River smallmouth bass in the company of tournament fishing history


I’m enjoying the benefits that come from writing and promoting a book about fishing. I’ve learned many new things by interacting with other anglers and visiting new places; some I’ve written about on my Blog site. But what I enjoy most is meeting new friends and hearing their stories about past fishing experiences. I recently met an interesting gentleman at one of my book signings who has become a good friend. His name is Bob Barker, a pleasant, soft-spoken man with a fascinating background in the world of angling. Bob was the Federation/Conservation Director for the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society during much of its early years; the organization that introduced tournament fishing in this country on a grand scale. Ray Scott founded BASS in 1967 in Montgomery, Alabama with goals of creating a tournament trail and promoting and perpetuating recreational fishing as a pastime. Ray also directed the society in various conservationist efforts related to fishing and outdoor recreation, a true pioneer in our sport. Bob Barker worked at BASS, known today as Bassmasters, from 1975 until 1985 with the primary responsibility of recruiting bass clubs from across the country into the federation. As affiliates, each club sent representatives to fish in a series of tournaments that led to the Bassmasters Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing. After exchanging several e-mails, Bob and I set a date to go check the smallmouth bass fishing in a local river. Though I was eager to catch some bass, I was equally anxious to hear the stories my new angling partner would tell.

Bob Barker with one of several doubles we caught on a day spent fishing the Holston River in Tennessee.

Early that morning, we took a long drive up Tennessee’s Holston River in dense fog to a place I thought would hold some post-spawn smallmouths. It was a long, cold drive of the white-knuckle variety with frequent quick turns to miss exposed rock and shoals. Running a shallow river with a jet-drive outboard is always exciting, more so when you’re driving some else’s boat and can’t see shallow areas until you’re on top of them. When we arrived at our destination, after only two minor collisions, I felt like I’d just chugged three shots of Espresso. As we began casting, I regained my composer, my heart returned to a normal rhythm and I asked Bob how he became involved with BASS. He recounted his background as a pharmacist in Danville VA, Secretary then President of the Virginia Bass Federation, and an invitation by Ray Scott to join BASS. As the fog lifted and air warmed, I became relaxed and our conversation grew lighthearted as Bob recalled memories of past tournaments, behind-the-scenes high jinks and bass fishing legends Tom Mann, Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Rick Clunn and others. He was most complimentary of Hank Parker and Woo Daves, among my greatest fishing heroes, and held my attention with stories about Charlie Campbell’s expertise with a topwater lure and Ricky Green’s ability to find big bass.

As we talked we caught a few small bass on topwater lures, though we soon decided the fish weren’t yet active enough to hit them well. So I changed to a fluke-style soft plastic stickbait, Bob to a small shallow-running crankbait, and the search for strikes continued. I can’t recall the moment in angling history Bob was sharing when he was interrupted by a rod-bending smallmouth, but our conversation soon changed; especially so after he caught several more good bass along a short stretch of shoreline. After the fourth fish, I replaced my soft-plastic stickbait with a shallow-running Rebel Wee-Crawfish crankbait and the fish-catching part of our day took off at a much accelerated rate. Leave it to a member of bass fishing history’s fraternity to choose the right type bass lure at the right time. We soon learned many smallmouths had finished spawning and were on the move. Shoals and other classic river structure held few fish but many places along shore where the current slowed held bass. Most large fish were long and thin with tattered, bloody fins and tails, confirmation that their post-spawn period was underway. Our conversation soon became focused on the smallmouth’s incredible strength and tenacity. In less than an hour, I’d fully recovered from the drive upriver and we soon lost count of how many bass we’d caught.

As the morning passed and the sun burned through the clouds, the smallmouths became even more cooperative. I continued to try my little topwater lure as the day passed and caught several fish on it including my largest bass of the day. But the slow steady retrieve of a

Small crankbaits are good tools for catching post-spawn smallmouth bass in rivers.

small crankbait continued to be the best choice for numbers and produced many two-pound class fish. So for those of you who love river smallmouth bass fishing, it’s time to go. Depending on where you live in the southeast, smallmouth bass may be about to spawn, moving toward summer feeding areas, or somewhere in between because water temperatures have warmed enough the fish are shallow and active. Visit a river near you soon and enjoy these aggressive, hard-fighting game fish. Use lures that cover various depths and retrieve speeds until the fish confirm you’ve made the right choice. And from an authority I know, shallow-running crankbaits are a good choice where water depth and cover permit. I enjoyed my day on the water with Bob Barker. He’s good company, a fine angler and enjoys fishing as much as I do. It just goes to show, you can make a good day of fishing a great day of fishing by sharing it with a friend and exceptional days have a way of building lasting friendships. I’m sure Bob and I will fish together again soon. Those feisty smallmouth bass kept interrupting our conversation so I want to hear more about Bob, the history of tournament fishing and the angling heroes who’ve brought so much to our sport. However, the next time we’ll take my boat and fish where I can see to drive.

