One of the many giants of the fishing industry I’ve been lucky enough to know during my career as a journalist was Eufaula, Ala., professional angler, inventor and television star Tom Mann.
Tom was a gifted storyteller — even if he, by his own admission, sometimes took bits and pieces from several stories and smashed them together to craft one really good yarn.
He once told me how B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott, who passed away in May at age 88, convinced him to fish the very first Bassmaster Tournament Trail event in 1967 on Beaver Lake in Arkansas.
“Ray was always a slick talker,” said Mann, who died in 2005. “He told me he had this crazy idea for a professional bass tournament in Arkansas, and he was recruiting guys from all over the country to come and fish.”
But that wasn’t the sales pitch.
“He told me of all the guys he had talked to, none of them were as good a fisherman as I was,” Mann recalled. “Of course, I found out years later he was telling everybody that.
“Looking back on it, I feel kinda silly. But at the time, I believed him when he said that. He had a way of making you believe.”
I was also fortunate enough to know Ray, first as a member of the media and then as an employee here at B.A.S.S. — and I told him once about Tom’s recollection of his recruitment.
He replied simply, “That sounds like something Tom would say.”
Not exactly a denial is it?
Whether Ray was being truthful or just stroking Tom’s ego really doesn’t matter, I guess. It certainly never seemed to matter to Tom.
He was grateful that Ray chose to include him in what Ray often referred to as “the brainstorm in the rainstorm” that became B.A.S.S.
Tom was already well on his way to being a star in the fishing industry with the formation of Mann’s Bait Company in 1956, followed by the invention of the Little George tailspinner and the Jelly Worm — one of the world’s first soft-plastic baits and the inspiration for the untold tons of plastics that have followed.
But the Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which Tom joined because of Scott’s clever salesmanship, became Tom’s biggest platform for pushing his inventions.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
I’ll bet David Fritts would say it does. I’ll bet John Crews would too. And so many more like them.
That was the thing about Ray’s ability to sell you on an idea. It wasn’t like he was selling you an old car with sawdust in the gears to make it run smooth just long enough for you to get home. He was always selling you something that would be beneficial for you, him and the fishing industry as a whole.
He once called me at home on a Monday and asked me to to pull my boat that weekend to a nearby lake — not to go fishing, but to join other boat-towing anglers in protest of herbicide treatments that were scheduled to kill the lake’s hydrilla and milfoil.
I agreed, but he wasn’t done selling.
“You say you will,” Ray chided. “But you’ll have something better to do.”
The Bass Boss had challenged me — and like so many others, I was sold on his plan.