SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Possibly the most telling line of the night had been delivered some two centuries earlier.
Dr. James A. Henshall, author of Book of the Black Bass published in 1881, wrote, “I consider him, inch for inch and pound for pound, the gamest fish that swims.”
Repeated by emcee Dave Mercer, that summed up why more than 400 of the bass fishing industry’s luminaries gathered for the 2018 induction ceremony of the National Bass Fishing Hall of Fame at Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife Museum and Aquarium.
The six new inductees included two bass fishing stars, Kevin VanDam and Gary Klein, as well as former B.A.S.S. CEO Helen Sevier and veteran outdoors and Bassmaster TV host Tommy Sanders.
Along with Henshall, who is considered the father of bass fishing, Berkley Bedell, the founder of Berkley and Co. which has grown to massive product lines under the Pure Fishing umbrella, came from Naples, Fla., for the ceremony.
“It’s a wonderful industry in that we can make a job out of what most of us would like to do even if we didn’t get paid for it,” the 97-year-old said. “I’m one of those lucky people who’ve done that.”
Bedell, who served in World War II and then represented his Iowa district in the U.S. Congress for 12 years, had an interesting introduction to the business. As a youth during the Depression, he sold trout flies to anglers he tied using fur from the family dog, Tippy, a “Heinz 57” breed, and chicken feathers he obtained from the town processing plant and died with Rid.
For more on Bedell, see Craig Lamb’s feature story.
After Bob Cobb, Sevier was Ray Scott’s second B.A.S.S. employee. Serving as marketing director, she helped double membership in her first year then was mainly responsible for growing it to more than 600,000 over the next 20 years.
In 1986, Sevier assumed ownership of B.A.S.S. with an investment group, becoming President and CEO. In her work at B.A.S.S., Sevier received numerous industry awards. She spoke eloquently and passionately in her induction speech, which included a closing dedication to Scott for propelling bass fishing.
“The person I need to thank more than anybody else in this world is Ray Scott. I’ve never seen anybody as passionate,” she said. “Throughout the years, it’s been a great ride for me. I’d like us all the stand up and thank Ray Scott for having the vision he did. Without a vision, the people will perish. He’s the guy who brought it to the forefront, to make it what it is today.”
See more of her career in Lamb’s story: B.A.S.S. pioneer Helen Sevier.
Henshall was a surgeon who designed the most popular rod and reel of the day, but he didn’t seek a patent because he thought the designs should be available to all anglers and manufacturers. He later was an innovator in hatchery management during his time with U.S. Fish Commission. Henshall also predicted the decline of trout fishing and habitat as well as the rise of the bass in sportsmen’s eyes.
For more on the man with the best mustache in the BFHOF, see Henshall’s BASSography.
In his acceptance speech, Sanders admitted he was a little uncomfortable talking about himself, and even had to refer to notes for probably the first time ever. We’ll have more from him later, but here’s a story from a few years ago on him: Bassmaster TV’s unsung hero.
Sanders’ sense of humor and humility was evident in his closing, as he borrowed a line from comedian Jack Benny.
“You know what,” Sanders said mimicking Benny. “I don’t deserve this award … But then I thought, I’ve got arthritis and I don’t deserve that either. So let’s call it even.”
Klein praised his entire family, including his mother, Barbara, wife Jana, and daughter Lakota and Kanyon – all in attendance – for being so supportive of a career that has taken him away from home for so many days, and he thanked Morris for giving the BFHOF a home.
It was noted that “professional angler” has been Klein’s only occupation, which he’s held for more than 40 years since seeing Dee Thomas win an event in northern California and realizing that’s what he was going to do.
Klein has fished 407 tournaments with B.A.S.S., winning Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles in 1989 and 1993. He stands tied for ninth all-time with eight Bassmaster tournament titles, and his 30 Classic appearances are second only to Rick Clunn’s 32. It is the friendship in the sport and its future that drive him, he said.
“I really, really appreciate the friendships I have in this room, the ones that share the passion with me,” he said. “I’m very passionate about this sport and I want to watch it grow. Every day and every night I think about how to make it better.
“The biggest thing I want to do is pass this one to the younger generation, high school, college. We have more people fishing than we’ve ever seen.”
VanDam closed the ceremony. During the plaque reveal in the hall before moving to the banquet ceremony, KVD commented how he had been extremely nervous about speaking in front of so many in the industry, which included four or so tables of family, friends and business associates.
KVD, who holds seven AOY titles, four Bassmaster Classic crowns, a record 25 B.A.S.S. victories and more than $6.4 million in earnings, didn’t stumble in 25 minutes speaking about his career and how it earned him this “incredible honor.”
“Tonight’s a lot different for me. The challenge here is the people in this room,” he said, mentioning the legends and icons in the industry. “All I am is just a kid who loved to fish, loved the outdoors. When you have this group of people in a room like this, it’s pretty intimidating.”
VanDam’s speech touched on everything from his first bass, his first tournament and all the way to his family’s great support. He finished with a thought similar to Bedell’s in that so many careers have been created from something so enjoyable as fishing.
“It’s the only sport that when you go out and compete – I can lay it all on the line, I can try to beat all these guys that I’m fishing against that day,” he said, “but when we come back in, we all get along.
“That’s what’s special about the people in this sport – the competitors, the sponsors, the production people, everyone has that passion. That’s what it’s about. There’s no other sport that really has that, where everybody does it because they love it.”