I was going through the Spring 1977 issue of Western Bass magazine a couple of weeks ago and this article penned by Ben Burnett caught my eye. What initially got me interested was the picture of Dee Thomas and Terry Boats rep J.C. Dillard. Reading further, it was actually Dillard handing Dee the trophy and turning over the keys to his newly-won Terry ABF 15 bass boat from the Western Bass Fishing Association’s (WBFA) Tournament of Champions. The title of the piece, “Ridin’ With The Champions,” gave me more reason to read on.
As I read, it became apparent that Burnett had been invited as a guest writer/observer to the event. Not only that, WBFA director Harvey Naslund had placed him with two of the best anglers of the time, Dee Thomas and Pete Gardner. Between the two anglers, they’d won the 1974 and ’75 TOCs – Thomas winning in ’74 and Gardner in ’75. The ’76 event Thomas would take his second win in the coveted western event.
Burnett, who I gather from reading, was a newcomer to the sport of bass fishing. It’s obvious, though, he was a decent reporter. The style he chose for the article is one used fairly often these days – that of a minute-by-minute account of the action he witnessed while sharing the boat with the anglers. The article shows two clearly different approaches to angling – but looking back on it today, it reveals much more than that. The history in this article is amazing.
I won’t spoil it for you but suffice it to say that Dee Thomas was the man. Remember folks, this was 1976 when this happened. Bass boats were fully available in the west, yet the champion didn’t seem to care about that. I’ll add some more comments in the captions or between the pages to make some sense of what was printed.
Page One Notes: (1) The Supersport worm mentioned by Burnett was actually a Sportsman’s Super Floater. Western anglers used to cut the 4-inch and 6-inch worms from the egg sack to the tail and then weld a piece of worm in the “crotch” to keep the legs apart for a twin tail trailer. (2) The “Mattie” written about was more than likely a jighead poured by Gardner from a mold made by close friend Larry McCain who has been written about here before. The Mattie was essentially a skirted jighead with a spinner tailing off the end of the skirt. It was used for fishing ledges and points as a fall bait.
Burnett mentioned on page 2 that Thomas weighed in 20 pounds fishing out of his aluminum boat. This boat was no aluminum bass boat – it was a 12-foot Gregor aluminum boat powered by a 20-horse motor. He fished a lot of events out of an aluminum boat – in fact all of the events he fished from 1973/4 through roughly 1977 were out of this aluminum boat. This was prior to Thomas getting a sponsorship from Ranger Boats. Also of note, Burnett said it took them 45 minutes to reach their first spot. That would take the normal angler at the time about 12 minutes – assuming you didn’t hit a sandbar.
The shot of Thomas sitting on a board flipping really makes me smile. While the others in the field are sporting the state-of-the-art in fishing boats, Thomas is kicking their butts, while his butt rides the pine.
Burnett talks about the ride back to the ramp and the water being “as wild as a stormy ocean.” I’ve experienced Havasu when the wind comes up and even in a 20-foot boat it can be scary. I’d hate to have done it in a 12-foot skiff.
The list of 1976 TOC anglers is a list that can’t be described when it comes to western bass fishing. All of the anglers here were the top anglers on the circuits in the west. Names recognized on a national level are 19 year old Gary Klein, Fred Ward, Bobby Garland, Larry Hopper, Mike Folkestad and Dave Gliebe. The others, well let’s just say they were all sticks at the time and many are still to this day.