The National Bassman Charter Issue the publication of the National Bass Association. February/March 1977.

So far, out of the old bass fishing organizations that came and went in the 1960s and 70s, we’ve published articles on the Professional Sport Fishing Association, the Bass Casters Association, American Angler, and American Bass Fisherman.  Today we’re going to look at another organization, National Bass Association (NBA), and their magazine, The National Bassman.

There were a lot of unanswered questions about this time in the history of competitive fishing.  American Bass Fisherman’s owner, George Oates was being investigated for fraud yet still running events, NBA was organized and purchased the Professional Bass Association and several other tournament organizations were coming and going at a rapid pace.  It was a time of flux in the industry and many of the anglers who supported these organizations didn’t know if they would still be around for the next month’s tournament that was scheduled.

In order to find out more about this time in bass fishing, I contacted former NBA President Dewey Yopp in mid-2014 to see if he would talk about NBA, its history and the purchase of ABF.  As it turns out, Yopp was the tournament director for ABF for a time and was right there when all the allegations pertaining to George Oates were brewing.  In the conversation that ensued, a lot of questions about this time were answered and to those of you who remember that far back, they are interesting to hear.

From the Pentagon to Bass Fishing

Yopp was an angler but had never fished a bass tournament. He was a career military man, serving for 27 years in the United States Army as a pilot, serving two tours in Vietnam.  It was this job that would bring him into the competitive realm of bass fishing, from the standpoint of running tournaments.

From Dewey's Desk Editorial. Charter Issue of The National Bassman, Feb/Mar 1977.

“I first got introduced to American Bass Fisherman when I was stationed at the Pentagon,” Yopp said.  “I went down to do an article for Army Times on two of my flight instructors who had made the World Championship.

“At that tournament I met George Oates and he offered me a job as their tournament director. I went back home, thought about it, and put in my papers to retire.  It was a fun job.

“Shortly after that, George (Oates) was accused of fraud and rigging tournaments.  I knew that no one would support his organization much longer and a friend of mine, Don Bradford (who would end up becoming vice president of NBA) suggested we start out own tournament organization.  This was in mid-1976.”  (This period is consistent with when Oates was taken off the masthead of ABF magazine.)

By October 1976 National Bass Association was conceived and started operation.  In January, the Charter Issue of The National Bassman, the magazine for all NBA members, was published.

“[At the start] we were in direct competition with ABF,” Yopp said.  “Oates had sold out to one of his investors, Don Williams I believe, when he was going through his indictment.  They couldn’t compete with us because of all the bad publicity so we went down to Auburndale [FL] to talk.  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.”

NBA started out with Yopp as president, Bradford as vice president, Jim Jaggers as the chairman of the board and Marty Yopp secretary/treasurer.  It soon added Jim Scanland as the public relations director and Jack Atkinson as tournament director.

By the second issue of National Bassman, Yopp reported that NBA had purchased a small organization out of Nashville, TN known as the Professional Bass Association (PBA).

Masthead from the Charter Issue of The National Bassman.

“PBA was a small organization and some of the guys who were fishing it contacted us,” Yopp said. “They’d seen our magazine and they really liked what we were doing and asked if we’d buy them out.  If I remember right, they only had a van – I’m not sure if they even owned scales.  I can’t remember the exact amount we purchased them for, but it wasn’t much at all.”

1977 National Bass Association tournament schedule.
1977 NBA Tennessee National.
1977 NBA Prestige National.
1977 NBA U.S. Open.

By early 1977 NBA was running a professional circuit, a semi-pro circuit, a national club circuit (to mirror the B.A.S.S. Federation) along with continuing the PBA events.  Contestants from all circuits were fishing for a spot in the NBA Bassman’s $50,000 Gold Medalist championship event.  To top that off, they were also going to conduct an Old Timers’ tournament for anglers over 45.

NBA’s first event, held at West Point Lake in Georgia, didn’t kick off as well as expected.  The tournament was held in January 1977 and only 50 anglers showed up to brave the sub-freezing temperatures. Even with the small turnout, the tournament got NBA a lot of publicity.

“The first tournament we held was won with one fish,” Yopp said.  “One fish in three days of fishing. The angler (Johnny Grice) won first place, big fish and the two boats that went with it. We got a lot of publicity for that.”

Tough Times

Things wouldn’t get any easier for NBA, though.

“It was hard for us to draw the big names,” he said.  “Ray and I got a long fine, but he had the whole kit and caboodle.  He had all the top anglers, and everyone was following him. I guess they were loyal to him for being the first and the biggest.