Posted on April 30, 2012, in Spring Fishing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I have just moved out the road from Bob and have fished with him only once but he is a very interesting man to know. I thoroughly enjoyed our day on the water together. He hadn’t been on the part of the river that I took him but he had been wanting to try new water so I obliged. We didn’t set the world on fire with the fish but I made a new friend and I hope we have many more trips together!

  2. Bob Barker is a good man and fine company. He’s also a good fisherman and loves to fish. I’m looking forward to spending more time on the water with him too.

  3. Bubba Martin

    What a great fish story! Sorry I couldn’t be there when it happened. I have had the pleasure of knowing Bob since about 1970 – that’s 42 years! We’ve had more fun than we have caught fish. The Bob you described above is the real Bob. Enjoy your time with him and tell him that Bubba said “Hi.”

    • Thank you very much Bubba for your kind compliment. I’d be honored to pass on your regards to Bob. We had a super day of fishing on the Holston River and I’m sure we’ll be sharing time on the water again soon.

  4. Very nice to meet you yesterday Keith,
    I have enjoyed reading through your many stories and water adventures. I hope the pictures of those impressive hybrids turn out well. After you left yesterday I tried the larger lure and after a 15 minute battle on my 8 lb test line I pulled in a 10 lb fish myself. As an old doc friend of mine used to say I really needed to “build my titers” back up. Nothing recharges my batteries again like a 15 minute battle with large fish. Look forward to reading more stories and tips on your blog.
    Tim Jenkins

    • That’s great Tim and congratulations on that big hybrid; a ten-pounder is a real trophy in my book. I’ll be posting a new blog soon on hybrids, one of my favorite fish. I’ll e-mail one of the pics you took and then you’ll have my e-mail address. Contact me anytime if I can help you further. Hope to see you on the water again and thank you for your comments.

  5. Hi! I just read your story and loved it. We actually have a fishing cabin on 11acres on the Holston River. Wondered where on the Holston River were you on? Thanks for all the tips,that’s about the size we are catching here. Thanks,
    Emily and Eric
    Blaine,TN

    • Hi Emily and Eric! I fish the Holston River below Kingsport from the Christian’s Bend ramp most. From there, I can fish up or downstream for miles in my jet-drive G3 boat. The day Bob Barker and I fished, we ran up the river and fished our way back. If you have a place on the Holston, you’re camped on many miles of fine year-round river fishing. I’ll be posting a new blog on summer river smallmouth bass fishing soon. I fished the Holston again this week and boated some fine bass up to nineteen inches. Sign up to follow my blog or check back often for more fishing tips and photos from the Holston. And if you have some photos you’d like to share, visit me on Facebook at Weekend Angler and post them there for all of us to enjoy. Be safe and great fishing! Hope to meet you some time on the river.

  6. Really enjoyed your post. I fished the Holston for the first time last fall and had a wonderfull time catching small mouth on small Zara Spooks.

    • Fishing for smallmouth bass in rivers with topwater lures is one of my favorite ways to catch fish. And spooks are great multi-species topwater lures. Glad you enjoyed your visit to the Holston River. If you haven’t seen them there are other stories about river smallmouth fishing and the Holston River during summer and winter in the blog archives. Also, there’s an extensive feature story in my book in the chapter on summer fishing with much more info on the Holston River. Hope to see you on the water some time. Best of luck!

  7. Had the pleasure of working with Bob Barker as Mama BASS during the 1970′s. I was his chapter secretary, then federation director. He was a fine fisherman and excellent mentor then. Hope all is well with you Mr. B and my all bassin’ buddies from BASS clubs around the world. It seems like another lifetime ago.

    • Thank you very much Ann for visiting my Blog and taking time to comment. It reminded me I hadn’t touched base with Bob recently. And thank you for all your hard work and contributions to our sport with BASS. I hope you visit and comment again some time.

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