In 1985 one of the most-respected boat companies came out with a new-concept boat that rocked the bass boat industry. The boat had all the amenities needed for high-level competition. They were fast, offered a passenger rod trough, rod locker ventilation and a console that looked more like it should be in an F-16 than a boat. The boat was the Cajun Ricky Green Fishin’ Machine.
By 1985 Ricky Green had been fishing as a full-time professional for a dozen years. He fished his first tournament at the age of 24 – the 1968 Arkansas State Championship at Greers Ferry – and won it. In that event he met Jimmy Houston, Larry Nixon and Jerry McKinnis.
That same year he fished his first Bassmaster event at Sam Rayburn and finished in 11th place. Between 1968 and 1971 Green fished a smattering of Bassmaster events and others closer to home before he made the leap to become a full-time professional angler in 1972.
Between 1972 and 1985 Green qualified for 14 straight Bassmaster Classics (the record at the time) and also was Angler of the Year in the American Angler tournament trail in 1977. He was not only known for consistently catching big fish, he was also consistently in the top 10 of any event he entered – hence his nickname Mr. Consistency.
Here are his stats:
Bassmaster 1968 to 1997: 184 tournaments, 14 Bassmaster Classic appearances, 90 times in money, two wins, five 2nds (two in Classics), three 3rds (one in the Classic), 30 top-10s, 53 top-20s, 100 top-50s and he earned $132,123.95 BASS winnings.
FLW 1997 to 2002: 34 tournaments, three FLW Cup appearances, one 2nd, one 3rd, and $120,300 in FLW earnings.
He also fished numerous other tournament organizations that included American Angler, National Bass Association and Bass Caster’s Association, to mention a few. He won in all of them.
Today Green spends most of him time fishing bass and crappie at lakes around his home. As you may have seen recently on the internet, he’s also suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD – a debilitating lung disease that requires him to be on oxygen 24 hours a day.
This article is about the life and career of Ricky Green – one of the fathers of our sport and one of those anglers who always had time to talk with fellow anglers and lend a helping hand when it came to bass and their conservation.
The Early Years
Like many of us, Green started fishing at a young age with his father. Here’s a look back at his first experience catching a bass.
“I was six-years-old when I caught my first bass,” he said. “It was a trip with my dad and I had a topwater bait tied on called a Glutton Dibbler made in Arkadelphia by a man named Clyde Keys. I threw it out there and caught a 3 3/4-pounder and barely got him in. My daddy wouldn’t help me at all.
“I ended up getting my name and picture in the weekly sports section stating what I caught the fish on and I took the clipping down to Clyde and showed it to him. He gave me a bunch more. It was at that early age I figured out how to get some free tackle.”
As he grew older and was allowed to venture further from his home alone, Green started fishing more ponds around his Arkadelphia home.
“I first started fishing from my bike after school at the local ponds around home. When I turned 16 I turned the bike in for my car to get to places further from home. I caught a lot of big bass in those days and that’s what got me going.
“In the mid-60s I started fishing a lot of the lakes. I constantly had my picture in the paper with big stringers of fish when finally a guy at General Marine named Royce Doggett saw them and said he wanted to talk with me. He offered to pay my entry, give me a boat and motor and all I had to do was fish. Didn’t even know where to go but he’d tell me where I had to be.
“At the time  I was working at Reynolds Aluminum in the lab. I took some time off, drove down to Sam Rayburn to fish my first Bassmaster event and finished in 11th place. The next Bassmaster I fished was the 1969 event at Seminole and I finished in 6th place. Two months later I fished the Texas National, again on Sam Rayburn, and placed 3rd. I thought, ‘these guys aren’t much better than me.’
“We worked shifts at Reynolds and at the time it was difficult for me to get time off work. I had a lot of time to fish but not much to take and fish tournaments. That’s why I didn’t fish all of the tournaments back in those early years.”
Asked what he remembered most about that first Bassmaster event in 1968 he said, “I got to meet Bill [Dance], Tom [Mann] and Ray Murski at Rayburn. They all had big boats and 35- to 50-hp motors on them. I was fishing out of a 14-foot flat-bottom with a 9 ½-hp motor. I can’t believe I fished Rayburn out of that boat.
“Another interesting thing I remember about that tournament was the way Bill and Ray [Murski] fished. Back then we didn’t have foot-controlled troll motors. They were all stern mount. So Bill and Ray would sit on the big motor and operate the troller with their feet.
“We all became friends over the next few years. It was a great feeling to fish against them and get in the money.”
