Yesterday we posted a piece on the National Bass Association (NBA) and its rise and fall from the professional bass circuits. For that piece we used an old interview with NBA president Dewey Yopp to help us understand better how NBA got its start and what led to its demise. In that article we also touched on the American Bass Fisherman (ABF) tournament organization and its magazine of the same name. Today in American Bass Fisherman’s Last Hoorah, we’ll look at ABF’s last publication and see if there is any inkling that they were going under.
The last issue of American Bass Fisherman was published for the July/August 1978 release time. The magazine was 78 pages in length, not including the covers, and was filled with typical pieces you would have found in any of their other issues. The Masthead featured the contents, letters to the editor, as well as the list of the front office.
There was no mention who the president was or if they even had one at this stage. The last mention of a president was in the March/April 1977 issue and the president was listed as Wayne Dyer. I don’t have the May/June, July/August, or September/October 1977 issues so who knows how long Dyer was listed as the president.
Don Williams was acting as Executive Vice President. Bill Chestnut was the Editor, Tony McMichael was Art & Advertising and Sarah Carper, Rhonda Hearn and Judy Martin filled the roles of Editorial Assistant, Tournament Secretary, and Circulation respectively.
Some of the writers involved in this issue were none other than Nick Sisley, Larry Mayer, Maxx Hunn, all of which were star writers of the day.
The next page in the Editorial, Bill Chestnut talks about a new educational forum they were moving into with pro angler Billy Westmorland. Turning to page 32 there’s a full-page ad on the joint venture. There are no dates or schedule for these schools only telling the interested reader to write into the ABF main office for more information.
The fact that Billy Westmorland was now in bed with ABF may seem a little odd, but if you’ve been following the Season at a Glance series here, you may have an understanding why. Westmorland wasn’t happy with Ray Scott’s new implementation of a 14-inch minimum for all bass weighed in the Bassmaster events. Westmorland was quoted as saying, “We’re programmed to fish for smaller fish and catch numbers. Usually, you don’t catch many tournament bass in the 14-inch class except for an occasional lunker. Now it’s going to be a new ball game.”
Looking at Westmorland’s standing on the BASS Masters trail for that year, in the first three events of the year he’d only weighed in 18-06 total, putting him well out of contention for the 1978 Classic. On the other hand, Westmorland was leading the AOY race in ABF’s circuit by 30 points thanks to a 2nd place at Okeechobee, 22nd at Seminole, and 4th place at Murray.
But the big question is, why would an angler of the stature of Westmorland go into business with a company that was going out of business. The only answer I have for that is Westmorland had no clue of the precarious position ABF was in at the time.
Back on the editorial page, ABF was touting their upcoming World Championship, which was scheduled for November 15-17 on Lake Okeechobee. This “Championship” if you can really call it that, was open to anyone that could come up with the $260 entry fee with the limit set at 400 anglers.
The next 20 or so pages are filled with ads, many of which were full page, by the leading industry moguls of the time as well as feature articles. Then on page 28 ABF was advertising their Lake Norman event. The event was slated for July 12-14 with official practice July 9-11. Maybe it was a miss by the editorial staff, but I would think that they wouldn’t have wasted the page with an advertisement for an event which would be held when the magazine was distributed.
Page 33-35 provided the Lake Murray tournament report and the top 50 anglers for the event. In the top 50 were names such as Ron Shearer (2nd place), Billy Westmorland (4th place), Guy Eaker (7th place), Hank Parker (8th place), Corbin Dyer (9th place), Paul Elias (18th place), Dave Gliebe (21st place), Larry Hill (22th place), and others.
On the next page ABF listed their Grand Prix Top 25, or the standings for the AOY who would qualify for their Grand Prix event, their BASS Masters Classic. In that list were Westmorland (1st), Dave Gliebe (3rd), Jerry Rhyne (4th), Hank Parker (5th), Roland Martin (9th), Ron Shearer (10th), Guy Eaker (16th), Paul Elias (17th), and Shorty Evans (24th).
On pages 40-42 and page 44, ABF was flashing their 1978 Golden Grand Prix and Po’ man’s Bass Rig boats for sale. These boats, both on ProCraft platforms, would be used for the 1978 Grand Prix event. Then on page 52 we see another ad for the ABF $50,000 Masters event on Lake Okeechobee, September 2-3. The entry fee for the event was set at $250 with a 200-angler field.
Pages 58 and 59 feature a two-page spread introducing the $100,000 World Championship mentioned earlier. First place was $12,000 which was a little lighter than a typical BASS Masters event, but they spread the money deeper, with an assumed 400-angler field.
The remainder of the magazine gave no idea the organization would be going under with future tournaments still being pushed and their Grand Prix and World Championship still scheduled. What would happen in the next 30 days or so would have upended the tournament industry at the time I expect.
