"Lunker" Bill Murphy's book, In Pursuit of Giant Bass with Paul Prorok. First printing 1992.

Anyone that frequents this site has probably heard of the legendary big fish guru, “Lunker” Bill Murphy.  Well today in Early Lunker Bill Murphy, we’re going to look at some old photos of “Lunker” Bill that were given to us by longtime writer Bill Rice and talk a little about his life as an angler.

Murphy was a lot like the fish he hunted.  He was quiet and kept to himself.  I recall seeing him on the water in the 70s from time to time.  The first time I saw him was at Lake San Vicente, probably around 1976.  We were at the dock in the late afternoon removing our gear from a rental boat when up walks this man with two giant bass.  On the scales they weighed nine pounds and 13 pounds.  I was awestruck by the fish and the man.

Later the next week when the Western Outdoor News came out, there was a picture of “Lunker” Bill holding his two giants he’d caught that Saturday from San V.  At the time I was 12 years old and bitten hard by the bass bug.  I’d followed the bass scene as much as any 12-year-old could and like many kids my age growing up in southern California bass scene, “Lunker” Bill was one of our idols.

The next time I ran into “Lunker Bill” was at Lake Wohlford on our annual family spring vacation.  The weather was awful, rain and wind for what seemed days and we fished as much as my dad would put up with considering the downpour.  At the time, Lake Wohlford had cabins and a restaurant that doubled as the tackle store.  The restaurant overlooked the southwest portion of the lake and the boat dock.

"Lunker" Bill Murphy in his tin boat on one of San Diego's small lunker filled lakes. Photo courtesy of Bill Rice circa early 1970s.

As we sat in the restaurant to warm up and get some food, you couldn’t help but notice one guy out in the elements, methodically fishing as the rain and wind bore down heavily on him.  I watched in amazement and with a deep respect.  As it was getting dark, the man started his boat and headed for the dock.  He trailered his boat and that was it, I thought.

"Lunker" Bill Murphy in probably was one of the California Lunker Club's early tournaments. I'm not sure the context of the picture but it appears that Murphy won the year-end championship of AOY with this one fish. Not a bad fish either. Photo courtesy of Bill Rice.
"Lunker" Bill Murphy again with a nice limit of fish with Jim Patton from 1972. Photo courtesy of Bill Rice.

The next thing I know is this man has entered the restaurant with two giant bass.  He placed them on the scales with the smaller one going 11 pounds and the larger one tipping the scales down to almost 14 pounds.  That man again was “Lunker” Bill Murphy.  I didn’t have the courage to say anything to him, I just stood there and gawked at him and his fish as did everyone else in the place.

Murphy was a legend amongst legends in California.  He’d started bass fishing in the 1960s and learned from the teachings of Buck Perry.  But what Murphy took from Buck was the scientific approach to bass fishing and migrations routes.  With that knowledge he developed his own theories on bass and their habits, building on those of Perry’s.  I guess you could say that the student became the professor in this case.

And yet again, this 1972 picture of Murphy and Patton with another big string of bass. Photo courtesy of Bill Rice.
Here it looks as if Murphy and Patton won all the marbles. Note the pig in the center, the three trophies as well as the vintage Fenwick rods and ABU reels. Photo courtesy of Bill Rice.

And who could argue the results.  Still to this day there are few anglers who can claim the number of fish over 10 pounds that Murphy caught.  Add to that the number of teen-class fish and you’d be hard pressed to find another man alive who has a resume anywhere close to Murphy’s.

“Lunker” Bill states in his book, In Pursuit of Giant Bass,” that he was never a fan of competitive fishing.  It wasn’t his style.  But still he belonged to the Pisces Bass Club in San Diego and had his share of good finishes while with the club.

On a short tangent, the Pisces Bass Club was one of two clubs in southern California that everyone wanted to be a part of yet, they were the toughest clubs to join.  Some of the members of Pisces were Mike Folkestad, Rich Humphries, Bobby Sandberg, Rick Turner, Dave Nollar, Roger Dixon, and Jim Patton.  These were the Roland Martin’s, Jimmy Houston’s, and Bill Dance’s of the western bass scene.

"Lunker" Bill Murphy and his partner Jim Patton with a healthy string of bass from 1972. Photo courtesy of Bill Rice.
Murphy and Patton again with a stellar limit of bass from 1972. Photo courtesy of Bill Rice.

Where Murphy felt at home was in his nondescript tin boat, double anchored on some piece of offshore structure, stitching a 9-inch worm, or throwing crawdads.  He mostly fished alone but would fish with his close friend Jim Patton or others when he found himself fishing a club tournament.

