I'm not an outdoor writer, but I have met and associated with all the great ones over the past 35 years. The one I know best and have spent the most time with is my friend Bob Cobb. This is about him.
In 1967 Ray Scott invited the outdoor press to a meeting at the Holiday Inn in Rogers, Ark., to announce the first professional bass fishing tournament that he would conduct on Beaver Lake. A few showed up, ate the roast beef and listened to Ray explain how the event would work. Then they returned to wherever they came from.
All of them, that is, except Bob Cobb.
Bob had driven up from Tulsa where he worked as sports editor for the Tulsa Tribune. He may have been interested in what Ray had to say because some anglers that he knew from Tulsa were contestants. He may simply have been looking for a story about something different, but I believe that Bob could see something good could happen here because he was a bass angler, too, and knew a little about this sport. So he hung around to ask Ray a few questions after the others had cut out.
Bob came back to cover the event and report how the Tulsa anglers did, then a few months later Ray announced his second tournament at Smith Lake, Ala. Bob was there with the same group of Tulsa anglers, again to cover the event as an outdoor writer, not as a contestant. This is where I met Bob for the first time.
I caught the largest largemouth bass in the tournament and won a trophy. Bob introduced himself as sports editor of the Tulsa Tribune and asked if he could take a photo of my bass. I remembered he was wearing a jacket with Tulsa Bass Club on the back. I also remembered that I was with two more contestants from Chattanooga, and we had outdoor writers in Chattanooga but none were covering the bass tournament. If fact, I don't remember any outdoor writers covering this event but Bob Cobb — all the way from Oklahoma.
We enjoyed the tournament, and on the way back to Chattanooga my fishing buddy Glynn West and I decided to organize a bass club in Chattanooga. We had met the group from Tulsa who had organized a club after the Beaver Lake event. We also met a group from Lexington, Ky., and thought we could form a club in Chattanooga and maybe some day fish against the Tulsa and Lexington clubs. I sent a letter to Bob Cobb asking for a photo of my bass and also a copy of any rules they had used to organize their club. He sent me the materials by return mail.
A few days later I received a phone call from Ray Scott. He said, "I hear you are organizing a bass club in Chattanooga."
I replied, "You've been talking to Bob Cobb." He was the only one outside Chattanooga that we had discussed it with.
Ray asked what we were planning, and I told him we enjoyed the competition and thought someday we could compete against other clubs.
"You're getting ahead of me," Ray said. "I'm planning to organize the bass anglers into the Bass Anglers Sportsman's Society. It will be known as BASS, and we'll have a tournament circuit."
Ray was very busy the next few months. New memberships were pouring in. He had announced a tournament under the BASS banner and somehow had managed to get out the first issue of Bassmaster Magazine, which was available only to BASS members with stories written by BASS members. I even wrote one that Ray used.
But it wasn't long until Ray knew he needed help, so he called Bob Cobb and soon Bob had his wife, children and bird dog loaded in a U-Haul and headed for Montgomery, Ala., to become the first editor of Bassmaster Magazine. When he arrived Ray gave him a shoe box full of notes about people wanting to advertise or write a story for Bassmaster and told him he could use a table and chair in the corner until they could find a place to rent an office. He also told Bob that the next issue of Bassmaster was due out soon.
I doubt that Bob ever had second thoughts about quitting a good solid job. I've always believed he could see where BASS could go and wanted to help make it happen.
Soon after that Ray decided it was time for BASS to start living up to some of the reasons we organized in the first place; one was to stop the industrial pollution that was destroying our fishing waters. He followed the lead of The Hudson River Fisherman's Association who had used the 1899 Federal Refuge Act to file suits in federal court against polluters. He and Bob contacted them and, with help from Bob Boyle, they organized a lawsuit in Alabama. The Chattanooga Bass Club organized one in Tennessee, and BASS had another one in Texas.
Bob Cobb was burning the midnight oil to keep the news media informed about a bunch of bass anglers taking on the industrial world, and it worked. We created enough press that finally the government formed the EPA to try to put a stop to this problem. This gave a big boost to BASS memberships. Bob had the outdoor writers all telling it like it is, showing the world that we had some power to change things and BASS was not afraid to take on polluters and politicians.
