Rocket science and bass fishing

“My love of mathematics stems from my father, a Civil Engineer, as well as my passion for the outdoors, especially fishing. There is a logical flow to this universe and we are all part of that flow including bass.”
— Bob Lillard,
Rocket Scientist/Bass Angler

Dateline: The Universe of Bass

“Mathematics is the language with which God has written the Universe.”
— Galileo

“Five out of four people have trouble with fractions.”
— Steven Wright

Going to do something a little different here, going to upfront give you the vitals of the person the story is about, think of it as reading the back of a baseball card.

Here goes, meet Bob Lillard…in his own words:

“I was born in Duncan, Okla., while my mother was getting one last visit in with my grandparents. Grew up on a ranch north of Ada, Okla., near the small community of Byng where I graduated from High School. On July 12, 1986 I married the most beautiful girl in Ada, Okla., and forever will thank God she had a moment of insanity and said ‘yes.’ 

“I never didn’t fish, I have pictures of me fishing very early and ‘legend’ has it I caught my first fish on a fly rod when I was 5 or 6 in a pond behind the house. It was a crappie by the way.”

“I joke often that I’m a Rocket Scientist, but in reality I’m a rocket, missile, cannon and command/control scientist, if it pertains to field artillery, we will study it.”

And if in fact this was a real baseball card and you turned it over to see the front photo…here’s what you would see.

Bob Lillard: 

Senior Analyst, Chief of the Field Artillery, U.S. Army Field Artillery/Fires Center of Excellence, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

There you go, story begins now… 

…Press play.

“Mathematics reveals its secrets only to those who approach it with pure love, for it’s own beauty.”
— Archimedes

I was a film major in college, the “Arts” side of learning higher. 

The university wanted, demanded actually, that those in the “Arts” would have to take some courses in the “Sciences.” And vice versa.

You knew right away who the science majors where in the “Two Camera Portrait Lighting” class.

I lucked out on the other side of learning higher when one year there was a class offering called “Physics for Poets.” No science folks in that class, not a one.

Somehow, I passed the course, the look on my face seemed to be enough for the school to basically say, “Just go, just go write stuff,” which I did, no more math based anything to totally sink my GPA (which by the way, I couldn’t do the math on anyway).

All of that math-freak came rushing back as I dialed up an honest to God rocket scientist to interview.

This is how it went: “So Bob, what’s it take to become a rocket scientist?”

“I graduated from Oklahoma State University and East Central University with double majors in Physics and Mathematics, graduate school at OSU for Physics and Army Logistics University in Fort Lee (Applied Mathematics-Operations Research) Petersburg, Virginia.”


“Mathematics is the music of reason.”
— James Joseph Sylvester
U.K. mathematician 

“One and one and one is three.”
— The Beatles
Come Together

Glad I got the tough part of the interview out of the way up front.

Me: “So what do you do, what’s your job?”

Bob: “My duties encompass all things Field Artillery with respect to support for active units in theater to analysis of future systems, munitions and concepts. We have a very large combat simulation where we war game various battles to assess the contribution of different course of action or material. I deal with big data and use applied mathematics skills to recommend the most cost effective way to wage war for the United States. I could tell you more but I’d have to shoot you and ammunition is expensive not to mention hard to find, so I’ll stop here.” 


“Angling may be said to be so like mathematics that it can never be fully learned.”
— Izaak Walton
Author: The Complete Angler

Punt, db, punt…ask a fishing question for gawd’s sake.

Me: “Um, you fish right?” Go safe when all us fails.

Bob: “All my life, physics and chemistry are how you explain what makes the world, and what makes it go around. Mathematics is how you prove it. The greatest thing about mathematics is it teaches you to think logically. This skill set bleeds over into all aspects of my life, and fishing is definitely no different.

“Whether I’m walking along the small crick in our city park or on the bow of my bass boat my mind is constantly analyzing, calculating, studying water and conditions.”

Physics for Poets, yeah right, big help right about now.

Bob: “I think logically about where the fish are, why they are there and even why they are not there, therefore where they might be under the specific conditions. 

“Like many fishermen I do this instinctively, it’s just as a mathematician I understand how/why these instincts are applied.”

“Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations or algorithms, it is about understanding.”
— William Paul Thurston
Pioneer in the field of Low-Dimensional Topology (I have no idea…)

“12 for 23, it doesn’t take a genius to see that’s under 50%.”
— Dick Vitale

I got nothing.

In just a hair under 0.76 seconds Google tells me they have found 77, 300,000 “results” for my question: “If I can’t do math what part of my brain is it that can’t do that stuff?” 

Google: “Left half.”

Figures, the migraine side of my head.

Bob: “You know db I love to do photography, shoot a lot of outdoor photos…”

Wait, what…

Still Bob: “I also have been fly fishing since I was a kid, fly fish for bass all the time, cricks near the house or large Oklahoma reservoirs, spend down time tying flies, cold and warm water variants, also tie bass/crappie jigs, take great pleasure to use something I created to catch fish, any fish. Also an avid reader, read the Bible daily but my greatest downtime is spending time with my family.” 

The tone of the Rocket Scientist changes. I can hear it, precision, calculations and formulas fade when he speaks of family, he may love math but I now hear what he loves even more…

Bob: “…have three kids, a son Cory, a daughter Caitlyn we lost at birth, and a daughter Caris. Son-in-law Myles Mendez serves our country in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Hood, and daughter-in-law living in Duncan… 

Have you ever listened to someone, someone you can’t see but who from how they talk you know they are smiling…

“…three grandkidlets that are my alpha and omega, Madilyn age 9, Max age 7, in Texas and 5-year-old Oliver in Duncan.”

Of all the stuff Bob has told me, this, I understand.

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ides.”
— Albert Einstein, Physicist 
(who also possibly took Physics for Poets)

Bob: “I told my kids, and will tell my grandkids, when they prepare for college that they can major in any discipline they like as long as their other major was mathematics because a ditch digger can make a great living, a ditch digger with a math degree will make a greater living.”

A poetry class or two won’t hurt them none either.


“There are three kinds of people, those who can count and those who can’t.”
— bumper sticker