One Fishing Legend to Another

As Bill Dance, Roland Martin and Rick Clunn were good fishermen proving themselves, other pros were in the process of earning their status as legends.

Billy Westmorland

Sometimes it's hard to know the players, even with a scorecard.

In the early 1970s, Bill Dance, Roland Martin and Rick Clunn were just good fishermen proving themselves on the BASS Tournament Trail. This was before television and the Bassmaster Classic would make them famous.

Other pros were also in the process of earning their status as legends. And on one occasion one of these stars saved the life of another.

It was 1973 and in the days before bass boats were filled with foam for better flotation. Life jackets were big and clumsy so few wore them, and most anglers had never heard of kill switches.

In March, at the BASS Arkansas Invitational on Beaver Lake, a tornado went through the area during competition, and the boat containing Johnny Morris and Robert Craddock filled with water and sank.

They had been in the cold water for about 45 minutes and were running out of time before hypothermia would take their lives. Fortunately, fellow competitor Billy Westmorland saw their gas can floating in the waves.

As Westmorland related the story in his book, Them Ol' Brown Fish, "it was just luck that I happened to come by about 45 minutes later and see a gas can floating and was able to get Johnny and his partner out of the lake."

The two anglers were clinging to the can, and although they had their life jackets on, they were in bad shape from exposure. Westmorland left the safety of the boat dock and braved the waters that sank Morris and Craddock. Seeing only the gas can in the water, Westmorland intended to pull it from the waves so no one motoring in would hit it and cause an explosion. Instead, he saved two fellow anglers.

Westmorland, generally regarded as the greatest smallmouth bass angler of all time, died in 2002. In his BASS career, he won two events and qualified for six Bassmaster Classics. He retired in the late 1970s to concentrate on a career in television and guiding on his beloved Dale Hollow Lake.

Morris is the founder and owner of Bass Pro Shops. As a sign of his appreciation for Westmorland — and a tribute to Westmorland's fishing skills — Morris gave his friend two bass boats a year for the rest of Westmorland's life.

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