A good friend died the day before Independence Day near the southern village of Malcolm, Ala. Carl Dyess, 70, was an historic figure in the history of BASS and bass fishing. More than that, he was a great friend who supported me and everything I did with BASS and the bass fishing world from the time he fished my very first tournament at Beaver Lake in Arkansas in 1967.He earned a permanent place in the history books with his win at the first official BASS tournament I conducted at Lake Seminole in February 1968, right after the formation of BASS. That's right; he was the very first BASS champion.Carl was representative of so many early anglers — the pioneers of modern day bass fishing. He had an absolute passion — nearing obsession — for bass fishing. That's hard to understand if you don't share it, especially in those days before it was a legitimate sport. He soaked up every bit of information he could get. And he was willing and happy to share anything he had with others, be it a timely tip, a hot lure or a cool drink.
After a great tournament on Alabama's Lake Eufaula in 1968 when the lake was so phenomenally hot, he called home to his wife and kids in Tennessee and announced he wasn't coming home. Instead, they were all moving to Eufaula where the action was. He guided there for several years and fished the BASS tournament trail. He was an outstanding angler and placed in the money regularly for many years.Yes, bass fishing came first for Carl. As many professional anglers have learned, the sport can be a jealous mistress. When I asked Carl if he had his first trophy for a possible BASS museum, he told me his now ex-wife took a baseball bat to all his awards. None survived. And he gave his big raucous laugh.Truth be told, Carl's life was one of hard knocks, and more than a few were self-inflicted. As one of those early anglers said, he seemed to have a little black cloud that followed him around. Carl was no angel, but he had a heart as big as a football .More than anything, I remember Carl's unflagging friendship and support. Who knows how many people he brought into the BASS fold. He showed up full of fire at the 25th anniversary tournament at Beaver Lake, and when he came to my personal lake to fish a fundraising tournament for our little rural elementary school in 2001, he brought six other paying entrants.Carl was not a big man physically, but he had an out-sized personality along with a great sense of humor and uncommon spirit. At l7 he got his mother's permission and joined the Army as a paratrooper. He was tough — one of those wiry little guys you better watch out for.
He had not been in good health for some time before he passed. He lived hard, played hard and loved cigarettes and whisky. In the end, they did him in. He was ornery to the end, as well. His brother Tom told me he had a smoke about 30 minutes before he died. Tom and I laughed through our tears. That was vintage Carl.I was relieved and grateful that I had insisted he come to the Shreveport Classic this past February to be honored for his role in BASS history. Something told me it might be the last opportunity.It is a sweet memory — the final day weigh-in when that great crowd came to its feet to honor and applaud the shrunken little figure in the wheelchair, a ball cap pulled over his eyes, wearing a faded orange jacket, sporting the patches of all the tournaments he had fished so long ago. He grinned and pumped his fist like the true champion he was.I am indebted to that audience that recognized the significance of the occasion and appreciated the history being made. Bass anglers are great people. I've said that for over 40 years.
We lost one of our best. But I have no doubt he will be honored and remembered as long as there is respect for our fishing heritage. There were many people in that cheering Classic crowd who weren't even born when Carl Dyess fished. But they understood the man and the moment.
Editor's note: A memorial service will be held for Carl Dyess at the Pintlala Baptist Church, near Ray Scott's home south of Montgomery. The service will be held in the sanctuary that the bass fishermen of America helped to build in a series of tournaments held on Scott's personal lake. Details will be announced later.