Editor’s Note: This series is dedicated to those people who penned the many articles we read in order to learn more about our sport and become better anglers. Sure it was the anglers who developed the techniques, lures and equipment we use today but it was the writers’ job to make sure these bits of information got to the masses. Without the writers to communicate this, the world of bass fishing would be very different today.
For nearly 45 years novice and experienced anglers have turned to the pages of Bassmaster Magazine to learn about their craft. And, over the years many gifted writers have blessed the pages of that hallowed magazine, transcribing the words of the pros into something anyone can read and understand. Writers like Steve Price, Matt Vincent, Mark Hicks and the late Tim Tucker have all played a part in relaying information from the boat and on to the pages of Bassmaster Magazine – all in an effort to help us, the angler, get better.
Another one of these writers is Dave Precht. In this installment of The Writers, we’ll spend a little time with Dave and learn where he got his start, how he ended up at B.A.S.S. and what his life as a writer and editor of Bassmaster was like for nearly 40 years.
The Early Years
To say Dave Precht was born to write would be an understatement. Reading and writing were a huge part of his young life. Couple that with his love for the outdoors and you have a recipe that would create one of the most prolific bass fishing writers ever produced.
Upon graduating from Northwestern State University in Louisiana in 1973, he landed a job as a beat writer for the Houston Post doing the general news. Shortly thereafter, he became more involved in outdoor writing and eventually became the paper’s outdoor editor.
“I was at the paper for six years,” he said. “During that time, I covered the Bassmaster Classics and would freelance for Bassmaster Magazine. Ray [Scott] and Bob [Cobb] seemed to like my work and in ’78 they offered me a job with Bassmaster Magazine. Since childhood I’d always wanted to be a writer and editor for an outdoors magazine so when that opportunity came about, I took it.
“It was a difficult choice to leave the paper – I’d had a lot of great experiences there and was newly married – but I had to follow my dream.”
What Precht didn’t know at the time was Scott and Cobb had higher aspirations for their newly hired writer.
“The first year and a half I was at B.A.S.S. I mainly covered tournaments and wrote news releases,” he said. “My first piece in Bassmaster was published in the May/June 1979 issue and by the time the September/October issue came out, I was on the masthead as a staff writer.
“A couple years later Ray started thinking about TV. He knew Bob had too much on his hands and couldn’t be editor and TV producer at the same time. Bob was the kind of guy that’d work 24 hours a day if you let him.
“Ray and Bob came to me and said, ‘You don’t have experience in editing a magazine, but we like your passion and how you write. We’re going to make you editor of Southern Outdoors for a while to get you some experience and then you can take over at Bassmaster.’
“I edited Southern Outdoors for about four years and then went back over to Bassmaster as editor in 1984. I had that job for 18 years and then moved up to look over the entire publication department at B.A.S.S., which is what I did until I retired.”
At the end of his career, Precht held the title of vice president/Publications and Communications. He also edited B.A.S.S. Times, a monthly magazine that covers tournaments, conservation, B.A.S.S. Federation Nation news and how-to topics for advanced anglers.
Canada, Mexico and a President
With 30-plus years under his belt at B.A.S.S., Precht has a lot to reflect on. I asked him to name a few of his most memorable moments.
“There are so many it’s difficult to name them all,” he said. “That first year I was with B.A.S.S., Ray took me to Quetico Provincial Park, Canada. That trip changed my life. I fell in love with it and ended up taking my entire family there at some point or another. That place holds a lot of dear memories for my family and me and I wouldn’t change those days or hours for anything.
“Another experience I had occurred shortly after I started with B.A.S.S. At the time, Ray was George H. W. Bush’s Alabama campaign chairman for his run for the presidency. I got to meet Mr. Bush during those times and got to know him. He is without a doubt one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. Not many people get to have an experience like that.”
The 1980 Classic also brings back some fond memories.
“That Classic was the last event we held outside and there was just something about the event that stands out. It isn’t just me either,” he said. “You talk to anyone who went to the first Classics and they’ll all say the 1980 Classic at Thousand Islands, NY was special. Maybe it was because we knew it would be the last outdoor event, maybe it was because B.A.S.S. was hitting the big time. I don’t know.
“The weigh-in was on the shore of the lake and there was a big crowd. It’s indescribable the feeling that was at the event – even today. It was a good experience and exciting times.”
Precht also has good memories of fishing Mexico with Ray and the gang.
“In 1979 Ray took me and the some of the other staff to Lake Novillo, Mexico, for a trip,” he said. “Ray would pair us up into teams, and we’d fish against each other. That first trip I got paired up with Bob [Cobb]. What people might not realize was how good a bass fisherman Bob was.