How much money in entry fees had been collected by ABF for the next four events. How much had been collected by anglers joining the organization. How many boats, motors and trailers did they own that were for sale? What other assets did they own.
In talking with Dewey Yopp of National Bass Association, he said, “We did an inventory and he sold me the remains of the company, which consisted of three rigged boats with Johnson motors.
“Come to find out, they hadn’t even been paid for, so shortly after that, I was being asked by the dealers to pay for something I’d already paid Williams for. I wouldn’t pay them and could have probably gotten out of my contract with ABF, but I didn’t do that either.”
Moving on to the September/October issue of The National Bassman, you see right from the cover that American Bass Fisherman had been bought by Yopp’s National Bass Association.
I turned to the Editorial by Dewey Yopp and the headline was, “NBA Purchases ABF on August 22nd.”
In his editorial Yopp states: “….the marketplace for national bass fishing organizations can support only two large scale operations. For the past two years there have been three organizations competing for the space only one could economically occupy and now American Capitalism has narrowed the field to one.” [Note: Yopp’s verbiage was a bit confusing where he stated, “has narrowed the field to one.” It’s obvious he meant “one” competing organization. It was also obvious that he was referring to B.A.S.S. as the third tournament organization]
Yopp then goes on to talk about how he came to this conclusion and how it will be better not only for the industry but also the angler. He said, “there are more tournaments than tournament fishermen and more magazines than advertisers can support.”
My question at this point was, what about the Grand Prix, and the World Championship events. Would Yopp and NBA honor those events or would they be forgotten. What about the Westmorland Bass Fishing School?
Let’s look back on the Billy Westmorland ad that we mentioned earlier in the article.
Again, the ad stated that ABF would be hosting the Billy Westmorland Fishing School – no date confirmed. Anglers of all shapes and sizes would learn basic knots, how to fish a plastic worm, spinnerbait fishing, buzzbaits, crankbaits and other topics associated with successful bass fishing.
The ad also alluded that the school wouldn’t just be in Florida, but all over. How or would the new owners, NBA, honor this? I continued my search through The National Bassman magazines I have, that date from September/October 1978 and gave up with the last issue of The National Bassman, which was printed in July/August 1979. In those magazines the only reference I found that resembled anything like the class was an article in the September/October 1978 issue under Bass Tips where Westmorland penned an article on how to fish the Texas Rig – a topic he would have covered in his ABF school.
What I found in the November/December 1978 issue of The National Bassman really blew my mind. In Yopp’s editorial, From Dewey’s Desk, he stated that NBA was honoring not just the ABF Grand Prix, but the ABF World Championship, the Professional Bass Association’s Supercasters Championship, and the NBA Gold Medalist Championship all within four weeks of each other. This had trainwreck written all over it.
At this point I’m too invested in the research to stop. I picked up the January/February 1979 issue of The National Bassman to find out what happened. Low-and-behold, I found tournament reports for the ABF Grand Prix and World Championship as well as a tournament report for the PBA Supercaster. What surprised me was there was no mention of the NBA Gold Medalist, which was NBA’s BASS Masters Classic. I then checked the rest of my The National Bassman magazines and still didn’t come up with anything.
I highly doubt that Yopp wouldn’t hold the cornerstone event for his own organization. I’ll have to do some more research to find out what happened there.
If you look at the tournament industry over the span of the last 20 years, including today, you’ll see not much has changed. Organizations continue to be bought and sold, anglers are constantly jockeying towards the circuits that give them more on their bottom line and circuits continue to struggle or fail due to various reasons.
Yopp’s statement, “There are more tournaments than tournament fishermen and more magazines than advertisers,” still holds true in some respects.
With respect to the number of tournament organizations, there are only two mainstream organizations, and both are difficult to get into the top tier. Both organizations fill their lower-tier events and have wait lists sometimes in the 100s. The NPFL has given some of the anglers another venue to practice their craft but if they want to make it to the big leagues, they must suck it up and fish the lower tiers of either Bassmaster or MLF.
What’s different about today’s industry has to do with bass fishing media. Social media and the internet have diluted the industry so much so that even if you’re a top angler, you may not be worth much. Yopp’s mention of more magazines than advertisers rings truer than ever here. A top pro now needs to have an internet presence or perish. Never mind the magazines, which are going extinct, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook are the new magazines.
The problem here is anyone can draw attention to themselves on the internet and a lot of the time it doesn’t matter what caliber an angler you are, if you have subs or followers, that means dollars. In fact, some of the biggest “influencers” on the interwebs are not even tournament anglers.
This story isn’t done by any means. After all this, I’ve dug up some other fascinating bits of history having to do with the American Bass Fisherman and specifically George Oates. That’ll be tomorrow’s story. Until then, enjoy American Bass Fisherman’s final issue below in the gallery.