Today’s video is a look back at our early history in bass fishing. A time before graphite rods, high-tech reels were an ABU 5000, and there were no power poles or even paper graphs. This is an event, the first event to be held in any of the Carolinas, that features as many runabouts as it does bass boats. No livewells, no kill switches and a tournament day that lasted 13 hours or more. The video, Lake Norman 1970 with Rhodney Honeycutt is a good example of what competitive bass fishing was like in its infancy.
But let me give you a little background of how I came to be trusted with this video.
This past March at Bassmaster Classic 52, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with Bob Cobb and COL (ret) Jim Kientz over breakfast about the early days of bass fishing. That conversation is one I will never forget and one I will share with you all at some point. At the end of our discussion, Jim reached into his pocket, looked at Bob and handed me an envelope. In the envelope was a small drive and note written on the front. The note said, “Lake Norman Video. 1st Major Bass Tournament Held in North or South Carolina.” I was a bit taken aback.
I opened the envelope further and saw another note. That note said, “1970 Lake Norman, NC. 1st Major Bass Tournament in NC/SC. Narrated by Rhodney Honeycutt, son of Hall of Fame Member Blake Honeycutt.
I asked Bob and Jim where they got the video and they told me it had been given to them a couple days earlier by a gentleman named Lenny Smathers. Smathers is a close friend of Rhodney Honeycutt’s and the Honeycutt family.
If you’re not familiar with the name Honeycutt, let me fill you in.
First off, Blake Honeycutt, Rhodney’s dad, holds the all-time record for the total weight for a 15-fish/day limit in a B.A.S.S. tournament with 138-06. Blake is also an inductee of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and played a major role in the development of Humminbird Electronics. More important, Blake had passed away the day before and that news had reached the Classic.
I asked Bob and Jim what they wanted me to do with it. They said, “we want you to share this and make sure it doesn’t get lost to time.” Chills went down my spine.
After our meeting I went to the final day of the Classic Expo and then the weigh-in. After weigh-in I went to my room, sat down at the computer, and plugged the drive into the slot. What my eyes saw was raw footage of an event that happened just after I’d turned 6 years old. It was amazing to see the old boats, the anglers, the lake, and the awards. The narration, done by Rhodney, gave a good explanation of what happened in the event and who was fishing it.
The video was too special just to throw out on YouTube and not have the back story. On the way home, not wanting to bother Rhodney during this time of grief, I called Lenny Smathers. Lenny and I talked and agreed it’d be best to wait for a while before contacting Rhodney.
A month of so later, I got on the phone and gave Rhodney a call. That call led to numerous emails until we were finally able to meet face to face. At that meeting, I asked him about that event and if he could give us a little background of how it went down.
Here is what he had to say.
“As far as I’ve known, that was the first organized bass tournament of any size ever held in any of the Carolinas. It was put on by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. Bass fishing was getting popular and the win that Dad had in 69 at Eufaula, well that word had traveled up here.
“A lot of the Wildlife Federation people here were bass fishermen, and Paul Chamblee was one of the founders of the Wildlife Federation. He was a big bass fisherman, in fact he made a few of the early Classics. He was instrumental in promoting the tournament, he didn’t fish it.”
To get an idea of what it was like to fish an event back then I asked Honeycutt what type of equipment they had.
“Back then dad and I were fishing out of TR3 Rangers. There were no livewells, no kill switches, no lifejackets, and a shotgun start before daylight. We started at 6 am and fished until 8 pm so that was a 14-hour day the first day. But they were easy on us the second day, we only fished from 6 am till 7 pm.
“There was an 8-fish daily limit in North Carolina and the fishing was really tough. That tournament was happening right during the fish kill that changed that lake forever. Before the fish kill, 5s, 6s and fish up to eight pounds were common. In this tournament, there was only one 8-fish limit the entire time.”
I asked Honeycutt what his arsenal was for this event.
“If you look at the video, you’ll see a brown paper bag. That brown paper bag was from one of many trips dad and I had taken down to Eufaula to visit Tom Mann during the days they were coming up with Humminbird. That bag had my arsenal – 4/0 hooks, 1/4 oz slip sinkers and four or five flavors of Jelly Worms. That was it.
“Deep lipped crankbaits hadn’t really been invented yet. We’d used some Hellbenders and Bomber Waterdogs for deeper water and for shallow water it was mainly [Cordell] Spots and Bayou Boogies. In this tournament, the fish had transitioned to deeper water, 12 to 15 feet, and Texas rigged worms were what we were using at the time.
“We knew the structure of the lake, the offshore points and ledges. We’d triangulate spots and either drop an anchor or use the trolling motor to stay on a spot. We had it all to ourselves.”
Both Rhodney and Blake were some of the first anglers in the U.S. to take advantage of offshore fish and structure fishing. Mostly in part due to Buck Perry, who Blake had worked for when he was a teenager. But that’s a story for another time.
That’s a bit of the history without spoiling too much of the video. Click on the video below to see what it was like in those early days and check out how well the 17-year-old Honeycutt did when it was all said and done.