Editor's note: B.A.S.S. has designated 2019 as the Year of the Fan. To celebrate, B.A.S.S. is profiling some of the sport's biggest supporters.
BULL SHOALS, Ark. — With a tournament in his new backyard, B.A.S.S. Lifetime member Bruce Gipson felt compelled to check it out.
After losing almost everything in last November’s Camp Fire in northern California, Gipson and his wife relocated to north Central Arkansas for the pace of life and fishing opportunities. Still settling into a home east of Mountain Home near Lake Norfork, he visited a weigh-in for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Bull Shoals presented by Bass Pro Shops.
Maybe he was just looking for some little connection to his previous life — alas, no teams from his former region were there. Gipson had pretty much been forced to move. His town of Paradise, Calif., is gone, as is his fishing tackle business.
“We got burned down,” the 64-year-old said. “The wildfire took our whole town. I had 10 minutes to get out. I got out with my wife, my boat, my hunting dogs and the clothes on my back. Lost $20,000 worth of fishing tackle, a $100,000 tackle business … God knows what else.”
Moving to one of the birthplaces of tournament bass fishing seemed appropriate.
“We looked all around the United States,” he said. “We wanted to get out of California. Politics and the taxes have just about threw us out. Even with the insurance, we literally could not afford to rebuild our home.”
Gipson ran a small, one-man shop called Paradise Tackle, which supplied tackle shops in the region with hand-made jigs. He got into the business after becoming infatuated with B.A.S.S. at an early age.
“A guy named Dee Thomas gave me a jig when I was 12 years old. He caught a bass right underneath my feet at the San Joaquin Delta,” said Gipson, adding he was also a no-boater with Dave Gliebe.
A member with B.A.S.S. since 1967, Gipson became a Lifetime member about 30 years ago. He admits to being rather old school, but enjoyed B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott’s vision and tournament format from the get-go.
“I went ‘What in the world? I like this stuff. This is cool. We can actually have a fishing tournament and nobody’s cheating? We’re watching each other. I like this,’” he said. “I’ve watched all the changes.”
Although he knows it’s most likely impossible today, he would like to see the sport get back to basics, like mystery lakes, to better showcase pure fishing talent.
Gipson has some fishing talent, and it began showing in 1971 when he and some high school friends put on an impromptu bass tournament.
“My buddy and I won it in a 1942 or ‘43 wooden rowboat with a 7-horsepower on the back of it,” he said. “Our bilge pump was a 2-pound coffee can — lean over in a corner and bail out every hour or so.”
The biggest bass of his life is an 8 1/2-pounder, and he’s had a big bag of almost 40 pounds on Clear Lake. “Came in third place. John Pearl, who we sponsor, he spanked me,” he said.
Gipson visited tournament venues when the Bassmaster Elites fished Clear Lake and Sacramento, where he reported he had a blast. While Gipson has never fished in a Bassmaster event, he has plenty of friends who have fished in B.A.S.S., and he’s stayed connected on the happenings in the sport.
At first, his jig business only paid for his tournaments, but it grew and soon work was filling most of his time. He supplied 29 mostly mom and pop shops in the region and did some business with Fisherman’s Warehouse.
“Be careful what you wish for type thing,” Gipson said. “It got so busy, I didn’t get to fish anymore.”
Watching many of the 199 college teams, coming and going at the tanks and weighing in, was fantastic.
“I love this,” he said. “Greatest idea they ever had. Ray Scott would love seeing this.”