SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It might have seemed counterintuitive to select a non-angler to lead B.A.S.S., but Bruce Akin learned all the knots, grabbed the wheel, navigated through rough waters and, without any backlashes, landed some big’uns.
Akin, 63, retired Sept. 30 after 10 years as CEO, leaving the organization with a full livewell and sunny horizons. Akin’s last function was attending the 2021 Bass Fishing Hall of Fame banquet, where he witnessed inductions of longtime B.A.S.S. tournament director Trip Weldon and conservation director Gene Gilliland. (The Daily Limit will tackle their stories at a later date).
It was to be a relaxing final day in the glorious settings of Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife with food, drink and friends. The eventful night offered Akin a surprise when BFHOF board member Dave Precht presented Akin with the fourth-ever Meritorious Service Award.
“He didn’t just help grow the sport, he helped grow engagement of the sport,” said Precht, former Bassmaster Magazine editor.
There were plenty of glowing words for the unassuming, soft-talking Alabaman known for intelligence, humility and humor. (See What they’re saying about Bruce Akin).
“I’m not the fastest person in the world. I go slow and steady. I kind of sit back and assess things,” Akin said. “There’s a tendency in this industry to react quickly and think you have to react to everything. You don’t. Some things you let play out. We’ve certainly had our challenges, especially the last few years.”
Quick reaction was required with the COVID-19 pandemic, and Akin’s leadership skills and decision-making were tested daily. Slated to retire last year, Akin stayed on to see the organization through the trying times. Shutdowns began the week after the 50th Bassmaster Classic, and against all odds, B.A.S.S. held its full slate of tournaments in 2020.
“One of the proudest things is getting through last year with the pandemic and finishing the season. I think that was quite a feat,” he said. “We got lucky on the Classic getting in. A week later it probably wouldn’t have happened. I’m proud of the team pulling together and working remotely, do whatever we had to do to get that in, for the anglers, fans and the sponsors.”
It led to TV exposure on ESPN, which helped cultivate a monumental four-year deal to air Bassmaster LIVE on FOX Sports networks. Through all the successes, Akin made it a point to say it was a team effort. And he almost didn’t make the team.
Akin was hired in 2011, after Don Logan, Jerry McKinnis and Jim Copeland purchased B.A.S.S. from ESPN. Akin was Logan’s nominee from their 24 years together at Time Inc., but not being ingrained in the fishing world was a sticking point at first.
“I had to do some convincing to Jerry because I didn’t fish, but Jim Copeland, because we had that accounting background, we hit it off,” Akin said. “They decided it’d be easier to teach me how to fish then to teach somebody else to run the business.”
Akin had a list to tackle at takeoff. First was learning the business of the fishing world and its components, all the while overseeing a move from Celebration, Fla., to Birmingham, Ala., with frequent visits to the TV production arm of JM Associates in Little Rock.