By Ronnie McDonald
Publisher & Editor
In 1972 I found myself assigned to Ft. Rucker, AL fresh from a stint in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. It was there at Ft. Rucker that I was introduced to bass fishing, bass clubs and club bass tournaments.
Prior to 1972 I had done a little cat fishing and that was it. So being ignorant about bass fishing was an understatement. Fate introduced me to bass fishing late one evening at Ft. Rucker’s Lake Tholocco. I was drawn into the tackle shop located by the lake and began looking at all the mysterious lures that adorned the walls and aisles. A sign in the store caught my attention. The sign was promoting membership in the Ft. Rucker Bass Club. I joined soon afterward.
My story here may seem a little tame to this point. But, hold on, things are gonna change.
I had to buy a rod and reel to fish in the club since I had neither a rod or reel. I may have mentioned how ignorant I was about fishing in general. Using that lack of knowledge, I selected a 7 1/2 spinning crappie rod (very limber) and a Mitchell 300 reel. I was now set except for needing some lures. One hard plastic lure that caught my attention was the Big O crankbait which was actually the first square bill type crankbait. My color of choice was a pink and yellow Big O. I may have mentioned how ignorant I was about fishing in general. Several Mann’s Jelly Worms rounded out my arsenal of lures in my little green tackle box.
One hard plastic lure that caught my attention was the Big O crankbait…
The first club bass tournament I fished was on Lake Eufaula located on the Alabama-Georgia line. I was fishing as a no-boater since I didn’t have a boat. That was a fairly simple deduction. I did not have the foggiest idea of what I was doing with those lures, or where I was supposed to be doing it. Turns out, this was a dumb and dumber pairing.
The beautiful pick and yellow Big O got the nod as my lure selection. I was slinging that Big O out somewhere and I’d just start cranking. I think I may have been using 20-pound test line. Those other line sizes just did not seem strong enough to me. That long crappie rod was just about bent double while the Big O was being cranked in. The guy I was fishing with thought I had a fish on after every cast (turns out he was just about as bright as I was regarding fishing). I was brand new to this stuff so I figured if this experienced bass fisherman thought I had a fish on then it must have been true! So, I just kept telling him that the fish just kept getting off. That was my only explanation since the lure came back empty every time. What did I know.
Turns out, this was a dumb and dumber pairing.
That poor guy didn’t make a dozen casts that day. He kept sharpening the hooks on my Big O and digging thru every compartment in his tackle box and boat trying to find a Big O like the one I was fishing. Turned out, in my ignorance. I had bought one of the worse Big O bait colors on the market and nobody else with any sense had bought one. Hey, this guy thought I was hooking a bass on just about every cast.
I remember he kept saying over and over, “I just don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it!” I was in full agreement with him cause I ain’t seen a bass yet-just that big pink and yellow Big O poppin’’ outa the water every cast.
I may have mentioned how ignorant I was about fishing in general.
You won’t believe it, but I cast that crankbait over a log. Nobody ever mentioned at the club meeting anything about crankbait hooks and logs. And I was having so much luck “getting bass on” that my partner wasn’t about to say anything about it. Turns out, the hooks on my Big O were so short from being sharpened it just skipped right over that log and WHAM, a monster 2 pound bass nailed the pink and yellow crankbait! Well two pounds was huge to me since that was the first bass I had ever seen anyway.
Well, that was the only fish caught that day and my first tournament bass. I never did get to fish with that guy again. Every time he got paired with me he suddenly remembered he could not fish that tournament.
About this time, after getting a few tournaments under my belt, I made a trip to Montgomery to meet the B.A.S.S. publications editor Bob Cobb. As a result, I began creating a cartoon for Bassmaster Magazine called, “Billy Bass & Charlie Carp.” I was asked once how I came up with the ideas for the cartoon. I answered, “Did I ever tell you about my first bass tournament?”
P.S…. I still have that rod and reel.