Between those first three events in ’68 and ’69 and 1972 Green fished two more tournaments in 1970, the Rebel Invitational and Oklahoma National, and placed 9th and 18th respectively. He didn’t fish any Bassmaster events in 1971 but finally committed to the full season in 1972.
“Like I said, I was working full time at Reynolds and it was hard for me to get time off. Then in 1972 my fellow workers and I figured it out so I could get the time off. I’d take off for a tournament and then when I got back I’d work so they could have some time off.”
At the end of his first full year of competition Green qualified for the prestigious Bassmaster Classic. He remembers Classic II – an event he led the first day.
“Don Butler was one of my best friends,” Green said. “We were rooming together and I was in the lead after the first day by a good margin. Don zeroed. That night I told him where I got my fish, I showed him on the map, and he went above me the next day into another creek and brought in 22 pounds. I weighed five or six pounds.
The last day he had good fish again and I didn’t. The worst thing I ever did was tell him what I was doing with that spinnerbait.”
It was Green’s first 2nd-place finish in a Classic.
By the end of 1972 Ricky Green had become a household name – and the industry was taking notice.
I quit my job at Reynolds in 1974 to fish full time,” he said. “That’s an interesting story.
“I was offered a job with Ray Jefferson [electronics] at the time. They were going to pay my same wage I was making at Reynolds and also pay my entry fees and all my other expenses. The Wall Street Journal got wind of it and published a big front-page article on professional bass fishing and me. I hadn’t told anyone I was quitting except for my wife and when my boss at Reynolds saw the article he called me on it. I got in some big trouble for that.
“Other than maybe Roland [Martin] and Bill [Dance], who had their own shows, I think I was the first fully-sponsored bass angler on the circuit.”
Green was a sponsor’s dream between 1972 and 1985. He and Rick Clunn were the first professional anglers to be given motors and were also the first two anglers to be placed on the Mercury team.
“Mercury started out giving us one motor a year and shortly after that they were giving us two motors along with props, oil and trolling motors. Then OMC came along and offered us a better deal and we went with them. It’s good to be loyal but if you got a better deal you had to go with it. You can’t lose money in this industry.”
Green was also with a number of boat manufacturers and had his hands in the design of many boats.
“I was initially with General Marine and then switched to Ranger after my first or second year. Then in 1975 I went to Ouachita and fully designed the Spirit of ’76 model. Unfortunately the guy that bought the company owned a shoe company and shut the plant down shortly after that. That’s when I went to Skeeter. When I got to there I helped them design the Starfire.
“Then Cajun approached me around 1984 and I went with them and helped design the Ricky Green Fishin’ Machine. That boat had everything a bass angler would need and then some. In fact I’m still fishing out of my last Fishin’ Machine and it still has the old FastStrike Johnson on it. Johnson had come to one of the events that Larry [Nixon] and I were at and put them on our boats along with about 20 others.” [Ed’s note: not only did the boat have all that was stated in the opening paragraph, it also had a compartment that housed a full-size cooler and a unique cleat/mooring system that utilized long bungee cords that stored in the rod locker.]
Green went back to Ranger after he left B.A.S.S. to fish with FLW in 1997. He also still fishes out of a 1974 14-foot Ouachita stick-steer boat with a 50-horse for smaller bodies of water.
Between 1972 and 1985 it was a no-brainer that Ricky Green would be at the Classic and in the hunt to win any event he entered. In fact, he had another shot at winning the Classic in 1983 but a last-minute fish caught by Larry Nixon would keep Green from reaching that goal.
“Larry and I were tight in that event,” he said. “I was running down the river 60 miles each day and I had a little marina cove I was catching my fish in. As with the days before, the last day I went back there with a blade. But I had a new bait that Sam Griffin made – it was a wooden Spot-like bait with a blunt nose and a spinner. I decided I’d try it. I ended up losing two fish on it. They were only 1 1/2-pound fish and I lost them both trying to swing them in the boat. If I’d have known how tough it was I’d have hugged them in the boat.
“As I was there fishing towards the end of the day, Nixon pulled into the marina to get gas. As he was waiting, he made a cast and caught a fish. I was sick. I knew it was going to be close.
“We went back to the weigh-in and I lost by 10 ounces. A lot of things are meant to be and that event was meant for Larry. It wasn’t my turn. If I had a chance to do one event all over it’d be that one. That Classic haunts me to this day.”
Green has another event he wishes he could totally erase from his mind – the 1977 Bassmaster Classic on the Kissimmee Chain.
