Most interesting tournament ever

In all the years that there have been bass fishing tournaments and with all the thousands who have participated in them, it’s kind of bold of me to say that I participated in the most interesting bass fishing tournament that there ever was.  I can’t prove it, but you can’t prove that I didn’t.

Did I get your attention?

The year was 1969 and the site was Lake Eufaula in Alabama.  It was among the first handful of events that B.A.S.S. had ever put on and the lake was fairly new and unknown to most American bass anglers. 

Like most events, you would spend 7 or 8 days practicing and competing and never have I ever walked away from a B.A.S.S. event with so many stories.  Stories that I would tell the rest of my life.

In those days we probably had 100 or so pro anglers competing and the same amount of co-anglers.  Don’t remember the entry fee or even the purse for that matter.

Do remember that those were the days you could bring in 15 bass, and Blake Honeycutt, truly one of the finest gentlemen to ever bass fish, won the event with 2,000 pounds.  Actually it was only 138, but I saw most of his fish and it looked like 2,000 pounds to me.  Because of the 15-fish limit, Blake set records that will never be broken.

My roomy at most B.A.S.S. tournaments was a kid by the name of Bill Dance.  I guess we were in our late 20s or early 30s and Dance was really good.  We buddied up for the first couple of Bassmaster years, and so help me we should have, or still should, write a book about those times because every day was an adventure.

We were practicing together the first day on Eufaula and we discovered that this was not your run-of-the-mill bass lake.  Found several schools of fish where every cast equaled a 5- or 6-pound bass – yes, every cast. 

But now we’re out on this ledge in 10 or 12 feet of water, have had a few hits and Bill catches a fish in the 10-pound range.  He’s hurrying to unhook and release it because there’s another competitor moving in to see if we’re having any luck.

It’s an old friend of ours, Jim Talley from Little Rock, and of course he wants the skinny on how things are going.  

Here’s the problem though.  I was in the front of the boat and had cast my Creme Shimmy Gal (that brand will take you back a few years) worm out on the ledge as Bill was releasing his big fish and Bill whispered to me, “Get your bait in.”  Then he told Jim, “Pretty slow.”

“I can’t get my bait in.”  I whispered back.  “Why not?” Bill says.  “Cause a fish is already running off with it.”

Dance whispers again, “Well don’t jerk on him.”  I reply, “Don’t need to jerk cause the darn thing has swallowed my worm and he’s running under the boat.”

So, picture this.  I’m in the front of the boat looking forward and acting like my bait is way out in front of me on the bottom.  Jim Talley is looking at my back, but having a conversation with Bill who is telling him fishing is only so-so and continued to whisper to me.Blake Honeycutt and Bill Dance finished 1-2 with about 2,000 pounds.

Blake Honeycutt (left) won at Eufaula while Bill Dance took second.


The boats are now about 20 feet apart and right in the middle of “Billy boy’s little white lie” about the so-so fishing, a 8- or 9-pound bass clears the water in between the 2 boats with a Creme Shimmy Gal worm in its mouth.

I’m still looking forward like my bait is out on the ledge and turn when I hear the splash.  I honestly don’t know what happened from that point on, but I’m sure it was embarrassing like most of the things that Bill Dance and I got into, both on and off the water in those days. 

What great friends we have been through the years, which brings me to the point where I say yes, the Eufaula tournament was the greatest and I must tell you more about it, but not today.

Brought up Eufaula as an excuse to talk about a completely different story. 

I think the early B.A.S.S. days were fabulous and I’m afraid that those times and the stories might be getting away from us.

So, Bobby Murray, Ken Cook, Guy Eaker, Guido Hibdon, Tom Martin and Rick Clunn agreed to team up, come to Toyota Trucks All-Star Week and be a part of the first “Bassmaster Legends Tournament.”

I know we missed several legends, Paul Elias, Larry Nixon, Roland Martin, Hank Parker, etc, but we’ve started small and watch us grow this thing for next year.  Three teams in 2011 – 20 teams in 2012.

These anglers need to be recognized.  This event and just having them around will make a special week even better.

One more part of the story.

Jerry McKinnis with Day Two catch from Lake Eufaula in 1969.

Last week, Steve Bowman, the man who got the Legends event going in the first place, ask me if I would fish on a team.  “Good night, no!” I answered.  Besides that would make an uneven number of anglers. 

So, a few days went by and he tells me that he’s been talking to Bill Dance about fishing in it, and Bill also turns him down, but comes back with, “If McKinnis fishes, I’ll fish with him.”  I thought about it for awhile and here’s what I came up with.

First of all, I would be a little embarrassed, because I’m not on the same level as the ones who have committed.

But then I thought about Lake Eufaula and the likes of Blake Honeycutt, Ray Murski and Jim Rodgers who were there but don’t fish much anymore.  I also thought of mine and Bill’s great friend, Tom Mann and many others who where apart of Eufaula and are not with us anymore.

Like I said at the top, Lake Eufaula Bassmaster in 1969 was the most interesting ever.

My old roomy, Bill Dance, and I are probably the only two left from that week that are still right smack dab in the middle of the bass fishing world, trying our darndest  to make it better.

Of course I’m going to fish in the Legends event. 

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