I lost a friend and mentor recently. It’s a loss that leaves a hole in me that won’t — can’t — be filled. Clyde Watts was that important in my life, in my development as a man and in my development as an angler.
We lived next door to each other in Paducah, Ky., when I was just a kid, maybe 7, 8 and 9 years old. He fished a lot, much of it with the Paducah Bass Club which was a B.A.S.S. affiliated club and very active at the time.
I went to his garage and watched him sort his tackle and lures after he got back from a day on the water. That was the first thing he taught me about bass fishing, if you expected to be successful on a consistent basis you needed to be organized. It doesn’t matter if you have every lure made if you don’t know where they’re at and if you can’t get to them in a hurry.
And then it happened. I was about 10 at the time. He asked me if I wanted to go fishing with him. I was so excited. I could hardly believe my good fortune. We went to Lake Barkley. It was about suppertime when he said we needed to go back. I protested. It wasn’t dark yet. That sold him on my interest in the sport.
With his guidance I matured as an angler. He taught me to do things the right way, things I never would have discovered on my own. He was especially keen when it came to water levels and developing patterns. I couldn’t believe how much he knew about how the fish related to their environment.
When I was 14 years old, I bought my first bass boat. At the age of 15, I won my first tournament as well as the Kentucky Lake Bass Club Classic. It was a steady climb up from there.
He was transferred from his job in Paducah to Memphis and then later, when he retired, he moved to Florida along the St. Johns River. We fished together off and on during all of those years. Despite my success as a professional bass angler and as a fisheries biologist, I never went out with him that I didn’t learn something about the cold-blooded, prehistoric creatures we chase.
Clyde caught the saltwater bug in Florida though. He took his bass fishing skills to salt water and developed ways to catch fish. We took several trips chasing redfish, trout and an occasional flounder in his saltwater hideaway. I can understand how the saltwater bug can get to a man. It’s infectious.
He’s gone now, and I will miss him every single day. It’s a darn shame that there aren’t more men like Clyde Watts in the world. If there was, there’d be a lot less trouble, and I’m not talking only about fishing.
Rest in peace, Clyde. Much of what I am as a man, a father, an angler and a soon-to-be husband I owe to you. The only way I know to pay you back is to do my best to live my life and mentor others the way you did. If I don’t measure up, it won’t be for lack of trying.