Since we started the Bass Fishing Archives in March of 2012, a number of legends have passed. It’s one of those things we expect as people get older but it’s also something that still surprises us when it happens. Last year when Uncle Homer went to that big lake in the sky, we all were surprised but not shocked as he was pushing the century mark. This week, though, I would venture to say we all were startled when we started hearing rumblings of Doug “The Bass Professor” Hannon passing away.
I personally refrained from the internet jabber about the event. First off, Hannon was too young and secondly, you can never believe what’s said on the internet unless it comes from a solid source. I sent out emails to some friends in the industry who would know of the unfortunate event – yet I didn’t get any replies. This can both be good and bad.
On Monday morning I finally started getting some feedback and unfortunately my worst fears were realized. Doug Hannon passed away Thursday, March 28, 2013 from complications of neck surgery in Florida.
Growing up in southern California during the hay-day of the big bass craze, my big bass star was “Lunker” Bill Murphy. It wasn’t until I received the January 1978 issue of Bassmaster Magazine that I found out who Hannon was. In that issue, W. Horace Carter wrote what was the first national article on Doug Hannon and the methods he used to catch giant largemouth bass. The article actually covered three issues that year, parts two and three printed in the February and March issues respectively. From that time I looked forward to any article that spotlighted Hannon, and believe me there were a lot of them.
Over the years I read his books on how to catch trophy bass along with his theories. He was printed countless times in magazines such as In-Fisherman, Field and Stream, Sports Afield and Outdoor Life along with Bassmaster Magazine. When he first came out with his weedless trolling motor prop, I can assure you I was one of the first to have one. I looked up to Doug Hannon as being one of the founders of trophy bass fishing and bass fishing in general.
Then late in 2004, I was asked by Doug Stange of In-Fisherman to write a piece on record hoaxes. The Leah Trew debacle in northern California was in full swing and Stange knew I had roots and a lot of friends in California chasing the record. As we talked, Stange told me I “might” want to talk with Hannon. I jumped at the opportunity. I’d always wanted to talk with him but had never been around him to have a chance. What would I have said to him anyway?
Now I had a reason to talk with Hannon. I was being commissioned by one of the best magazines in the world on fishing to write a piece and “they” wanted me to speak to Hannon.
The first time I spoke with Hannon was interesting. I expect cold calls from people you don’t know have a way of catching you off guard. I introduced myself and asked him if he’d be interested in talking with me about record bass hoaxes. He agreed.
Normally I don’t get jitters when calling someone to interview them. I can count on one hand the times I’ve been nervous calling someone out of the blue – Hannon was one of those guys albeit the first one to make me nervous.
The conversation initially started off with me asking him a few questions about the subject at hand but quickly turned into a “normal” conversation between two people who love the sport of fishing. We talked about record hoaxes of the past such as the Sandy DeFresco dive weight incident and the Paul Duclos catch in northern California that quite possibly was the world record.
We also talked a lot about the recent “record fish” caught by Leah Trew – a fish he said, “does not possess world-record dimensions.” He then went on to say that he’d caught a bass that was “5/8-inch shorter and 3-inches smaller in girth,” that was only 16 pounds.
Our conversation then turned to the actual record and where he thought it would be caught. Although he was sure the record would come out of the “trout-fed” waters of southern California, he wasn’t happy with it. He felt that there should be two records – one for waters that were natural and another for places where they stocked trout.
In that first conversation with Hannon it was obvious to me that he loved our sport and loved the fish themselves. I asked him if it would be okay for me to gather my thoughts and call him back with some follow-up questions. He said, “no problem.”
As the days went by and I gathered my thoughts, all I could think about were the number of big fish he’d told me about that he’d caught and documented. Hannon kept records on every fish he’d ever caught, their length, girth and weight, where he caught them, how he caught them – everything associated with that fish was written down.
About a week went by and I called him back. This time I had some questions for him pertaining to our earlier conversation but nagging me was his data. After a little time we started talking about the volumes of data he’d accumulated over time. I asked him if all his fish were roughly of the same proportions – his answer was two-pronged. He said that fish in the 10- to 14-pound class feature a longer profile but as soon as they reach that 14-pound mark, they begin to grow bigger in girth than in length.
Conversation then turned to coming up with a way to estimate a fish’s weight where no scales were used. “People never seem to have a scale but they always seem to have measurements of their record fish,” he said somewhat astonished. We then talked about the weight formula commonly used by anglers to estimate weight and the new formula posed by Don Peters that was adopted by the IGFA. He said that both formulas were good for a guess but due to a trophy-class fish’s dimensions, they wouldn’t give an accurate estimate of what a big fish would really weigh.
I have a pretty good background in math and modeling so I posed the thought that I could come up with a formula that would be accurate to within a certain percentage assuming I had enough data. I asked him if I could use his data, which he replied, “My fish, because they’re all from Florida, don’t have the same dimensions as the fish in California. The California fish are like footballs and Florida fish are longer in shape. You would have to develop a formula based on all California fish and maybe Texas fish to have an accurate one.” Again I asked him if he thought it was a good idea and his answer was yes.
We continued to talk moving into more personal aspects of our lives. I found out he ran track in college and continued to run wind sprints every day. He said, “Running sprints is the best way to keep your metabolism up and keep in shape.” According to him he ran an hour’s worth of 50-yard dashes every day – and at the time he was approaching 60. Pretty impressive.
At this point I contacted Doug Stange at In-Fisherman and posed a different bent to the article he wanted me to do. I asked him if he’d rather me develop a formula that would debunk the Trew fish and we could make an article about it. He agreed that sounded like a better way to go.
I then went about collecting data and running a number of different models until I finally came up with one that would predict the weight of a big fish within 5 percent of the actual weight. I sent it off to the folks at In-Fisherman where it was published twice in 2005.
After the publication, I called Hannon to see if he’d read the piece and what he thought of it. I thanked him for our conversations and the idea of putting together a trophy-bass weight-estimation formula. That was the last time I talked with him.
This past weekend when all the rumors were flying I kept saying to myself, “it can’t be true.” For the past year I’ve been meaning to call him for an interview on the history of trophy bass fishing but things kept getting in the way. Then today when I heard for sure that he’d passed, it left me with an empty feeling – the feeling of should’a, could’a, would’a.
So much is lost with the passing of Doug “The Bass Professor” Hannon. His years of documenting trophy bass are only the tip of the iceberg. He was one of the first, if not the first, angler to campaign to release trophy bass. He developed a number of tools we all use in our day-to-day angling and recently he’d developed a new spinning reel and spinning guides that do away with the mundane problems associated with spinning tackle. He holds a number of patents and was a member of the International Game Fish Association’s Scientific Advisory Board. His list of accomplishments is staggering and will be missed by all who fish.
Thanks Mr. Hannon for taking the time to talk with me and for helping push me to do something that hadn’t been done before. You have no idea how much our conversations in 2004 mean to me. God Speed Professor.