And the top partners are …

So this is my final blog talking about my top 10 most favorite fishing buddies. Anglers that I have spent lots of time with in a boat.

I’ve been through seven already and I had a number associated with each one. In other words, they were ranked. That didn’t feel good to me because they’re all so very important. So, the final three are just that – the final three. No 1, 2, 3. Just three anglers.

Also, when I began this, it was the top 10 bass fisherman I have been in the boat with. As I started listing them, the rules started changing and now it has gone from 10 best bass fishermen to 10 favorite fishing buddies. That’s the way it should be. 

Quite honestly, when the list is finished it could probably be a group of the best bass fishermen, but more importantly they’re the best even when you’re not on the water. 

And one last thing. Many of these photographs were taken 30, 40 even 50 years ago, at a time when putting bass on a stringer and taking a picture was a cool thing to do. Now I’m embarrassed that I would do such a thing. However, these are the only ones I’ve got from back in the day. 

Now  here we go. Number 1, 2 or 3, you put him where you want, is Billy Murray.

Once in the mid 60s, I was fishing a small lake in south Arkansas, Lake Greeson. It was a nasty cold day and late morning I ran into these two “kids” in a small V-bottom boat.

Their names were Billy and Bobby Murray, and I think they were still in college.

We bobbed around in the lake for awhile and although I had only been on TV for a year or two, they were big fans. 

Shortly after that chance meeting, I talked Billy into traveling with me as I produced the TV show. He would help drive, shoot a camera and sometimes be on the show. He did all these things for nearly 15 years.  Along the way he became one of the most important fishermen I’ve ever known.

I’m not going to start in on all the places we fished, but I’ll tell you this, we were fishing together on the day his twin brother Bobby won the first Bassmaster Classic. Once again we were working away, fishing and filming when Bobby won his second Classic some 7 or 8 years later. Actually, Bobby should have been on my list as well, but the two of them are identical twins so I thought one would cover for the other. Just kidding. 

I always felt bad because Billy didn’t get as much recognition as his brother and I’m sure Bobby would say the same thing -- he was every bit as good a fishermen.

He is as close to having a brother as I will ever have and obviously a great, great fishing partner. 

Kevin VanDam with Mike McKinnis and  a mess of smallmouth.

Oh yeah, Kevin VanDam is probably the best bass fishermen who ever lived and that’s certainly one of the reasons I’ve brought him aboard on this list. But there’s more to it than that.

I enjoy being around KVD because of the way he treats everyone else. He’s a super star, but so down to earth with the fans at the boat ramp and the kids he meets after a weigh-in. Kevin is the greatest at sharing information about his lures, techniques; don’t think I don’t listen and keep an eye on him whenever he’s out on the water. Hey, I’m trying to learn and become a better bass fishermen just like everyone else.

But you always hear about what a competitor he is, and boy is that ever the truth. That gets my interest and attention because I am as well. 

However, if you fish long enough, you’re going to catch four or five fish that will always stand out in your mind. Just last fall I was lucky to have that happen when KVD and I were fishing a lake in Northern Michigan. I was throwing a spinnerbait and caught a smallmouth between 6 and 7 pounds. This fish hit the bait so hard and fought me back to the boat equally as hard; and when we boated this big smallie, and just for a few seconds, we could do nothing but laugh.

One of those “you had to be there” moments that I’m glad I had with KVD.

OK, so here we are, down to the last partner on my list. As I said earlier, I’m not saying he’s No. 1, but he has to be awful close.

Here’s a guy that I use to room with at early bass tournaments. 

One time he rapped a dead Copperhead around the door knob of the motel room; and when I recovered from that, I went into our room and found him in bed with my wife. They’re close, and of course it was a joke they had teamed up on but you can imagine how I felt for about 10 seconds.

But I countered. Unannounced, I barged in on him as he was giving a keynote speech to a big group and threatened to kill him with a butter knife. 

Folks, the last one on my list is Bill Dance. Maybe the most famous fishermen there is right now.

Please don’t get to thinking that all we did was clown around in those days, because we did some serious fish catchin’ as well.

We traveled and fished in Arkansas and Texas. Caught some big smallmouth on Pickwick and largemouth on Kentucky Lake and Barkley.

Got in on the big bass bonanza on Lake Eufaula in Alabama and I can go on and on.

Our fishing went well, but our stories from outside the boat is what the two of us will always remember.

Bill Dance and Jerry liked to clown, but they also did some serious fishing.

Hey, I’m done with my top 10 fishin’ partners list, but I have to slip in just one more. 

My lifestyle and fishing adventures have changed these days. Those trips I made with Dance were when we both were in our 30s. Most of my trips with Billy Murray were in 1960 and 1970. Three of my 10 are no longer with us and with the exception of my son Mike, I may never be in a boat again with several of the six that are alive.

So, for the past 10 years, my best fishin’ pal has been my dog Archie.  I have a 10-acre lake in front of my house, fish on it all the time, but never without my wiener dog.

Archie goes everywhere with Jerry.

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