So BASS was growing, and when the lawsuits were filed it put them over the hump and the anglers began to see what Ray, Bob and I saw early on — that we could make a difference and use Bassmaster to tell the world about it. Soon I was headed to Montgomery with my family to help Ray and Bob get it organized.
We organized a BASS seminar trail with a group of BASS pros. Ray Scott and Bob Cobb went along to promote BASS and bass fishing. We covered the major cities across America for the next two years. When we arrived in each location, Bob already had the local outdoor writer waiting on us, advance public relations had standing room only in many locations, and we got to know all the great outdoor writers.
On a trip to Atlanta, Ray and Bob thought up the idea of the Bassmaster Classic, the world championship of bass fishing. BASS members would fish our circuit to qualify for the championship at the end of the year, but the thing that made it work was the press anglers. Bob would invite a select group of outdoor writers who would be paired with a pro angler each day.
They would fish from the back of the boat and get a firsthand look at how the pro fished the event. This was unheard of in sporting events. Writers covered all sporting events from the sideline, but none were ever involved as contestants. The BASS press corps was allowed to bring a small tacklebox, two rods and reels and fish behind the pro. There was even a cash prize for the press angler who weighed in the largest bass. This was an all expense paid trip for the press and pros — a week-long fun event for everyone.
As tournament director, my job was to put it all together each year. I was the only one who knew everything that was going to happen. When and where was another twist we added. The first six years the Bassmaster Classic location was a secret until after the pros and press were already aboard a plane headed to the site. Only Ray, Bob and I (plus our contact at the location) knew where we were going. Many tried to find out, but no one ever did.
I checked on everyone to be sure all the parts of this event came together at the right time. Bob handled the press, and he and his staff did not need much checking — just show them the press room and stay out of their way. The only thing I had to remember was to tell the chef to serve them in the press room, as they never made it to our banquets.
They provided everything a writer could need. I always knew that Bob Cobb would be the last one arriving. "Early" was a word he did not understand. He was also the last one to leave, and that was after his work was finished. Bob was always the last one out the door at BASS. Hours after everyone else was gone, Bob would lock the door and take a box of stuff home to work on for the next day.
Many times Ray would stick his head in my office and say, "Let's get Bob and go get some soul food."
If Bob was nearing a deadline, he would decline our offer. He finally got to closing and locking his office door so he could finish his work; I remember one day Ray and I came by and his door was closed. Ray banged on the door with no reply. Finally, after a few choice words, he hollered at Bob and gave the door a big kick. I noticed Bob's secretary smiling as we left because she knew that Bob and his trusty typewriter were checked in a room at the Holiday Inn three blocks up the road with a "do not disturb" sign on the door. Ray was cussing an empty room.
That was Bob Cobb. When a deadline was near, he had his working hat on. He had his way of doing things, and he never changed.
I've spent many hours with Bob Cobb traveling across the world promoting BASS. I've spent many hours with him, camping on the banks and fishing for bass in Mexico, Canada and the good old USA. Together we logged over 20 years on the BASS payroll, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
Bob put Bassmaster Magazine and The Bassmasters TV show together. He used both to create the BASS pros we have all come to know and admire. He stayed bent over a hand fired typewriter pounding out their stories until we all knew who they were. We read every word in Bassmaster when it arrived in our mailboxes. Many outdoor writers took his news releases and plugged them in their columns without reading them. They knew Bob Cobb was telling it like it is and no changes were necessary.
Bob never received the publicity or accolades that he deserved because he never looked for or expected them. It's also true that there was no one around to write about him. Outdoor writers seldom write about other outdoor writers, and the editor of Bassmaster could not print an article about the editor of Bassmaster. Many members of BASS don't know the part that Bob Cobb played in getting it organized. There's no one left at BASS that was there when it started. Ray Scott's name is still in Bassmaster as the founder, but Bob Cobb's name is not listed. What he did after he loaded his family and bird dog into that U-Haul and kissed a good job in Tulsa goodbye has never been told, and it's something I wish everyone that's ever baited a hook knew about a guy that made it happen.
Without Bob Cobb, BASS would have never happened. Maybe someday someone will name a BASS tournament after him.