A tribute to Wade Bourne


Laurie Tisdale

The First Baptist Church of Clarksville, Tenn., was packed despite a lingering, eerie “freezing fog” that blanketed the area. The midday gathering was attended largely by males, and many were wearing suits that stayed in closets except when being worn to weddings and funerals. This was the latter.

All of us were there to pay respects to Wade Bourne, one of the most remarkable men we had ever known. Bourne died unexpectedly Dec. 15, shortly after returning from cutting a Christmas tree on his Clarksville farm. The news hit the outdoors community hard.

Not only was he revered for his communication skills and prowess in hunting and fishing, but he also was a great and special friend to everyone fortunate enough to share a boat or a duck blind with him. I know — I’m one of the lucky ones. 

In 1980, after a fairly brief but formative career in newspaper journalism, I was given the reins of Southern Outdoors Magazine, which was owned by Ray Scott’s B.A.S.S. at the time. Within the first few issues I edited, I set about assembling a group of freelance contributors who not only were outstanding writers and photographers, but who were also passionate and skilled in outdoor sports.

Before long, the Southern Outdoors “dream team” was the envy of editors everywhere. Wade was one of the first to become a senior writer for the magazine, and he was joined by Frank Sargeant, Steve Price, Don Wirth and Bob McNally. Gerald Crawford was our chief photographer, and Chris Armstrong illustrated the magazines. All would go on to have long and successful careers with B.A.S.S. and other media companies, and several are still at it.

Bourne was smart to diversify. He used his considerable storytelling talents as a host of the popular In-Fisherman radio programs, first handling the southern editions and then taking over the northern and western versions of the show as well. In 2000, he founded and began hosting Wired2Fish/Hunt Radio, a syndicated program that would eventually air year-round on 280 stations. In addition, he was a TV show host, including Southern Outdoors TV and, more recently, Ducks Unlimited TV. If you’ve seen him on these shows, you know what it’s like to share the outdoors with him. Bourne was the same away from a camera as he was in front of one.

He and a couple of the other senior writers were also contributing their work to Bassmaster Magazine by the time I began editing B.A.S.S.’s flagship publication in 1984. Bourne continued to serve as senior writer for Bassmaster until his untimely death.

After assigning and editing and publishing several thousand magazine articles over the years, a relative few stand out in memory, and most were under Bourne’s byline.

There was “A 6-Pounder For Hampton,” a poignant tale about fishing with his young son. He wrote one of the first — and certainly among the best — magazine articles about Clay Dyer, the popular motivational angler/speaker who was born without lower limbs and with only a partial arm. And he authored a provocative, impactful account of the evangelical Christian movement among professional anglers that lure maker Lonnie Stanley told me was the best magazine article he had ever read.

When Bourne received the prestigious 2016 Homer Circle Fishing Communicator Award from the Professional Outdoor Media Association and the American Sportfishing Association (the photo above is Wade, on the left, and I shortly after the award), he said, "Each day when I see the sunrise, feel the wind and hear the waves splashing, I thank my Maker for His creation and allowing me to enjoy it. These blessings continue to inspire me to spread the word that our outdoor resources should be protected zealously and the joys of fishing and hunting should be — must be — passed on to future generations.” Who could have said it better?

Bourne was strong in his faith, but never overbearing about it. He didn’t shy away from telling someone about his beliefs, but he didn’t have to. You could tell from the way he spoke, behaved and lived his life. At his funeral service early this week, one section of the church, seven or eight pews deep, was filled with people he had taught in Sunday School over the past two decades. You can tell someone is a great teacher when they name the class after him or her. His was the “Wade Bourne Class.” I’m sure the name embarrassed him. He never told me what it was called.

Equally important to him as his faith was his family. Bourne was a romantic, thoughtful husband. As his wife, Becky, said when telling about his surprise celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary, “Women envied me and men resented him” for the standard he set. He was devoted to his son, Hampton, and daughter, Haley, and he worked hard to be able to take the entire family on unique, memorable vacation adventures.

Bourne was a close friend of mine for the past 37 years. It seemed we had so much in common, including our interests, our family life and our religious beliefs. We shared some great fishing trips I wouldn’t trade for any others I’ve taken.

Nor would I have missed his funeral service, which was one of the finest celebrations of life I’ve ever witnessed. And what a life we celebrated.

After hearing the eulogy and testimonies about Wade, I was inspired to re-examine my own life. Driving home from Clarksville that day with my wife, Linda, and Bassmaster editor James Hall, I thought and then said out loud, “If I hope for people to talk about me that way someday, I’d better get busy!” Hall was quiet for a moment before responding, “I’m thinking the same thing.”

Bourne may be gone from this earth, but his impact on those of us who remain behind will live on and on.