Back in November 2014 I had the opportunity to be a part of a really cool get-together sponsored by the Florence, Alabama Chamber of Commerce. The event, held at the new Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Center brought together three long-time Alabama anglers who’ve been involved with the bass fishing industry since its early days. Dubbed, Fish Tales, the two-hour affair featured Tennessee River legends Tom Smith, Ray Gresham and Bill Huntley, who told stories of how they got started bass fishing along with some pretty funny experiences along the way.
Before the first video, though, let me introduce the subjects of the videos. Tom Smith (left side in the video) started fishing the Bassmaster Tour in 1973. His best finish was at the 1973 Florida Invitational held at the St. Johns River where he finished in 22nd place. Smith is best known, though, as a local Florence, AL tackle store owner, one of the first to become a Bass Pro Shops affiliate, and the angler who got the bucktail jig going on the lower Tennessee River impoundments.
Smith’s shop became the go-to-place for up-to-date information on what was happening on Wheeler, Pickwick and Wilson Reservoirs. His knowledge of the river made him one tough competitor on the local trails and one of the reasons he became a mentor to many aspiring bass anglers in the area.
Ray Gresham (center in video) “was a stud,” says former Elite Series angler and Florence, AL guide Jimmy Mason. Gresham started his Bassmaster career in 1971 at the Ross Barnett All-American and placed 7th in that event. He then fished two more events in 1972, the Florida National and the Ross Barnett Rebel Invitational, and finished 16th and 8th, respectively in those events.
In 1973 he fished three Bassmaster events; the Florida Invitational, The Rebel Invitational and the Seminole Lunker, and was the alternate for the 1973 Bassmaster Classic. In all Gresham fished 12 Bassmaster Tour events between 1971 and 1998, eight of which were top-50 showings and three top-10s.
“He could have been as well-known as Roland Martin or Tom Mann,” Mason said. “He was that good. But he had a young family and couldn’t afford the time away from them.”
Gresham continued to compete on other venues and qualified for the 1985 Red Man All-American. You see him wearing the jacket in the video.
If you’d never heard of Smith or Gresham, there’s no doubt you’ve heard of Bill Huntley or his mark in the bass fishing industry. Huntley (right in the video) got his start in bass fishing in the early 60s. If you’re an early spinnerbait angler you may remember his bait company, Bumble Bee Spinnerbaits. But Huntley’s mark on the sport came when he and a couple associates started marketing one of the first motor kill switches. That invention led to the formation of T&H Marine, makers of the Hot Foot and more boating gadgets that you find standard on your bass boat than you can shake a stick at.
In this first video, Sam Moody introduces the panel and moderates. Then the three guests talk about the old days of fishing the river and how they got their start fishing. The conversation turns to past tournaments, record stringers of smallmouth, tournament follies and of course a lot of ribbing back and forth.
Since the recording of this video, Tom Smith has passed but Gresham and Huntley are still making their marks on the river. We hope you like this look back into the history of one of the most productive waterways in the U.S. as well as the stories told by three original river rats.