Cliff Shelby, who brought the characters of Bassmaster Magazine’s Harry ‘N’ Charlie humor feature to life through his artwork, has died. Shelby lived with his wife, Karen, in Maumelle, Ark. Karen was by his side when he died Saturday, Jan. 21. He was 75 years old.
A talented artist who could wield a paint brush as well as he could a fly rod or flippin’ stick, Shelby was an icon in outdoors journalism and very active in outdoor media organizations.
Editor's note: See a collection of Shelby's artwork.
He was a past president of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA), and Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA), a Cornerstone Corporate Member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) and Corporate Member of Western Outdoor Writers (WOW). He was also Charter Chairman of the Board for the Outdoor Journalist Education Foundation of America (OJEFA).
His career encompassed advertising, media relations and catalog production for leading fishing companies, including Bagley Bait Co. and Ranger Boats. In recent years, he and Karen, a computer graphic designer, worked together in Cliff Shelby Design to produce brochures, package design and branding for a variety of clients in and outside the outdoors industry.
Shelby was best known as the illustrator of the popular cartoon feature, Harry ‘N’ Charlie, which ran in every issue of Bassmaster for four decades, from 1971 through 2010. His partnership with Don Wirth, who wrote the feature, led to a series of books and even phonograph records of the best adventures of the fictional B.A.S.S. club characters.
Shelby and Wirth were among the first Bassmaster contributors I met when I first got into the business almost 40 years ago. I covered the 1978 B.A.S.S. Champs tournament on the Atchafalaya Basin out of Lafayette, La., when Wirth and Shelby, dressed up as Harry and Charlie, led the parade of bass boats in a johnboat named, “Ol’ Stump Jumper.” Shelby bore a close resemblance to Charlie, and Harry was a believable caricature of Wirth.
Shelby and I became good friends soon after that event, and we enjoyed reuniting at each Bassmaster Classic. In those early days, outdoor journalists were paired with professional anglers in the Classic and the Champs tournaments. They served as observers, and — believe it or not — were permitted to weigh in their biggest fish each day. The heaviest bass each day in the media division earned as much as $500 per day, and Shelby was a virtual shoo-in to win at least one of the paychecks each tournament.
He was just as much at home wading the White River near his former home in Flippin, Ark., as he was in a bass boat. A couple of days I spent wading and fly-fishing for trout with him stand out as some of my most enjoyable times outdoors.
He leaves behind his wife, a daughter, Shea Shelby Smalling, son Blake Shelby and stepson Levi Smelser, along with six grandchildren, devoted friends and innumerable fans of his art and his humor.