The U.S. Open 1981: An Event that Changed Bass Fishing – Part Three

Photo Western Bass Magazine Nov/Dec 1981.

This is part three of a three-part article on the first U.S. Open staged out of Lake Mead, NV in 1981. It was my pleasure to interview the inaugural U.S. Open winner Greg Hines about the event and the strategy he and Don Doty developed to take first and second place. To read part-one click here and to read part-two click here.

At the time there was no single tournament that offered a payout anywhere close to the Open. A typical payout for the time was $10,000 for first place with the purse dropping severely after that. At the Open, an angler could make a year’s wage or more by winning and more than double a typical winner’s purse by placing in second.

Because of this, Hines and Doty teamed up and put together a three-pronged strategy to take advantage of the big dollars.

Pre-Practice – Cover Water

“Our prefish started months before the tournament,” Hines said. “From about four months out, I’d go to the lake whenever we weren’t fishing another tournament and he’d come over and join me on the weekends.

“I was on Don’s payroll. He was paying me to practice. There was a lot at stake, more than any other tournament in history, and we knew that if we put the time in, we’d both do well. That was part of our strategy.

“About two months out, I moved to Temple Bar and rented a place. This allowed me to fish all week long with Don coming up whenever he could. We covered the entire lake in order to figure out where the bigger fish were.

By the beginning of official practice, Don and I had areas all over the lake,” he said. “We each had our own areas to fish and each of us had a solid chance of winning. There were never any secrets between the two of us. We knew that in order for us to accomplish what we wanted to do, there had to be complete honesty.

“We each had areas that held numbers of fish and areas that held single fish. The strategy was to always have something to fall back on. It helped me on the last day of the event when the topwater bite died for me. I knew of a place I could go catch a small limit of fish. By that time I knew if I had a small limit, the next angler to me would have to catch a 17- or 18-pound sack to beat me. I went and caught a small limit in a few minutes and at that point I knew I’d won.

Most tournaments you don’t have that luxury but since we’d put so much time into it, that’s the way it worked out. We both felt very confident going into the tournament because of that.

Find the Fish – The Zara Spook

At the time, topwater fishing in the west was mostly thought of as a morning and evening bite. Not only that, the Zara Spook wasn’t one of the top baits of its genre – most people opting for a Pop-R or Devil’s Horse.

Those general thoughts about the Spook suited Greg Hines well, though. He’d recently returned from an event at Bull Shoals in Arkansas where he’d discovered the utility of the lure.

“Back at Bull Shoals I’d discovered that I could throw the bait in open water and draw fish out of the depths,” he said. “This gave me a whole new way to approach using the bait. It wasn’t just a bait that you could catch fish on, it could be used to find fish during practice without wasting a bunch of time with other slower moving lures.

“I also discovered back there that the bait would work during the day, not just in the morning. In fact my best fish came during the middle of the day.”

That information would prove vital to how Hines and Doty would use the lure in their extensive practice period prior to the Open.

“Normally you don’t want to fish a topwater bait in a tournament because you lose so many fish,” he said. “But with the clear water we could make long casts and determine where the better fish were located in practice. They weren’t afraid to come up to the lure.

“Once we got it figured out it was a matter of finding the bigger fish and the bait. That was a big factor in that tournament – finding the big 4- to 5-inch shad.”

“Because of this, we had good fish located all over the lake and it was just a matter of going to them in the tournament.

Official Practice – Find the Anglers

Their strategy continued right up through the official practice period.

“By the time official practice had started, Don and I knew exactly what we were going to do,” Hines said. “We had our areas scoped out and now it was time to see where the other anglers were fishing and if they’d be crowding our water. If we went into one of our areas and we saw a ton of boats, we knew that area wouldn’t produce as well. The fish at Mead are that way because of the clear water – a lot of boat traffic will spook them.

“We went over the entire lake during that time and figured out where we’d fish and also how we’d break up the water. We knew that if we were sharing water it’d hurt both of us. Never during the tournament did we get in each other’s way. That’s why we did so well.

Obviously the strategy paid off with Hines finishing in first place and Doty in second.

$70,000 Payoff Was Only the Beginning

The result of all that hard work and strategy paid off in a handsome way. Although the money was good, it gave Hines something else that was more valuable to him.

“Winning allowed me to make the decision to become a professional angler,” he said. “But it also gave me something no one else at the time had out west and that was credibility. It was the first time that anglers from the east met with anglers from the west on equal footing – and we beat them.

“Before that the top anglers didn’t think much of us at all. They didn’t even think we had bass out west much less than whether or not we could compete with them. After the Open, though, anglers like Roland [Martin] and Jimmy [Houston] would actually tell sponsors that we were good fishermen.

“The Open changed the whole world of fishing for us out west. After that we were able to get more sponsorships and that helped us in becoming professional anglers. Prior to that time western anglers might get a memo boat and a couple hundred dollars if they won an event from a company. None of us knew the potential and the Open finally opened up te door for us. We learned how to negotiate contracts, do seminars and work the industry. It was fun being a part of that.”

Hines spent most of the 80s and early 90s fishing the B.A.S.S. Trail and the expanding Western Bass/U.S. Bass circuits until it went under. In his career he fished 83 Bass Master events and made checks in 39 of them. He also fished three Classics, the latest being the 1998 Classic on High Rock Lake.

Today he finds himself fishing more saltwater than anything but still dabbles in bass tournaments. Earlier this year he fished three events at Lake Roosevelt in Arizona where he won one and placed in the other two.

Greg Hines was one of the key anglers the west has produced and an angler that helped pave the way for people like Skeet Reese, Aaron Martens, Ish Monroe and John Murray.