BBM – Before Bassmaster Magazine

Cover Sports Afield Magazine May 1956.

Imagine life without bass-centric magazines, bass-centric websites or even your ability to peruse Facebook and YouTube for bass fishing information. Imagine the only place to glean information for bass fishing was your local liars club – i.e. the local Ma-and-Pa Tackle Shop – or a monthly periodical, such as Sports Afield, which may only have one piece related to bass fishing in an issue. Seems foreign, huh?

Well, that’s the way life was during the pre-Ray Scott age. There was no Bassmaster Magazine, no bass fishing websites and no YouTube to teach you the latest and greatest techniques on how to catch your favorite gamefish. All there was were three magazines – Sports Afield, Outdoor Life and Field and Stream – and they were dedicated to the outdoorsman in general.

Once a year, generally in the spring, all of the Big Three, would put together an issue dedicated to bass and the bass angler. There would be a section with maybe four or five articles on bass fishing and then the bass enthusiast would have to wait another year before that much information would be placed within the confines of a single issue.

The articles featured in the May 1956 Sports Afield Bass Edition.

What triggered this thought was my recent uncovering of a 1956 issue of Sports Afield magazine – the special Bass Issue. SA is the oldest outdoor publication in North America (possibly the world) first going to press in 1887 – that’s right folks, the 19th Century. By 1956 the magazine had endured the Great Depression and three owners to become the number-one outdoor magazine in print with over 800,000 subscribers.

For those of you who are true fishing history buffs, you’ll appreciate the laundry list of angler/writers who graced the pages of the early magazine. To name a few they were Zane Grey, Homer Circle, Grits Gresham, Stan Fagerstrom, Gordon MacQuarrie, and the legendary Jason Lucas – who was the fishing editor from 1946 until roughly 1969 and the first writer to embrace bass fishing over the then-popular trout. (To read a great story on Lucas, read Ken Duke’s piece published in 2009 on Bassmaster.com)

Jason Lucas battling a largemouth on a flyrod. Photo Sports Afield May 1956.

Anyway, in this issue of SA, bass anglers read articles by Lucas, Wolf, Dalrymple and Hall. Topics covered the spectrum from how to catch bass on a fly rod to the then 200-year bass fishing history. Amazingly, even though the titles seem a bit juvenile, the articles are packed with information the beginning bass angler would need to know, even today – which was the target audience of the time.

For those who wanted to learn more in-depth information about the sport, they could rely on Lucas filling that need with his features that were present in every other issue of SA or by sending him a letter with any question pertaining to the subject. The only problem with that was you may not like his short, sarcastic answer if he thought your question was stupid – and he thought that of many questions.

Anglers today need to feel lucky they’ve grown up in the age of information dissemination. Back in the days before Bassmaster, you either learned it on your own or obtained it at a woefully slow pace – one article per issue – via one of the Big Three.

  • Harold Sharp

    The first issue of BASSMASTER Magazine had this paragraph on page one by editor Ray Scott:

    “It is my plan that we lift Bass Fishing up to public par with golf, bowling and pocket billiards. It’s high time the public found out we exist.”

    Next thing Ray Scott did was hire Bob Cobb as editor of BASSMASTER MAGAZINE and Bob did exactly what Ray promised in his editorial on page one, issue one. Bob knew how to extract bass fishing information from our members and relay it to others on the pages of BASSMASTER MAGAZINE. It worked because Bob always told it like it is and the subject was always just Bass fishing.

    • A we all thank Ray and Bob for what they’ve done for the sport!