When BASS got started, my fishing was mostly on Chickamauga and Nickajack lakes in 1967. Fishing was very good on all these lakes, and it got much better in the early 1970s with the arrival of aquatic vegetation.
I heard about BASS while living in Chattanooga, Tenn., and bass fishing any time I had a day off from my railroad job. One day I read a small column in the Chattanooga Times about a bass fishing tournament on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. It listed two anglers from Chattanooga who were fishing it, including one named Bob Treadway.I stopped by his office one day to talk about the tournament. He told me it cost $100, and he was leaving next day to fish it. I asked that he call me when he returned as I was interested in how he liked it. Bob explained how it worked and said that Ray Scott had organized it. He also gave Ray my name and address.When Ray started organizing his second tournament at Smith Lake, Ala., he sent me an invitation. I was not ready to spend $100 dollars to go fishing, but my wife Cyree encouraged me to take a few days vacation and fish it, since I had been working some extra days at the railroad.
My fishing buddy, Glynn West, and I fished the Smith Lake Dixie Invitational in October 1967. I caught the largest bass in the tournament and won a trophy. We met several anglers from Tulsa who had organized the Tulsa Bass Club after they fished Ray's tournament on Beaver Lake. We also met some anglers from Kentucky and Memphis who fished Beaver. Along with the Tulsa group was Bob Cobb, reporting the event for the Tulsa paper, he took a photo of my large bass. Bob was wearing a jacket with "Tulsa Bass Club" on it.
On the way back to Chattanooga, Glynn and I talked about organizing a bass club in Chattanooga. We enjoyed the competition and thought we could organize a bass club and fish against the Tulsa Club or other clubs that we might help organize. And if we got enough clubs organized, maybe Ray Scott would consider a tournament between the clubs.I sent Bob Cobb a letter asking if he would send me a photo of my bass, and I asked him if the Tulsa Club had any guidelines on how they were organized I told my barber, Jim Ashley, about our plans; he was a bass angler, too. He offered his barber shop for our meetings. We posted notices about the meeting to organize the Chattanooga Bass Club, and we invited bass fishermen we knew to attend.Willy King, who wrote a fishing column for the Chattanooga Times, publicized the meeting, which drew more people than the barber shop could hold.Ray Scott heard about our meeting and called me. After I told him we were thinking about competition between clubs, he said, "You are getting ahead of me. I'm planning to organize the bass anglers and call it the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.)." I invited him to our meeting, and he flew in the next day.
We spent the rest of the day writing the rules and regulations for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and the Chattanooga Bass Club. At the organizational meeting that night, about 30 anglers attended. We signed up 19 members, and I was elected president. The date was January 12, 1968, and Ray had only one member at that time, Don Butler. I became the second member.Ray and I discussed many things about BASS that day, but the one thing we both very serious about was the destruction of our fisheries by industrial pollution and the fact that no one was doing anything about it. We believed that we could organize the bass anglers into a group that would have enough political power to do something about that. That was the driving force behind organizing.I continued to help organize BASS for the next two years. I also fished a few events when I had vacation time, and Ray even asked me to go to a chamber of commerce meeting where he was trying to set up another tournament. After the meeting I told Ray that I was interested in a full time job with BASS if he ever needed me.I had been with the railroad 26 years, and I felt like I could help organize BASS and fulfill our dreams to change things. Not long after, Ray called to say he had a job for me. I said, "when do you want me down there?"Ray was planning his famous "Seminar Trail," and he wanted me to help organize it. Using my vacation time, I joined Ray, Bob Cobb, John Powell and Roland Martin on a three-week tour. After that, I resigned my railroad job and moved to Montgomery, Ala. We did seminars the next two years, and between tours, I helped run the tournaments. I became the BASS tournament director, a job I held for the next 18 years.
I gave up a career with the railroad after 26 years and stayed with BASS because — I don't know exactly how to explain this — during my young years growing up, I always had a feeling that someday I would make a living fishing. That's why I called Bob Treadway. That's why I organized CBC. That's why I quit the railroad.BASS gave us the power to help halt the destruction of our fisheries, to change many people's lives, and have fun doing it. And that's what we did with BASS.
Peg A Polluter
One of the highlights of my career was organizing lawsuits against polluters of the Tennessee River. When BASS brought action again polluters in Alabama with the 1899 Federal Refuge Act, I knew that day that BASS would change things. I called a special meeting of the Chattanooga Bass Club and told them we were going to raise the money for lawyers and sue the people who were destroying our fisheries. BASS joined us in the lawsuit and together we created enough action to force the government to do something. I believe the end result was the formation of the EPA.
The other thing I'm proud of is the organization of the BASS Federation. During the seminars, we had several bass pros teaching people how to catch more fish, and we showed films on fishing. Between seminars, I would always make a short pitch to anyone who wanted to start a bass club. I provided information on starting a club. You could track the formation of bass clubs on a map and see that it followed the seminar trail.Soon, we organized these clubs into the BASS Federation to give them their own identity within BASS, plus their own tournament trail. The Federations proved to be a powerful force in our pollution fight.
Before BASS was organized, our only sources of fishing information were sports magazines and newspaper columns, but the information they provided was limited to whatever the writer knew about bass fishing.
Bassmaster Magazine changed that, providing a way to pick the brains of the best bass anglers in the world, and sharing their knowledge with everyone who was a member. Bob Cobb (editor) was a master at doing that. He knew how to tell it like it is. When he wrote a story about Bill Dance, he did not add a bunch of stuff just to make it sound good. He knew enough about bass fishing to tell when Dance was telling it like it was, and that's what Bassmaster passed along to members. It was also the best way to keep members informed on ways to halt the destruction of our fisheries. BASS was not afraid to call a spade a spade and demand a stop to polluting the waterways. Bassmaster was the thing that bound all the members together, as many members did not fish tournaments but learned from those who did.
The Good Old Days
BASS tournaments in the early days were fun events that created many lasting friendships. Pete Nosser once described a BASS tournament as "a week's vacation you get to spend with all your friends."
The BASS rules were very important in the success of our tournaments. They were written to be fair and were applied equally to everyone. People knew we did not play favorites when it came to rules.During the past few years things have changed at BASS. TV has changed all sports, including bass tournaments. Now you can watch them instead of reading about them, but you can only see what TV wants you to see.You no longer have the feeling that you are a part of this sport just because you are a BASS member. Anglers know where the camera is and how to act on demand, and this has changed the way many anglers view BASS. Some say that's good and others may not like it, but it's a fact. TV has changed a lot of things beside sports. After a time, everything will change — we can either change with the times or go another direction. That's the freedom we enjoy as Americans, and I hope we never change that.
(Harold Sharp, the BASS tournament director for 18 years, lives with his wife Cyree in Hixson, Tenn., just outside Chattanooga. He is retired and now spends most of his time with his favorite hobby, birdwatching.)