“The Classic in Florida is probably the worst event of my career and one I wish I could forget. I think I may have caught a fish – it was that bad. It was so embarrassing not to have caught anything and go up on stage with nothing to show. All I could do was hold my hands up in the air.”
He finished in 25th place out of 26 anglers beating Al Lindner. Green weighed one fish for 3-01 and Lindner weighed one fish for 3-00.
What got Green to 14 Classic in a row and the nickname Mr. Consistency was hard work and dedication. He fished sun-up to sun-down to not only do well but also maintain his sponsors.
“I knew if I didn’t work at it hard I wouldn’t get a paycheck,” he said. “I had to be good – I had to hustle.”
“At one time I was fishing three different circuits not including B.A.S.S. I was fishing Western Bass/U.S. Bass, PSI, American Angler and Bass Caster’s Association. I won a BCA event on Millwood one year and then I also won the American Angler Angler of the Year award in 1977.
“Then after missing my first Classic in 14 years I got discouraged. I was still working hard and I was making plenty of money but I wasn’t producing for my sponsors. I didn’t do what I should have done. I got tired of the grind. You can see it in the standings.
“Bass fishing is a tough life mentally and physically. You don’t realize the strain it puts on your body. The mental part wears on you when you don’t make the right decisions. That’s why I ended up leaving B.A.S.S. in 1997. I had been doing terrible and thought the change would fire me back up.
“I fished four years with FLW and made the Cup three times. I made a lot of money there in the short time I fished.”
Friends, Favorites and the Future
Over the course of a career you tend to make close friends and memories. Green has made many of these over the years and reflects back on them.
I made a lot of close friends over the years on tour,” he said. “Of those I still keep in close contact with I’d have to say Jimmy [Houston] and I are the closest. But I talk with Larry [Nixon], Tommy [Martin] and Bobby [Murray] often. In fact a number of my friends put on a benefit for me last week to help with my lung transplant.”
I asked Green who he’d pick for a 6-man all-star team if he had to and why he’d pick those anglers. His answer was:
“VanDam, Larry Nixon, Mark Davis, Jimmy Houston ad Roland Martin. VanDam because you have to pick him. He’s the best. Nixon – well he’s so good at figuring fish out when they change. We used to bunk together. A lot of the time neither of us would have anything going the night before a tournament. Then the next day he’d go out and be in the top 5. He knew how to find fish and adjust.
“As for Davis, he has a sixth sense and knows what to throw and when to throw it. He’s great at locating fish and he’s won three Bassmaster AOYs. That’s so much harder to do than win a Classic. Houston – Jimmy is just tough. If they’re on a spinnerbait bite he can catch them. If they’re not, he ain’t worth a hoot [laughs]. No seriously he’s just a good friend and a great fisherman.
“As for Roland, he’s just like Nixon. He can flat figure them out. Here’s an example. We were on Toledo Bend one year and Roland went to the dam and caught a 25-pound stringer. Now the normal angler would be going back the next day but not Roland. He went to some area mid-lake and brought in another 25-pound stringer. Then on the last day he went up the other end of the lake and did the same thing. It blew my mind. That’s where I differ from the Nixons and the Martins. They know how to adjust and I’m just hard-headed.”
Green has fished all over the United States and the world. But he still has his favorites.
“If I had to rank my favorite lakes here in the U.S. they’d be Sam Rayburn, Okeechobee, Seminole and Lake Fork. Every time I’ve been to those lakes I’ve caught good fish. But Mexico has to be my favorite place. It’s paradise. I guided down there for 25 years.
“A few years ago my son Keith and I went to Baccarac with some clients. I didn’t notice but we went in October during the full moon. To top it off, the water had risen five feet recently. I was so worried the fish wouldn’t eat. That first morning before our clients got there I went out with a friend to check it out. I caught two 8s, a 9 1/2 and 11 1/2 and Don caught one 10.
“By the time the trip was over the group caught one 12, nine between 11 and 12, 34 between 10 and 11, and 75-plus over 8. We didn’t even bother to weigh a fish if it looked under 8 pounds. That got me all fired up.”
Green fished professionally nearly from the inception of the professional sports angler. Yet he feels there’s still a lot that needs to be done with the sport.
“I’m surprised about the money it takes these days,” he said. “The entry fees are staggering. It’d be hard to tell a kid today how to become a pro. It’s almost to the point you have to be rich or have a lot of good sponsors. I don’t know how new guys break into the sport these days yet when I read the tournament reports, there are a number of anglers I’ve never heard of.
“I think B.A.S.S. has done something right with limiting the field of the Elites to 100 anglers. That was always my dream when I was fishing – fish against the best.
