A kinder, gentler angler

Former President George H.W. Bush was a decorated pilot in World War II, made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth II and named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1990. After all that, his most recent honor truly touched him.

Upon his induction into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in March, Bush said, “I love bass fishing, I love everything about the sport. I am proud and humbled to be a member of this outstanding organization.”

He wasn’t just saying that to be gracious, although he is that.

Bass Pro Shops founder John L. Morris, who accepted the induction award on Bush’s behalf, said, “He was so proud to get this.”

Speaking at the hall’s annual induction dinner, held in conjunction with the recent GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro in Tulsa, Okla., Morris called Bush one of the greatest friends of anglers ever to occupy the Oval Office.

I wholeheartedly agree. A staunch conservationist, he ensured that anglers’ interests were served by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and other agencies of the Department of the Interior.

Without his timely support, the Wallop-Breaux Fund for sportfish restoration, which distributes $650 million to state fisheries agencies each year, would not have become a reality. His expansion of the National Wildlife Refuge system and support for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act have increased the quantity and quality of lands and waters available to hunters and anglers.

Bush was a lifelong angler, but I believe his passion for bass fishing was rekindled through his friendship with B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott.

As a newly hired communications manager and editor-in-training for B.A.S.S. in 1979, I accompanied Scott to a private meeting with Bush, who was campaigning for president at the time. I’m sure Bush hoped to use the brief meet-and-greet to win support for his bid against Ronald Reagan. The candidate barely got a word in as Scott spent 45 minutes selling the former ambassador and congressman on the importance of bass fishing and sportfish restoration legislation.

Shortly after, Bush asked Scott to be his Alabama campaign manager, kicking off a lifelong friendship between the two. In a New York Times profile of the candidate, Bush said his favorite magazine was Bassmaster. I have a photo in my office of Bush a decade later, then serving as president, carrying a stack of Bassmasters onto Marine One as he was leaving the White House.

Bush attended the 1979 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Texoma, Texas, and in 1984 he shared the weigh-in stage with then-Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas as they celebrated Rick Clunn’s record-setting win on the Arkansas River at Pine Bluff.

A lifetime member of B.A.S.S., he fished Scott’s fundraising Eagles of Angling tournaments at Pintlala, Ala., where he seemed to relish rubbing shoulders with and fishing against Clunn, Kevin VanDam and B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis, among many others. And he invited outdoor journalists to the White House for roundtable discussions about conservation and outdoor recreation.

He genuinely believes the United States would be a better place — a “kinder, gentler nation” — if more people enjoyed fishing and other outdoor sports.

In a letter thanking anglers for voting him into the Hall of Fame, Bush wrote, “I have pulled in bass in many states. I have caught dolphin, kings and even a tarpon.

“As you might have guessed, fishing is my favorite source of relaxation. It is with a rod and reel in my hand that I can count my blessings, especially with my grandchildren or Barbara, the only woman who can fish and read at the same time and catch every word and catch every fish.”

From the lofty standpoint of a 92-year-old, he added this advice to younger men and women: “Whatever you love to do, whether hiking, hunting or kayaking, hang onto it . . . If you stay true to the hobbies of your youth, you will find a source of relaxation and replenishment that will never fail you.”

Congratulations, Mr. President.