During the spring of 2004, I fished a “cull tournament” on the 110-acre private lake at Old Spring Hill Plantation outside of Eufaula, Ala.
The lake was overpopulated with bass, and the goal for the 10-boat field was to remove as many fish under 14 inches as possible. There was no weigh-in — just a count — and the team with the most fish won.
Dave Precht and his partner won that first year.
My dad and I won the following year — perhaps because Dave didn’t show up.
In 15 years, it’s the only time I’ve ever been happy about Dave’s absence.
I’m certainly not happy about it now.
In late July, after 40 years of groundbreaking, industry-shaping service with B.A.S.S., Dave moved with dignity and grace into a much-deserved retirement.
Selfishly, right up until the moment we lifted our glasses to toast him at the party that came after his actual retirement party, I didn’t really think he would go.
It’s just hard to imagine this industry without his influence.
Dave joined B.A.S.S. in 1979 — when I was 6 years old and still just learning to read — as editor of Southern Outdoors Magazine. In 1984, he replaced Bob Cobb as editor of Bassmaster Magazine and put his own stamp on that world-renowned publication.
For 19 years as Bassmaster editor, Dave set the standard for what good outdoors coverage should look like.
We’ll never know how many extra bass were caught because of the quality how-to content he and his writers produced. We’ll never know how many personal bests are now mounted in living rooms across America because of baits and techniques Dave detailed in his pages.
But he was about so much more than teaching people how to be better anglers.
Dave believed in the core principles of journalism — and I’m talking right up until the moment he walked away from the B.A.S.S. offices for the final time. In a world where journalism dies a little more every day, he still thought it was important to get the facts right, use credible sources and actually spell those sources’ names correctly in the story.
Those things are lost on some so-called media outlets in today’s modern world.
That first day I met Dave — at the cull tournament in Alabama — he was such a big star to me that I was afraid to even go up and say hello. I was still coming to grips with the idea that someone could make a living writing about the outdoors, and he had already reached the pinnacle of that fairy-tale pursuit.
Little did I know back then that Dave would become so important to me on both a personal and professional level.
When I joined B.A.S.S. in late 2014, he took me under his wing.
Since then, he’s taught me, molded me, scolded me, counseled me and — admittedly, at times — drove me crazy.
But that’s what good leaders do. They take you out of your comfort zone and put you in situations that ultimately make you a better person and employee.
They also teach you the importance of treating people the right way.
Every once in a while, Dave — who belongs to about every bass fishing hall of fame there is — would take a few minutes out of his day to call a reader of Bassmaster or B.A.S.S. Times. It might be someone who had written him 20 years ago, and he usually didn’t have anything specific that he wanted to talk about.
He just wanted to show his appreciation to the folks who had read his stuff.
Since I came here, I’ve written the daily stories from most Elite Series events — and when Dave was on site, I’d often catch him looking over my shoulder while I worked.
I’d say, “You’re making me nervous, Dave.” That’s all it took to send him scurrying away, insisting “I’m not looking.”
From now on, I hope the tables are turned. I hope I’m looking over his shoulder as we fish from the same deck of the same boat.
Because the only thing he never taught me was how to outfish him.