There’s never a good way to start a piece like this. One way is to write in the typical antiseptic manner of an obituary stating facts from the person’s life, what they’d accomplished in life, and who they left behind? I can’t do that here in remembrance of Dee Thomas.
The news of Thomas’ passing arrived early this morning (19 July 2022) as I was making my way south to ICAST from Tennessee. It was news that was a long time coming but still, it’s never welcome when it eventually does. As I drove, images of Dee Thomas came to mind. The multitude of the pictures I’ve seen of him over the last 40-plus years in magazines and newsletters, too many to count. The sound of his voice and the “I don’t give a $hit,” attitude that you felt when you talked to him.
My relationship with Dee started in roughly 1975, unbeknownst to him. It wouldn’t be until 2012 that I would actually get the chance to talk with him.
I started following Dee’s career the year he won the Bassmaster Arkansas Invitational on Bull Shoals. Here was a guy from California who went back east and put a pounding on the “pros.” After that I started seeing his name pop up in Western Bass magazine. Dee may not have won all the events he fished, but he was always in the top 10.
Then in late 1976, there was a six-part series in Bassmaster Magazine covering the entire concept of flipping that was written by Dave Myers, as told by Dee Thomas and Dave Gliebe. I devoured that series and started saving for a Flippin’ Stik. I know I wasn’t the only angler out there that did that.
After the news had sunk in, I called my buddy Ken Duke to let him know the news. Ken’s reaction was much the same as mine, silence for 10 seconds and then a, “That sucks.”
What bothers me the most about Dee’s passing is that relatively few anglers, and I mean serious bass anglers, under the age of 40 have any clue who Dee Thomas is and what he did for the sport. Duke and I started listing some of the things that came about because of Thomas. The important part of the sentence is “came about.” Here’s a short list.
1973 – Modified Tule Dipping: Thomas takes his 12-foot Lew’s Hawger rod and puts a reel on it so his competition in California won’t complain about his method being a meat-fishing method. Thomas is still using a fixed amount of line the length of the rod.
1973/4 – Flipping Jig: Thomas’ first jig was a hair jig he’d tie on a banana head with a polypropylene weedguard. It would later evolve into living rubber, the material his partner, Frank Hauck introduced to the market.
1974 – Flipping: Thomas is given an ultimatum of decreasing his rod size down from 12 feet. Wayne Cummings asks him what he could get away with. Thomas says, 7 1/2-feet. At this time, he’d been practicing with a 7 1/2-foot Fenwick striper rod with a reel and pulling line off the reel with his left hand to make up for the shorter rod. He’s still using the reel only to hold line. He and his partner Frank Hauck win three Western Bass tournaments with this new method after the change to the shorter rod.
1975 – Flippin’ Stik: Thomas and Dave Myers of Fenwick design and build the first prototype Flippin’ Stiks. By 1977, every serious bass angler would have this rod in their boat. This rod would also be the first long rod in the age of 5’-6” pistol grip rods. This rod would start the long rod conversion as anglers realized the longer rod was good for crankbaits, spoons and other baits. Not just Flipping.
1975 – Butt Seat: Dee Thomas came up with this so he had something to lean back into while flipping.
1977 – Thumb-Bar: Although not developed by Thomas, the thumb bar on all reels today is credited to Thomas’ need to have one-hand operation of the reel over the old push-button, which required two hands to operate.
1979 – Flipping switch: Basil Bacon, who had become a disciple of flipping, realized that there was a need to have a reel that would instantaneously go into gear, but would also maintain the freespool quality. In his shop, he invented the flippin’ switch while Gary Klein looked on. ABU would purchase the rights from Bacon and Johnny Morris and come out with the first reel with a Flippin Switch in 1980/81.
1980 – Flipping Hooks: Gary Klein and Rich Forhan come out with Weapon Flippin’ Hooks to handle the stress of fishing heavy, short lines. Klein has just lost the Bassmaster Angler of the Year in 1979, his rookie year, because of hooks bending out. They turned to having their own heavy sproat hooks made for flipping.
