The winner of Super B.A.S.S. III and a mentor to generations of Florida bass anglers, Orlando's Doug Gilley died Sunday morning of heart failure following complications from unrelated surgery. He was 74 years old.
Gilley's biggest claim to fame as a tournament angler came in 1984 when he won Super B.A.S.S. III on the St. Johns River, the third tournament in B.A.S.S. history that paid $100,000 or more to the winner. In all, he fished 73 BASS tournaments and finished in the top 20 seven times.
The Florida legend built a career in the fishing industry, working as a tackle and marine industry representative for Phoenix Boats and Northern Lights Lure Company and guiding on Central Florida waters.
But it was as a mentor to other anglers that Gilley made his greatest impact.
"Doug was a true pioneer of Florida bass fishing," said Elite Series pro Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla. "He won every tournament worth winning in the state and was a huge influence on many Florida pros, including me. He was a serious competitor but he helped everyone who asked or needed help. He'll be sorely missed."
Elite pro Peter Thliveros called Gilley "one of the true gentlemen of the sport. He exemplified what the sport was like in the early days and he helped to build it. In his last few years, Doug opened my eyes to what it meant to be a Florida fisherman and how I should hang onto those roots."
"Doug was always laughing, always cutting up," said Paul Elias, winner of the 1982 Bassmaster Classic and friend of Gilley. "To look at him, you'd think he was never serious about anything, but he was serious about his fishing, and he was one of the best worm fishermen in the entire world."
Fish Fishburne was 20 years old and starting to build a career in bass fishing when he met Gilley in the mid 1980s. "Our sport is so competitive and can be extremely self-centered, but Doug was always kind and giving — whether that meant sharing fishing information or paying for dinner. He was a father figure to many of us who were coming up through the ranks in the 1980s and '90s. He loved bass fishing ... lived it ... breathed it."
"He was an awesome guy and a great angler," said another Elite pro from Florida, Shaw Grigsby. "He taught me a lot. I grew up fishing against him and he was always the guy to beat."
In his younger days, Gilley was known as a drinker.
Grigsby recalled one incident where drinking and Gilley's talent as a bass fisherman came together with unexpected results.
"Back in my early days of tournament fishing, our local circuit had their championship tournaments on mystery lakes. We'd meet at a restaurant for breakfast and then find out where the tournament was going to be.
"Well, we were all there waiting to find out the location," Grigsby explained, "and everyone was asking, 'Where's Doug? Where's Doug?' We could see his truck outside, but we didn't see him. Finally someone walked outside and opened the door to the truck and he fell out on the ground — very hung over! Well, we got his truck and boat out to the lake and got him launched, but at around 10:00 someone noticed his boat just drifting out in the middle of the lake.
"They were afraid he had fallen in and drowned, so they went over to the boat to check it out, and Doug was asleep inside. He was fine, so they left him alone.
"Of course, Doug woke up a couple of hours later and finally started fishing. When he did, he got on 'em really good. He only fished a couple of hours, but he won that tournament!"
John Kremer, Gilley's son-in-law, is a successful tournament angler and was a frequent fishing partner. He marveled at his father-in-law's passion for the sport.
"Until the end he was fishing 14 hours a days, five days a week," Kremer said. "He loved bass fishing more than anyone I've ever known. I'd tell the other guys who fished with us in clubs or tournaments, 'You guys like fishing. That man (Gilley) loves it.'"
Gilley is survived by Carol, his wife of 32 years; three daughters, Patience Gilley, Kim Oakley and Lori Kremer; five grandchildren and one great-grandson. A memorial service is planned for Wednesday, September 21st at 3pm, at Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home, E. Altamonte Chapel.
Editor's Note: Carol Gilley approved the story Shaw Grigsby told us and said it likely happened more than once before Doug gave up drinking.