I spent the early part of my life in the U.S. Navy (1942-1948) then switched to the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 1967 with 24 years of active duty. I was on the USS Hornet (CV-8), of Doolittle Raid fame, when she was sunk Oct. 26, 1942. I was rescued by the USS Barton (DD599) and was on her when she got sunk 17 days later, Nov. 12, 1942. I later was assigned to the USS Bland, and we made four major amphibious landings in the South Pacific (and I never learned to swim).After the war, we took the Americal Army Division to occupy Japan and the 1st Marine Detachment to Tiensen, China, to accept the surrender of the Japanese Army in Northern China. I joined the U.S. Air Force in 1954.
When I was stationed at Sheppard AFB, Texas is when I really started fishing for BASS. I was raised around there and knew every stock tank, river and canal. While stationed there as an instructor, I got a chance to go to a special school in Montgomery, Ala., in January 1960.
All the students went to a little tavern after school. One evening I was there with four guys at a table when one of them asked me if I was a bass fisherman. I said I do pretty good.Another of the men was Ray Scott. He said "How would you like to join my B.A.S.S. Club. We're going to have a magazine, and if you join I'll send you some lures, all for $10 a year."I asked why should I do that when I can fish for nothing. He told me about how the club is going to grow and etc. I thought to myself, maybe the lures will be worth $10. I gave him my money and my mailing address, got a receipt and thought nothing more about it. A couple of months went by and no lures. So I wrote and asked why. They said they sent them but here are some more. (In 1995, in a doctor's office, a fellow asked me if I was Sgt. Johnson. I said yes and he said he was Sgt. Johnson, too. Turns out we were stationed at Sheppard AFB together; living on the same street. He said I see you're still with BASS (I had my BASS hat on). He said BASS had tried to get him to join and even sent him some lures, but he didn't fish.
I learned every thing I know about the basics of bass fishing from reading my Bassmaster magazines. When I was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, I belonged to a German trout fishing club. They really enjoyed my tales about how bass fought. My BASS patch got a lot of response also from the military.
At Sheppard AFB, I was selected to be cub master for the base Cub Scouts. For them to get their fishing badges, they had to join BASS. I think the daddies got most of the magazines.
When my three sons were in high school in Houston, drugs were everywhere. I leased a piece of land on the Trinity River (about an hour's boat ride to Lake Livingston) and put an over-the-cab camper shell on it. The boys and I would go up there every weekend. We had Mitchell spinning reels on Fenwick spinning rods and Abu Garcia reels on Fenwick casting rods. Whenever I bought a lure, I had to buy four in the same color, for all four of us. I still have that tacklebox. It was the biggest one you could buy, with 12 trays and a lot of room at the bottom.
I have been talking so much about my boys . . . actually, the best bass fisherman in the family was my daughter, who worked as a Houston Police dispatcher. She and I would go to T-Bend, and she beat me every time. She wouldn't let me get supper til she got at least one fish ahead of me. And then the bragging would begin.
Our first boat was a 15-foot ski boat. My wife wanted to go riding up and down the river at our camp. That lasted until two things happened: (1) She got chiggers and (2) she got seasick. The boys and I fished out of it for three years. I finally bought a 17-foot Ouachita Contender bass boat, which really was a life saver.
We finally got up to fishing on the Toledo Bend Lake and gave up the place on the river in 1985. We had a reservation twice a month there, and the information from Bassmaster Magazine paid off. My oldest boy, Mike Johnson, stayed with BASS and is also a life member.
In the 1960s, flashing fishfinders were the rage. It took some learning to read what was reflected in the screen. You could get several versions as to what was in the water below, depending on the person you were fishing with.
Also you had to watch the birds to see where fish were some times. The weather was also very important. Clouds meant the fish were one place; bright sun, somewhere else. You really had to watch, not only your line, but all those factors.When the wind came up, you looked for a cove to get out of it. Now I see fishermen out there, fishing in a gale.
We didn't have as many lures to choose from as today. All you had to worry about was "do I have the right colors?"
The biggest difference between fishing the 60's and now is the equipment. Electronics let you see the bottom and the size of the fish now. Trolling motors were a big improvement. They've become much more quiet, and they don't require being charged so often.But most of all, BASS grew, and with the large influx of new fishermen came new ideas as to what works and when. Boats also are safer, better adapted to fish tournaments, with faster motors.I have never fished a tournament. What with my family all in high school and college ahead I didn't have time.
I made the BASS magazine my pleasure. I always got a kick out of reading about Bill Dance, Kevin VanDam, Mike Iaconelli and all the other pros. I am with them every time they set the hook and get just as much enjoyment seeing them doing it. It makes me feel proud to be a member.Am looking forward to seeing more Women Bassmasters on television.
People ask me why I have stayed with BASS all these years. Well, it's like being in the Marine Corps — once a BASSer always a BASSer.
In all the years of reading about tournaments all over the United States, there have been very few instances of cheating or other problems between BASS members and local fisherman.
To give you a final report card for what BASS has done for me: I live on a waterfront lot on Toledo Bend, and I catch as many bass from the bank as do my neighbors in their boats. A local lure company has put many pictures of my bass I caught on their Web site. I really have to use all my knowledge to do this, and I thank Bassmaster for it.
(James "Comanche" Johnson, 83, lives on Toledo Bend Reservoir, where he fishes every chance he gets.)