hill Reservoir, where he had a great deal of experience. He was immediately the pre-tournament favorite, but the fish didn't cooperate, and Collis finished 21st.
Nevertheless, he played a part in the outcome of the event. The bass were fickle, and most of the competitors were struggling to catch anything in practice, including the legendary Bill Dance. When Collis started talking about Carolina rigging, Dance asked "What's that?" It was Collis who taught the sport's greatest plastic worm angler one of the most productive ways to rig the bait. Dance finished second in the championship and the rigging method was in the national spotlight. Soon every bass angler was using it.
At the 1973 South Carolina National on Lake Keowee, Collis bested 161 other anglers with a three-day catch weighing 23 pounds, 15 ounces. It was the lightest winning weight and toughest tournament in B.A.S.S. history to that time. One hundred sixty-two anglers caught just 261 bass over three days. Amazingly, almost half of Collis' winning weight came in one fish —a 9 pound, 9 ounce largemouth bass he caught on the first day of competition. He took the early lead but failed to catch a single bass on the second day. In the final round he managed two bass weighing a total of six pounds. They were good enough for the win and a payday of just under $3,300.
As part of an article in the September/October 1973 issue of Bassmaster Magazine, Collis was asked what he'd do if he had $1 million in the bank. "I’d fish every day," he said. "I never get tired of fishing. Every day is another excitement."
"Junior was the kind of guy who would talk fishing with you all day long and never repeat himself," Polak said. "He was an encyclopedia of fishing information and he was always generous with his time and his knowledge. He's going to be missed."
Funeral Services will beconducted Saturday, March 30, 2013, at 2 p.m. at Williams Funeral Home Chapel of Milledgeville. Interment will follow at Baldwin Memorial Gardens. Collis' grave marker will feature a color image of him holding a stringer of big bass.
Survivors include his wife, four siblings, four children, 10 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. In lieu of flowers the family requests memorial contributions be made to the Junior Collis Memorial Scholarship Fund, c/o Magnolia Bank, 100 E. Greene St., Milledgeville, GA 31061. You can offer your condolences online.