“Something I feel adamant about is the anglers need some way to get insurance and retirement plans. I know it’d be difficult to do but other professional sports have that. In some cases you can get insurance as an employee from your sponsors but it’s still tough. And I’m not talking insurance just for when you’re fishing – they need it when they retire too.
A New Battle
For years Green battled brown and green bass for a living. Today he’s in a new battle, this time for his life. As mentioned earlier, he’s battling COPD and is on the schedule for a lung transplant. But it’s not that simple. Remember, retired professional bass anglers don’t have health insurance.
“I smoked way too much and I try to encourage everyone I know that smokes to quit,” he said. “That’s what got me. I was first diagnosed with COPD 15 years ago. If they catch it early and you quit, you can control it. By the time they diagnosed me, it was too late.”
Green spends a lot of time with his doctors at the Mayo Clinic to track his progress and make sure he stays in shape.
“My doctors say I’m in good shape physically. I’m struggling but I’m better off than others right now. When you’re on the list to receive a lung, they monitor you’re progress – I’ve been tested over 50 times so far. They monitor your daily use of oxygen – I’m at two liters a day but could go up to five – and make sure you stay in good shape. You’re rated on how severe you are. Less than a year ago I was at 15th on the list. When you move into the top 5 you have to move to Florida and stay for the time it takes for them to find a match.”
As of right now, he’s not getting any better and has an infection in his lung that his physicians are having a tough time curing. To top that off, the medication for the fungus costs him $1200 per month after Medicare. And that’s not the end, if he’s lucky enough to get the transplant, he’ll have to take expensive medications for the rest of his life.
Last week a large party and fundraiser was held in honor of Green in High Rock, Arkansas at the Convention Center – the same venue where he participated in Bassmaster Classic and FLW Cups. Those that attended included Jimmy Houston, Larry Nixon, George Cochran, Bobby Murray, and Mark Davis, amongst 150 other close friends and family.
“The event was supposed to start at 7:00 PM but people were still coming in well past that hour. We finally kicked it off at 7:30 and it went until 10:30. We had a silent auction and a live auction and raised a good amount of money to help pay my expenses. Mark Zona was supposed to attend but the weather held him up and he wasn’t able to make it. Even without him making it his donated trip went for $3,800. Larry Nixon also donated a trip and it went for $1,300.
“It was a great feeling having so many people there to help out. It’s just hard to ask for help.”
Then and Now
I asked Green to compare the old days with the new days and asked what he felt the biggest advancement was.
“Back in the beginning the weights we had were nothing compared to what they’re weighing in today,” he said. “When we were fishing we had 10- to 15-fish limits to fill and today the guys are bringing in five fish that a lot of the time weigh more than what we were bringing in with 15.
“It all has to do with the states taking better care of their fisheries by planting habitat and stocking and, of course, catch and release.
And Green is doing his part to help make sure the lakes around his home will do well into the future. In the last three years he’s helped plant over 1000 brushpiles in Lake Hamilton to help better its fishery.
He also feels technology has helped the angler to find fish faster and easier. He should know, he was once considered an expert in the field of electronics and was one of the early proponents of the paper graph.
“Electronics are by far the biggest advance in fishing,” he said. “We used to go out with a flasher and then the paper graphs but they didn’t show much other than what was directly below the boat. Today anglers have side-scanning sonar and all that other stuff. It amazes me. My son Keith took me out a while ago and he showed me this new technology. We were going along a shoreline and to the side we could see vacant bream beds. They looked like tires in the water. I wish they wouldn’t make them so good. It’s not fair.”
Green is happy with his life and all he’s accomplished. He fished at the highest level of competition for nearly 40 years and a lot of what he did helped shape the form of bass fishing into what we know today.
“It’s been a great life. I got to do what I loved and wanted to do for a job. I wouldn’t give any of it up. We’re going through a tough time right now but I know we’ll make it. I have faith.”
In the day Green was sponsored by some of the best companies in the industry yet, in this time, he’s in need.
For those who would like to help, the Greens have set up the Ricky Green Lung Transplant Fund at Regions Bank in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The address is:
4441 Central Ave
Hot Springs AR 71913
Attention Lisa Austin/Ricky Green Lung Transplant Fund
Or you can call or email his wife Karen at (501) 282-1952 – firstname.lastname@example.org.
They will also be auctioning off a number of things on eBay that include guided trips by stars of the industry such as Roland Martin and others so pay attention to this site and others for more information on that.
In the meantime, let’s keep one of the all-time best professional anglers in our thoughts and prayers.