Editor’s Note: This series is dedicated to those people who penned the many articles we read in order to learn more about our sport and become better anglers. Sure it was the anglers who developed the techniques, lures and equipment we use today but it was the writers’ job to make sure these bits of information got to the masses. Without the writers to communicate this, the world of bass fishing would be very different today.
To kick off this series I turned to one of the most prolific writers in the history of the sport – Bill Rice. Although Bill may not be a household name to many of you east of the Continental Divide, talk to any bass angler in the west about Bill Rice and they’ll say, “He was there from the beginning.” In fact, Bill joined B.A.S.S. in 1968 and is one of the original 2500 Charter members.
After spending nearly 40 years in the industry, Rice retired in 2003 and now spends his time chasing fish all over the world.
This is a story of his lifelong contributions to the sport of bass fishing and his history.
The Early Years
Bill took his first writing job in 1964, shortly after graduating from California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, at Western Outdoor News (WON) a weekly paper still in circulation today. At the time he didn’t know much about fishing and WON was mostly geared towards trout and saltwater anglers. But he had fished for salmon and steelhead on the Klamath River and went on several saltwater trips. He became the Editor of WON and produced the freshwater fishing reports from the lakes in Southern California.
“Shortly after I started at WON I met Lee Schlimmer,” Rice said. “He was one of the first bass anglers in the west and also had the first Ranger bass boat in the west. He wanted to write bass reports for the lakes but he wasn’t a writer. He’d go to a different lake every week and give me a report which I would re-write and run it under his by-line. We ended up fishing a lot together all over southern California and my writing began to concentrate on bass fishing.
“Then in 1968 Ray Scott sent me a message about this new organization he was putting together called B.A.S.S. I joined and became one of the original members.
“I started promoting B.A.S.S. in WON and that really cemented them in the west,” he said. “It also started the formation of bass clubs in the area. A couple of years later, Scott sent me a ticket to Montgomery, Alabama, along with dozens of other bass anglers around the country . The idea was to set up a BASS Federation of bass clubs. There were three of us from California and that’s when most California clubs joined up with us to start the California delegation.
“Then in 1970, Ray called me about a seminar series they were running throughout the country and I set up the first seminars in California for him. We started in San Diego at the Pisces club and ended up the last night at the Saddleback club in Santa Ana.
“Prior to the last seminar, I took Ray with me to the printers to check on the week’s printing and on the way there he began having stomach pains. I took him to the hospital and it turned out he had gall bladder problems. He wouldn’t stay in the hospital due to the schedule – they were to leave for Chicago (by bus) the next day.”
Scott wasn’t in the west just to promote his seminar series, though.
“Unknown to me at the time, on the way to Chicago, they all stopped in Las Vegas,” he said. “It was there that Ray had set up a meeting with the Las Vegas tourism department to talk about hosting the first Bass Master Classic.
“A couple months later Ray called me to talk about the Classic and I said to him, ‘We’re going to Las Vegas aren’t we?’ It was a guess by me and he denied it of course. I bugged him about it for months and each time he’d deny it.
“So, October of 1971 rolls around, Ray still hasn’t said where the Classic was going to be held and he flies me out to Atlanta. I finally figured it wouldn’t be at Mead. There were writers from all over the U.S. – Homer Circle, Stan Fagerstrom, writers from every major newspaper in the south. It was really exciting.
“Then, before Roland [Martin] and I got on the plane, Ray pulled us aside and told us there’d be a couple of people on the plane that we’d know and not to say a word. As I entered the plane, I noticed the Las Vegas tourism director – we were going to Mead. Ray flew me out East only to fly me back west, all to keep a secret.
“Another cool thing was Ray allowed the writers to fish with the anglers in the tournament,” he said. “I fished with Dwight Keefer and Joe Kennedy at that first Classic. At the second Classic, I pre-fished with Don Butler and fished the tournament with Bobby Murray.
Rice has had the opportunity to fish with the best of the best when it comes to bass fishing but one angler still sticks out in his mind more than the rest.
“Bill Dance is probably the best angler I ever fished with,” he said. “Bill would come out every year for seminars and when he did, we’d go fish all the southern Cal lakes.
“On one trip, my close friend Gordon Holland and Ron Gentzen from Lowrance came out and we took Bill to Lake El Capitan. We were fishing on a closed day and were the only two boats on the lake. We drove into Lakeside for lunch Dance said to Gordon, ‘I bet you I can catch a fish in the first 10 casts when we get back on the water.’ Gordon took the bet.
“We got back out on the water, went out to Wade’s Point and Dance said, ‘This is the spot.’
“He started in 40 feet of water vertically fishing a jig and caught 6 fish in his first 10 casts. We had Lowrance finders with us, and he was watching the fish. A few minutes later Dance followed the fish up the point from 40 feet to 30 feet, then 20 feet catching fish the whole time. We ended up following them all the way to the surface and caught them on surface plugs. He was just amazing at finding and staying on fish.
Changes Over the Years
“Obviously there’s been a lot of changes in the sport over the years,” Rice said. “For example, the anglers are different. Back in the day, we’d have a meeting the night before the tournament and then it was party time. The guys would stay in the bar until 2:00 AM, stumble back to their trucks and get up at 5:00 AM for launch. It isn’t like that anymore – people are too serious – even in small tournaments.
“The biggest changes have been due to techniques, equipment and tackle. There are all sort of new techniques and the tackle is so much better.
“The depth finder is what really changed the face of the sport, though,” he said. “I remember in 1967 at the AFTMA show in Long Beach when Lowrance came out with the Green Box. Gordon Holland and I went over to the booth to see if we could hustle a free one and ended up taking them out of Davey’s Locker (a saltwater sportfishing dock), where Holland was the PR man. They showed us how the units worked and when they got back to Oklahoma, they sent us a couple of units. A couple of months later, they recruited Holland and he became the PR man for Lowrance Electronics.
“A few months later I fished with Carl [Lowrance] at Irvine and he was showing me how to use the unit as we were crossing Santiago Flats and the thing lit up. We sat there and caught the heck out of the fish in the middle of nowhere. We stopped over a school of bass and jigged straight down about 25 feet and caught bass like made for nearly an hour. It was revolutionary – now we could find out how deep it was without the use of an anchor and where the structure was. Today the guys have GPS and all that other stuff.
“The anglers have gotten better over time too,” he said. “Back when we started there were only a few guys that were good fishermen. Nowadays we have a lot of great anglers. This is due to the new gear and information available.
It was a lot of fun covering the sport over the years. It’s been a great ride. I got to fish two BASSmasters Classic as a press observer. Over the years I have fished with many national and western tournament anglers, including Roland Martin, Aaron Martens, Dee Thomas, Don Iovino, Mike Folkestad, Gary Klein, Rich Tauber, Art Price, Bobby Garland, Larry Hopper, Jack O’Malley, Fred Kunkle, Dean Rojas, Mike Long and many, many more.
Bill’s largest bass caught in California was 12.2 pounds at Lower Otay Lake in 1971. He has also caught 10 to 11 pounders at Lake Jennings, Lake Poway, Mission Viejo Lake, Lake Hodges and San Vicente. He has also caught more than a dozen 10+ fish in Mexico at El Salto, Aguamilpa, Baccarac, Obregon, Huites and Dominguez. His largest overall bass was a 13.3 pounder at El Salto.
Over the course of his Career, Bill Rice wrote and was editor for Western Outdoor News, Western Bass Fishing Association and WON Bass. He has written articles for Bassmaster Magazine and run tournaments in the west for the three organizations mentioned above.