Any time I take a look back at Las Vegas, Lake Mead and the earlier days of professional bass fishing it brings a mixture of memories – some good and some sad.
I expect many bass anglers will relate both Vegas and Lake Mead to the first Bassmasters Classic in 1971. I was there for that original Classic but my experience with both the city and the lake began well before that event took place. It’s also where some of that sadness I mentioned creeps into my memory.
I touched on some of that in my previous column. I told how I got my first look at Las Vegas in 1952. The beautiful Flamingo was then the only major hotel on what was to become the fabled Las Vegas Strip that we know today.
I got my first real look at the Flamingo and then Lake Mead shortly after I met Abe Schiller, the guy who lined up the entertainment for the hotel and did a great job of publicizing the entire city all over the world. I’d been told in advance by some of the officials of the old Garcia Corporation that Schiller was as big a bass fishing nut as yours truly. They were so right.
I don’t think I’d talked to Abe for an hour before he asked me how I’d like to come down to stay at the Flamingo and sample the bass and crappie fishing at Lake Mead. I’d made arrangements to do both before I left town.
Dedicated bassin’ men might not have heard of Abe Schiller but they sure as heck will remember Jason Lucas, the early day fishing editor for Sports Afield magazine. Lucas is generally recognized as one of the fathers of bass fishing as we know it today.
I mention Lucas because, like Abe Schiller, he was another bass fishing specialist who had discovered Lake Mead. And also like Abe he was a guy who was to eventually become a very good friend.
That first time I got to fish Lake Mead with “Mister Las Vegas”, Abe Schiller’s nickname name at the time, was something else. We did our bass and crappie fishing, you see, out of what they called the Flamingo Cruiser.
That beautiful big boat was some 30-feet in length. It was equipped with all the accessories you’d expect to find in a boat that was to carry some of the top names in the entertainment world. The stage performers were often taken on scenic cruises on the lake when they wanted to get away from their work at the Flamingo Hotel for a bit.
Perhaps you, like me, figured going in that trying to fish out of a rig that size would scare more fish than it would let anybody catch. Guess again! I kept track of the total bass Abe and I caught in the first few hours we spent together on Mead.
We wound up with 35 bass. Most of them ran from around 2-pounds or more. We didn’t have anything over 5-pounds. I also played around with the crappie briefly and it was no problem to catch some dandies.
At that time Lake Mead was still in the process of peaking in its production of both bass and panfish. That was why the lake had also drawn the close attention of Jason Lucas.
Lucas, accompanied by his wife, hauled a small house trailer around the country as he developed his stories. Come winter time they’d find one of the country’s better bass fishing spots to spend the winter.
That’s why Jason set his trailer up at Boulder City, Nevada. This gave him easy access to Lake Mead. I could show you a whole stack of letters he sent me from Boulder City. Terry Battisti, the guy who developed this website will testify that I’m telling it like it is because I’ve shared most of those letters with him.
Usually I was the only one fishing Mead with Abe, but not always. Sometimes another of Abe’s guests was with us. One turned out to be a good guy who was even better with his golf clubs than he was with his fishing rods.
Ever heard of Julius Boros? Old timers who know their professional golf history sure as heck will. Boros had just won a PGA tournament in Las Vegas the day before we both fished Mead with Abe. A week later Julius was down in Texas where he won an event called the Houston Open.
Boros was a good guy and fun to be with. I wasn’t a golfer but some of the reading I did at the time revealed that the experts were saying Boros had the “Sweetest Swing” of any of the pros. If you want to do a little checking you’ll find among other things that he won the Masters Tournament in 1963 and the U.S. Opens in1952 and 1963.
Julius and I both really enjoyed our Lake Mead fishing. It was a bonus of sorts once when another big boat loaded with the curvy gals who made up the June Taylor Dancers eased up close. These dancers at the time were performing at the Flamingo.
They were out on Mead to absorb a little sunshine and work on their suntans. You can’t do that, of course, if you’re wearing any more clothes than are absolutely a necessity. It was a tad difficult for Boros and me to give undivided to our bass fishing when that shapely crew went by waving and hollering “Hello, Mister Schiller.”
I could devote the next six columns here to more of the experiences my friendship with Abe Schiller brought about. Like I said in my previous column, some of it still seems like I was living a dream.
Abe passed away not too long after that first Classic. There has been a heap of changes in both Las Vegas and Lake Mead since those early days I’ve told about. It’s also where that sadness I mentioned creeps into the picture. I couldn’t wait to get there in the middle of the last century. Today I don’t give a toot if I never get back to either one.
But one thing I know for sure: I’ll never be able to look back on my early days of bass fishing and writing about it without remembering Abe Schiller, Lake Mead and the wondrous Flamingo Hotel of the early 1950s. My wife and I both loved the man, the time, and the places he opened up for us.
We always will.