Last week we posted an article on the Last Hoorah for the American Bass Fisherman (ABF) organization. In that piece we talked a little about that organization and its purchase by National Bass Association (NBA) in 1978. There were a lot of unanswered questions about this time in the history of competitive fishing. American Bass Fisherman’s owner, George Oates was being investigated for fraud yet still running events, NBA was organized and purchased the Professional Bass Association and a number of other tournament organizations were coming and going at a rapid pace. It was definitely a time of flux in the industry and many of the anglers who supported these organizations didn’t know if they would still be around for the next month’s tournament that was scheduled.
In order to find out more about this time in bass fishing, I contacted former NBA President Dewey Yopp to see if he would talk about NBA, its history and the purchase of ABF. As it turns out, Yopp was the tournament director for ABF for a time and was right there when all of the allegations pertaining to George Oates were brewing. In the conversation that ensued, a lot of questions about this time were answered and to those of you who remember that far back, they are pretty interesting to hear.
From the Pentagon to Bass Fishing
Yopp was an angler but had never fished a bass tournament. He was a career military man, serving for 27 years in the United States Army as a pilot, serving two tours in Vietnam. It was this job that would bring him into the competitive realm of bass fishing, from the standpoint of running tournaments.
“I first got introduced to American Bass Fisherman when I was stationed at the Pentagon,” Yopp said. “I went down to do an article for Army Times on two of my flight instructors who had made the World Championship.
“At that tournament I met George Oates and he offered me a job as their tournament director. I went back home, thought about it and put in my papers to retire. It was a fun job.
“Shortly after that George (Oates) was accused of fraud and rigging tournaments. I knew that no one would support his organization much longer and a friend of mine, Don Bradford (who would end up becoming vice president of NBA) suggested we start out own tournament organization. This was in mid-1976.” (This time period is consistent with when Oates was taken off the masthead of ABF magazine.)
By October 1976 National Bass Association was conceived and started operation. In January, the Charter Issue of National Bassman, the magazine for all NBA members, was published.
“[At the start] we were in direct competition with ABF,” Yopp said. “Oates had sold out to one of his investors, Don Williams I believe, when he was going through his indictment. They couldn’t compete with us because of all the bad publicity so we went down to Auburndale [FL] to talk. We did an inventory and he sold me the remains of the company, which consisted of three rigged boats with Johnson motors.
“Come to find out, they hadn’t even been paid for so shortly after that, I was being asked by the dealers to pay for something I’d already paid Williams for. I wouldn’t pay them and could have probably gotten out of my contract with ABF but I didn’t do that either.”
NBA started out with Yopp as president, Bradford as vice president, Jim Jaggers as the chairman of the board and Marty Yopp secretary/treasurer. It soon added Jim Scanland as the public relations director and Jack Atkinson as tournament director.
By the second issue of National Bassman, Yopp reported that NBA had purchased a small organization out of Nashville, TN known as the Professional Bass Association (PBA).
“PBA was a small organization and some of the guys who were fishing it contacted us,” Yopp said. “They’d seen our magazine and they really like what we were doing and asked if we’d buy them out. If I remember right, they only had a van – I’m not sure if they even owned scales. I can’t remember the exact amount we purchased them for but it wasn’t much at all.”
By early 1977 NBA was running a professional circuit, a semi-pro circuit, a national club circuit (to mirror the B.A.S.S. Federation) along with continuing the PBA events. Contestants from all circuits were fishing for a spot in the NBA Bassman’s $50,000 Gold Medalist championship event. To top that off, they were also going to conduct an Old Timers’ tournament for anglers over 45.
NBA’s first event, held at West Point Lake in Georgia, didn’t kick off as well as expected. The tournament was held in January 1977 and only 50 anglers showed up to brave the sub-freezing temperatures. Event with the small turnout, the tournament got NBA a lot of publicity.
“The first tournament we held was won with one fish,” Yopp said. “One fish in three days of fishing. The angler (Johnny Grice) won first place, big fish and the two boats that went with it. We got a lot of publicity for that.”
Things wouldn’t get any easier for NBA, though.
“It was hard for us to draw the big names,” he said. “Ray (Scott) and I got a long fine but he had the whole kit and kaboodal. He had all the top anglers and everyone was following him. I guess they were loyal to him for being the first and the biggest.
“Finally after a while we started getting some of the bigger names in the sport but it was a hard-fought battle trying to get some of the top-dog tournament anglers to fish with us.”
Although NBA may have had trouble enticing the top anglers at first, they did attract up-and-comers like Hank Parker, Jerry Rhyne, Dick Busby, and Ron Shearer. Reading through the magazines, you do see names such as Roland Martin, Guy Eaker and Orlando Wilson in the tournament reports but unfortunately only the top 10 was listed in most of the reports.
“It was hard to get the thing off the ground,” he said. “There was a lot of work involved and we finally got it going. It was just never profitable – all the money was going out and not much coming back in.”
One of the problems was low draws at the events, which averaged under 100 anglers per tournament. Advertising dollars, which many of the top organizations rely on to help with expenses, were also hard to come by.
“Advertising was difficult because of the number of magazines we published per year,” he said. “We were a bi-monthly publication and advertisers wanted the most bang for their buck. Because of this most of the companies wanted to trade ads for product. This didn’t get us any cash at first. It was the same with the boat companies. Then, as membership grew, we started getting some cash.”
Membership at the height of NBA’s reign was between 20,000 and 25,000 members.
As a publication, the magazine may not have been Bassmaster but it contained a lot of good content written by some of the best writers of the day. Writers such as C. Boyd Pfieffer, Larry Mayer, Byron Dalrymple, Bob McNally, and Nick Sisley all had bylines in the publication.
The All Mighty Dollar
A combination of things is what brought the end to NBA at the start of the ‘80s but it all led to one thing, finances.
“My close friend at the time, Major General Jim Jaggers, was the financial backing behind NBA,” Yopp said. “He and I shared a desk at the Pentagon for years and when we decided to start NBA, he was the guy backing the venture.
“By 1978 his wife wanted him out of it because he was losing money.
“Around the same time I was trying to get boats for the tournaments and the championship. We had been doing business with Marvin Hurst who owned Hurst Boats and Double H Trailers and I couldn’t get him to answer his phone.
“I drove down to Orlando to see him and when I got there I saw the bank had closed their doors. The prior year I had sold 115 boats for him so I was surprised they’d gone under.
“At that point I was on a hunt for a new boat company. I’d been talking to the owner of Astroglass and he wanted to get out of the business. All he wanted was $450,000 and take over the 60 or 70 boats they had on order. I didn’t have to put up any money.
“That’s when Jaggers wanted out so for all the money he’d put into the business, I gave him Astroglass. I never got a cup of coffee or even a thank you for that. A year and a half later he sold the company to Mercury for $3.5-million dollars – ten times more than what he’d put into NBA.
“That’s when I closed up NBA. I couldn’t run the business on my own.
“I’ve missed bass fishing and the industry a lot over the years. It was the best job anyone could have ever had. I’d witnessed a number of Ray’s (Scott) tournaments and I always thought we did our better and the anglers even told us that.
Click the link for a nearly complete view of all The National Bassman magazine covers.
Yopp is currently retired and living in Florida. He served 27 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. While in the army he worked on the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk, a reconnaissance plane used by the Marines and Army. He was a pilot of both fixed wind and rotor aircraft during his service.