“Finally, after a while we started getting some of the bigger names in the sport, but it was a hard-fought battle trying to get some of the top-dog tournament anglers to fish with us.”

1977 NBA Georgia National Tournament Report.

Although NBA may have had trouble enticing the top anglers at first, they did attract up-and-comers like Hank Parker, Jerry Rhyne, Dick Busby, and Ron Shearer.  Reading through the magazines, you do see names such as Roland Martin, Guy Eaker and Orlando Wilson in the tournament reports but unfortunately only the top 10 was listed in most of the reports.

“It was hard to get the thing off the ground,” he said.  “There was a lot of work involved and we finally got it going.  It was just never profitable – all the money was going out and not much coming back in.”

1977 NBA South Carolina National.

One of the problems was low draws at the events, which averaged under 100 anglers per tournament. Advertising dollars, which many of the top organizations rely on to help with expenses, were also hard to come by.

“Advertising was difficult because of the number of magazines we published per year,” he said. “We were a bi-monthly publication and advertisers wanted the most bang for their buck. Because of this most of the companies wanted to trade ads for product. This didn’t get us any cash at first. It was the same with the boat companies. Then, as membership grew, we started getting some cash.”

1977 NBA Bassman's Gold Medalist rig for the NBA Gold Medalist Championship.

Membership at the height of NBA’s reign was between 20,000 and 25,000 members.

As a publication, the magazine may not have been Bassmaster, but it contained a lot of good content written by some of the best writers of the day. Writers such as C. Boyd Pfieffer, Larry Mayer, Byron Dalrymple, Bob McNally, and Nick Sisley all had bylines in the publication.

The All-Mighty Dollar

A combination of things is what brought the end to NBA at the start of the ‘80s but it all led to one thing, finances.

“My close friend at the time, Major General Jim Jaggers, was the financial backing behind NBA,” Yopp said.  “He and I shared a desk at the Pentagon for years and when we decided to start NBA, he was the guy backing the venture.

“By 1978 his wife wanted him out of it because he was losing money.

“Around the same time, I was trying to get boats for the tournaments and the championship. We had been doing business with Marvin Hurst who owned Hurst Boats and Double H Trailers and I couldn’t get him to answer his phone.

“I drove down to Orlando to see him and when I got there, I saw the bank had closed their doors. The prior year I had sold 115 boats for him, so I was surprised they’d gone under.

“At that point I was on a hunt for a new boat company.  I’d been talking to the owner of Astroglass, and he wanted to get out of the business. All he wanted was $450,000 and take over the 60 or 70 boats they had on order.  I didn’t have to put up any money.

1977 NBA AOY Standings.

“That’s when Jaggers wanted out so for all the money he’d put into the business, I gave him Astroglass.  I never got a cup of coffee or even a thank you for that. A year and a half later he sold the company to Mercury for $3.5-million dollars – ten times more than what he’d put into NBA.

“That’s when I closed NBA. I couldn’t run the business on my own.

“I’ve missed bass fishing and the industry a lot over the years. It was the best job anyone could have ever had. I’d witnessed several Ray’s (Scott) tournaments and I always thought we did ours better and the anglers even told us that.

National Bass Association last from January 1977 through July 1979.  In that time they printed 13 or 14 issues of their bi-monthly publication The National Bassman.  I have nearly a full set of these magazines, missing only the April/May or April/May/June issue from 1978.  From Clyde Drury’s Books of the Black Bass, he mentioned he was missing the same issue so I wonder if this issue was ever printed since the time span is three months between the February/March and July August issues.  Also of note is NBA didn’t publish a May/June issue in 1979 so it makes sense that the April/May/June 1978 issue never did exist.  You can view the entire set of issues in the gallery below.

At the time I’d interviewed Yopp, he was retired and living in Florida. He served 27 years in the U.S. Army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. While in the army he worked on the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk, a reconnaissance plane used by the Marines and Army. He was a pilot of both fixed-wing and rotor aircraft during his service.

1978 NBA Tournament Schedule.

In the coming months we’ll be posting more about National Bass Association as well as the other organizations we’ve mentioned here at the Bass Fishing Archives.  For a look at the complete Charter Issue of The National Bassman, please see the gallery below.  Click on the first image and scroll through each page.  It’s a blast from the past that is sure to entertain.


Gallery – The National Bassman Magazine Covers



Gallery – The National Bassman Charter Issue