Mid-1980s – The Tube: Invented by Bobby Garland in 1980, the tube lived in relative obscurity in the west where it was primarily used for finesse fishing. It wasn’t until the 1981 U.S. Open on Lake Mead, that the tube would be seen by several eastern pros. Two of those pros, Guido Hibdon and Basil Bacon, took the tube home and started using it as a flipping bait. Their success put it in the national spotlight.
1987 – Flipping Decks on Boats: Because of the need to be higher in the boat for flippin efficiency, anglers started building decks closer to the gunwales. This was noticed by the boat manufacturers and became standard on most bass boats by 1987.
Mid-1980s – Pitching: Credited to Tommy Biffle for making this presentation technique popular, it was an extension of Thomas’ short-line technique.
As Ken and I continued to talk, it was apparent to both of us we’d lost a major player in the world of bass fishing. I asked Ken what he thought of Thomas’ contributions to the sport and how they weighed. His answer was this.
“Other than Ray Scott, there is no other person who has made such an impact on bass fishing compared to Dee Thomas.”
Folks, those are some pretty heavy words. I have to agree with Ken.
Later I had the chance to catch up with longtime friend of Thomas and mentee, Kent Brown. Kent and Dee were close and had known each other for over 40 years. Brown last saw Dee at his house a week before he passed.
I asked Kent what his thoughts were on Dee. He replied by saying:
“There was no one who was more competitive than Dee Thomas. He was so competitive, he wanted to be the first to use the outhouse on tournament mornings.
“Think about this. Dee in his later years, after his bout with lung cancer, had his boat rigged with railings around the front deck gunwale so he had something to grab on to. Something that would keep him from falling in the water. He also had an oxygen tank with an extra-long hose rigged up under his console, so he could fish on the bow. How many people do you know that would go to those lengths to still compete? Dee competed that way the last ten years of his life. He hated to lose. He loved to fish.”
Thomas has been inducted into three different Halls of Fames throughout the years for his contributions to the sport – the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and the California Outdoors Hall of Fame. All these accolades are great but what do they really mean if the contemporary anglers have no clue who he is? Stated bluntly, they mean nothing. Let that sink in folks, all of Dee’s accomplishments mean nothing, if people have no clue who he is and what he did.
At this point I’m a bit perturbed. I’m angry that one of the most influential anglers in bass fishing history has passed and I’m angry it takes at least a 45-year-old serious angler to know who he is and what he’s done.
Dee Thomas, thank you for all you gave the sport. Your tenacity, your stubbornness, and no-quit attitude had an effect that will forever be remembered. Your Flippin’ Technique will forever be etched into the fabric of every bass angler, whether they know it or not.
To read more about Dee’s contributions to the sport, please follow these links:
NEW WESTERN TECHNIQUE, CONTROLLED STRUCTURE FISHING, SURE TO SWEEP THE COUNTRY
THE BIRTH OF THE FLIPPIN’ STIK – PART ONE
Great article as always. I to was at somewhat of a loss when I heard the news. Dee was a Icon, trail blazer, front runner. In my younger days starting out, if you heard flippin you heard Dee Thomas, Dave Glebe, and Gary Klein. Dee was the master and teacher. That’s just the way it was. Like you when the bassmaster did the series on Flippin, I too, had to have a flippin stick. When parker won the classic in 79, it became even more mainstream. Think about how many careers can credit their origins from Dee Thomas and flippin. I agree with you about the folks under 45 who might not know who Dee was. Its a shame. Keep banging the drum and sharing the history of this great sport.
Mike, Thanks for the kind words. The drum is by my side.
i am his brother ,and in the 74 yrs I knew him there was never not a fishing pole in his closet ,or a time it wasn’t a good time to go fishing. Anything that swam was targeted. I remember tule dipping at the mendota slew, to a bass tournament, I fished with him “I lost”. What I find amazing was that we talked on the phone about our sisters ,dad,mom ,grand parents etc, kinda like he was saying goodbye.just the day before he passed. He was a good brother, and will be be missed. Sure hope there is Bass fishing in heaven. Terry get the boat ready!! He’s coming home
Mr. Thomas, please accept our condolences for your loss. Thank you for giving us a little look into your life with Dee. He will be missed but I am certain his wife Terry is happy to have him home.