Murphy was also an early proponent of big baits and trolling.  Over the years he developed what would later become known as the swimbait.  He took magnum saltwater Rapalas and spoonbill Rebels and either painted them to look like the rainbow trout the big fish were eating, or he’d cut them in half and attach the back end of a saltwater plastic swimbait.  Murphy would troll deep structures with leadcore line and had that bite all to himself through the 70s and into the 80s when other anglers started designing swimbaits of their own design.

In 1992 “Lunker” Bill along with Paul Prorok wrote his book, In Pursuit of Giant Bass.  It quickly became one of the most respected books on how to catch big bass and still to this day is as relevant to catching big bass as it was in 1970 when Murphy was putting all this theory together.  The book is still available through Lunker City Fishing for $24.95 and within the next few weeks I hope to have a review completed on the book.

I hope you enjoyed this look back on one of the country’s big fish experts and trailblazers of the day.  Bill Murphy will always hold a spot in the annals of bass fishing, especially when it comes to big fish.  Murphy passed away May 16, 2004 of melanoma.

The article posted to the right was written by longtime San Diego outdoor writer Ed Zieralski.  It’s difficult to read so I’ve transcribed it and placed it here.

Bill Murphy loses his battle against melanoma at 65


May 18, 2004

Perhaps the truest testament to Bill Murphy is the area at Lake Wohlford simply known as Murphy’s Rocks.

Jack Murphy once had a stadium named after him. “Lunker” Bill Murphy had his rockpile, where the fishing legend once caught the huge bass that earned him his celebrated nickname.

Murphy, who owned and operated a dental lab in Santee, died Sunday at his home in El Cajon after a courageous battle with melanoma. He was 65 and was at home with his wife and family when he died.

Ed Zieralski's article on the passing of "Lunker" Bill Murphy, May 18, 2004.

“He was unconscious, in a coma, but he suddenly woke up and looked at me before he died,” Carole Murphy said. “It was like a blessing. He turned and looked at me as he was dying.”

Murphy’s last fishing trip was in December at Wohlford with his good friend Gene Dupras, a man Murphy always praised for catching that 20-pound, 4-ounce bass in 1985 at Lake Hodges, a nontrout lake. Murphy’s best bass was a 17-pound, 1-ounce largemouth from San Vicente, but he spent his fishing career searching for a world-record bass.

“Bill Murphy was a legend, and he’ll be sorely missed here,” said Jay Cowan, supervising ranger at Lake Wohlford. “He had such a unique way of fishing, more like a scientist than a fisherman. I’ve been here 30 years, and I’ve never seen anyone approach fishing the way he did. He was old school. He never showboated his catches. He didn’t have a fancy bass boat. He just knew how to catch bass.”

Longtime friend Don Smith of Point Loma said Murphy “is the guy who made San Diego lakes famous.”

“Bill’s influence on bass fishermen all over the world is incalculable,” Smith said.

Smith said Murphy’s book, “In Pursuit of Giant Bass,” recruited devoted disciples to big-bass fishing. Murphy poured all of his fishing secrets learned over a lifetime into what is considered today as the Bible for big-bass angling.

The late Henry “Red” DeZeeuw, a mentor of Murphy’s, once said Murphy had the two qualities necessary to be a big-bass fisherman – “patience and consistency.”

Jim Brown, who retired last year as city lakes manager, said Murphy learned his bass-fishing lessons well from the likes of Brown’s father, Mike, along with DeZeeuw and Bill “Pappy” Wade.

“There was a huge period of time there from the 1960s to the 1980s when Bill Murphy was recognized as the most dominant big-bass fisherman in the country,” Brown said.

Larry Bottroff, who recently retired as the city lakes fisheries biologist, said: “He was one of the best fishermen I can remember. There was a time when every time he came in, he had a 7-, 8-, or 9-pound bass. It was amazing. He was fishing structure and spots before there were graphs. He just really knew the lakes and the fish.”

Carole and Bill Murphy celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary on May 5. He is survived by his wife and four children, Suzi (Murphy) Sardina, 42, of Santee; Gary Murphy, 33, of San Diego; Linda Saffer, 41, El Cajon; and Kristi Murphy, 19, El Cajon.

Funeral services will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Chapel of Roses at Glen Abbey Mortuary and Memorial Park, 3838 Bonita Road in Bonita. A Navy veteran, Murphy will be buried with full military honors at a site near the Lake of Dreams, Carole Murphy said.