A story behind every patch

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James Overstreet

ORANGE, Texas — Back in the day, B.A.S.S. tournament contestants received a colorful embroidered patch specific to the lake and host town. The custom and limited edition patches, each with it’s own design, were worn with pride as badges of honor.

Willard Booty is no exception. His patches cover the entire front and back of the same khaki-style vest worn by B.A.S.S. pros in the 1980s and 90s. Beside many patches are stitched numerals representing Top 10 finishes. There is a first place.

Never heard of Booty?

The reason why is Booty, now 80, was a regular competitor in the amateur division for the forerunner of today’s Bassmaster Elite Series. Back in the 1980s, B.A.S.S. envisioned a series of elite events with a limited field of pro anglers. Only 100 were invited and the entry fee was higher than other pro events. Paybacks were also more lucrative.

The elite status was elevated with an amateur division, in place of the usual draw format. For the first time, the pros had full control of the day. No coin toss was required to decide which boat the partners would use.

For Booty, each patch represents a memory. There are lots. He points a finger to the patch embroidered with 1989 Super B.A.S.S. Pro-Am Tournament, held on Lake Martin, Ala. In his first amateur appearance Booty placed 7th and just 3 pounds out of first place.

“I came within five pounds of winning five of the 31 pro-am tournaments,” said Booty, of DeQuincy, La.

To clarify, Booty fished as an amateur in 31 B.A.S.S. events until 2007. Booty had just retired from a career as a teacher and principle when the Top 100s began in 1989. He retired and started a logging business. And went fishing a lot.

“I got drawn at least a few times each year,” he said. “I just really liked to compete and would do anything to do well.”

Booty was anything but an amateur. He joined a B.A.S.S. club in the 1970s after moving to DeQuincy. For five years he won the point title for the Cajun Bass Club in Lake Charles.

“I just had a knack for catching fish,” he added.

In his prime, Booty hoisted lots of trophies in his B.A.S.S. club and from competing in tournaments throughout Louisiana. He took the streak to Lake Seminole and won the amateur division of a Top 100 held in 2002.

Along the way Booty and wife Beverly made lots of friends. Those included Ray and wife Susan Scott. Scott, of course, was founder of B.A.S.S. Scott performed emcee duties at tournaments and his wife often came along. The Scott’s developed a friendship with the Booty’s that spanned many years.

Booty explained that his wife often prepared homemade crawfish or shrimp etouffee for the Scott’s to take back home to Alabama.

“Ray began every weigh-in by welcoming the crowd,” recalled Booty. “The next thing he’d ask was if ‘Miss B’ was in the crowd.”

Lots of Tupperware containers were taken home by the Scotts and stored inside their home freezer. Serving the dish to friends and family became a Thanksgiving Day tradition.

Booty also was befriended by many of his pro partners. He still keeps in touch with a monthly phone call to his list of closest friends. Those include Alton Jones Sr., Stacy King, Roland Martin, Tommy Martin and others.

“They are like family to us and through the years we’ve always stayed in touch,” he said.

Carrying on the family tradition is one of the Booty’s sons, Kevin. He is fishing this week as a co-angler at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open underway on the Sabine River.

Booty, who sat on the front row to see his son weigh-in, speaks with a twinkle in his eye about competing in the tournaments. He gave that up a few years ago.

The memories live on through home movies taken by his wife.

“She sat in all kinds of weather, the snow, sleet and rain, and recorded every one of my weigh-ins,” he recalled.

Booty watches the movies so often he is having a library made of them. The footage includes lots of side trips. Booty and his wife added a week to every Top 100 to go sightseeing in the area.

“Niagara Falls, lots of places,” he said. “We never would have traveled to such places had it not been for the tournaments.”

Booty looked at the vest with a smile. He continued telling stories about every patch. There are many, so many that the memories will live on in the movies and a vest.

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