American Bass Fisherman’s Last Hoorah

American Bass Fisherman Billy Westmorland Bass Fishing School ad from the July/August 1978 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

American Bass Fisherman Billy Westmorland Bass Fishing School ad from the July/August 1978 issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Scanning my stacks of magazines you never know what you’ll come up with that might be of interest to share. Old ads always provide a good look back at where we’ve been, what mistakes we don’t want to make again and also provide a laugh or two more so than not. So, while scanning the last issue published from the American Bass Fisherman (July/August 1978), I was a little intrigued by the ad that’s the subject of today’s article.

The ad, titled, “American Bass Fisherman presents the Billy Westmorland Fishing School,” caught me by surprise for more than one reason.

First off, Billy Westmorland was a known heavy hitter on the Bassmaster Trail from 1972 through the early part of 1978 – then he disappeared from the standings. His last Bassmaster event on record was the 1978 Virginia Invitational held on Gaston Lake, March 22-24. In the first three Bassmaster events of that year (the only ones he fished), Westmorland didn’t make the top 50 once compared to 24 out of 32 events fished prior to the ’78 season.

The question as to why he quit the ’78 Bassmaster Trail may be answered when you scan through the 1978 March/April, May/June and July/August issues of American Bass Fisherman and look at the tournament reports. When you do, you see that Westmorland placed second at the opener on Okeechobee, 22nd at Seminole and fourth at Murray and was leading the ABF Angler of the Year race at the midway point by 30 points over Steve Mitchell. Maybe Westmorland decided to concentrate on that circuit, and his success there, rather than spread himself too thin. Still it’s hard to understand exactly why he would do this considering the caliber of angler he was.

ABF Editor Bill Chestnut's Editorial from the 1978 July/August issue of American Bass Fisherman.

ABF Editor Bill Chestnut’s Editorial from the 1978 July/August issue of American Bass Fisherman.

Doing a little more digging, though, I might have come up with a better answer. On page 5 of the July/August issue I was again surprised to see Westmorland’s face in the Editorial column. I missed it before due to my mind overlooking the cut-and-pasted face on the cartoon character and the words Editorial. In this piece Editor Bill Chestnut talks about how ABF and Westmorland had joined hands in developing a bass school for anglers of all ages and experience. This announcement made me wonder if part of this agreement was for Westmorland to stop fishing Bassmaster events and go whole hog into ABF. If so, that would turn out to be a big mistake.

The second reason this ad caught me off guard was the fact I knew this was the last issue to ever be printed of American Bass Fisherman magazine before it was bought by Dewey Yopp of the National Bass Association. Why would a seasoned pro like Westmorland move into a committed relationship with an association that was either on its last legs or about to be sold?

My first thoughts were that the president of ABF Wayne Dyer and vice president Don Williams may have thought that having Westmorland come on board would have increased their stock value and/or could have brought more memberships to the organization, thus making the venture fiscally solid. The second thought was – maybe none of them knew what was coming down the pike in the not-so-distant future.

Doing some more digging in the 1978 September/October issue of The National Bassman, I may have found the answers I was looking for.

Nat Bassman Cover 1978The cover of that issue stated nothing other than, “Now Serving American Bass Fisherman Member.”

I turned to the Editorial by Dewey Yopp and the headline was, “NBA Purchases ABF on August 22nd.”

In his editorial Yopp states that the “market place for national bass fishing organizations can support only two large scale operations. For the past two years there have been three organizations competing for the space only one could economically occupy and now American Capitalism has narrowed the field to one.” [Note: Yopp’s verbiage was a bit confusing where he stated “has narrowed the field to one.” It’s obvious he meant “one” competing organization. It was also obvious that he was referring to B.A.S.S. as the third tournament organization]

Yopp then goes on to talk about how he came to this conclusion and how it will be better not only for the industry but also the angler. He said, “there are more tournaments than tournament fishermen and more magazines than advertisers can support.”

Reading this, maybe Dyer and Williams didn’t know they were about to be bought?

Now let’s look back on the ad that got this entire article started.

As stated in the ad featured at the top of this piece, ABF would be hosting the Billy Westmorland Fishing School – no date confirmed. Anglers of all shapes and sizes would learn basic knots, how to fish a plastic worm, spinnerbait fishing, buzzbaits, crankbaits and other topics associated with successful bass fishing.

The ad also eluded that the school wouldn’t just be in Florida, but all over. How or would the new owners, NBA, honor this? I continued my search through The National Bassman magazines I have, that date from September/October 1978 and gave up with the last issue of The National Bassman, which was printed in July/August 1979. I those magazines the only reference I found that resembled anything like the class was an article in the 1978 September/October issue under Bass Tips where Westmorland penned an article on how to fish the Texas Rig – a topic he would have covered in his ABF school.

It’s crazy how things turn out here at the Bass Fishing Archives. Here I was looking for an interesting ad topic that would provide a look back at our past – and not take all night to write. In the end we have a piece, that took over five hours to research and write, that shows a time in our history where name-brand anglers were switching circuits, and circuits were falling by the wayside.

If you look at the tournament industry as a whole over the span of the last 20 years, including today, you’ll see not much has changed. Anglers are constantly jockeying towards the circuits that give them more on their bottom line and circuits continue to struggle or fail due to various reasons.

Yopp was pretty forward thinking when he said, “There are more tournaments than tournament fishermen and more magazines than advertisers.” If you take a hard look at today’s tours and the fact that only a handful of anglers are fishing both top circuits, it makes his point pretty poignant.


As an endnote to this piece we’ll be posting a series of articles with former National Bass Association president, owner and editor Dewey Yopp in the coming weeks. In those pieces we’ll uncover a lot of the questions that have been posed here and also hear firsthand about the NBA and its publication, The National Bassman.

  • andy williamson

    Billy quit fishing B.A.S.S. because he did not like the newly imposed 14 inch size limit.