“The first day, Bob and I had a good limit of bass. Ray and his partner weighed in a smaller limit that was somehow heavier. When Bob looked at one of the fish, rocks fell out of its mouth. Ray had ‘weighted’ his catch with rocks. Bob got so mad he kicked the basket of fish. It was all in good fun, though, and I never saw Bob and Ray really mad at each other.
“The trips to Mexico really stand out. I love to catch big bass but fishing around all those solid, ‘uneducated’ fish is really fun.”
Influences and Mentors
It’s hard to imagine what Precht went through as a young writer in his early years at B.A.S.S. One thing is for certain, though, he was working with the people who changed the way fishing was written about.
“I would have to say the person who had the most influence on me as a writer was Bob Cobb,” he said. “When I was starting out, outdoor writers were considered the experts on fishing techniques. When I went to Bassmaster, I quickly saw that Bob didn’t believe in that. He was more worried about getting things straight. No one wanted to read about what he knew about bass fishing – they wanted to read how the last tournament was won by the pro who won it. Bob changed the way we wrote. He was a genius. He knew exactly what content the readers wanted and he took that gift to television, too.
Precht’s editor at his first full-time newspaper job — on the Lafayette, La., Advertiser — also had a powerful impact on him.
“His name was Vince Marino, and he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize early in his career. Vince was a great writer and editor who demanded hard work out of me. He also coached me on writing and especially encouraged me to work humor into my stories when appropriate. Every writer should have somebody like Vince looking over his shoulder when he’s starting out.
“Then there is Ernest Hemingway,” he said. “I loved his novels, but one day I started reading some of his old magazine articles about fishing, and I was struck by the way he broke all the rules we were taught about writing and grammar in school. If someone had submitted those manuscripts to me as an editor, and I didn’t know whose they were, I’d have edited the heck out of them. But when you read his work, you get caught up in his stories and don’t realize that you’re learning so much about fishing in the process. Reading Hemmingway, especially on fishing, taught me to be tolerant of other peoples’ writing styles. That’s a hard thing for an editor to do.”
Precht also has a lot of appreciation for a number of people who have helped him over the years.
“Without Ray Scott, I wouldn’t be living my childhood dream,” he said. “He gave me my start. Because of what he did, a lot of other people are living enjoyable lives. He accomplished so much through hard work and personality. He also helped me capture the passion of tournament fishing.
“Helen [Sevier] is another person that taught me a lot. She was a master at the business end of publishing but she also cared about the sportfishing industry as a whole. She was a brilliant woman who grew B.A.S.S. during the years she owned and ran it and made it a force in the industry.
“I also look up to some of the old-time writers like Homer Circle, Matt Vincent, Don Wirth, Steve Price, Louie Stout, Tim Tucker, Frank Sargeant and Wade Bourne. Most of them started writing for me when I was editing Southern Outdoors magazine in the early ’80s, and several are still writing for our magazines today. Of course, I miss my friends Tim Tucker, who died several years ago in a traffic accident, and Uncle Homer.”
Looking Back and Moving Forward
With thousands of bylines and magazines to his credit, Precht can feel proud of his accomplishments as both a writer and editor of the major magazine in the industry. However, there are always pieces that stand out in a career – the ones that mean the most to the writer. Precht has a few of those too.
“I think the piece I am most proud of writing has to be a piece I did on the revival of the jig and pork frog,” he said. “That article ended up getting me the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s National Magazine Writing Award for 1980. I interviewed the people that started Arkie jigs and a number of anglers who took part in bringing back the jig-n-pig.
“Then in 1992 I wrote a piece on the history of B.A.S.S. for the 25th Anniversary Edition of the Magazine. It was an article that went year-by-year and covered important events in B.A.S.S. history along with important events of the time. I talked with a lot of people to put that article together and I’m still proud of it.
“The third article was more of a column. It was about my son and me fishing Quetico on Father’s Day. The idea behind that piece was that kids nowadays have all their physical needs met. They don’t know how it feels to be outdoors for an extended period of time in all kinds of weather, cooking and eating what they catch, and having only nature for entertainment. On the first night in the wilderness, a terrible thunderstorm struck, and we had only a backpacking tent to protect us. But we survived, and that trip provided a time of bonding with my oldest son that we’ll both remember forever. I later took my daughter and younger son to Quetico for the same reasons, and with similar results.
“The last piece I’m proud of was “In Memory” of Homer Circle. Homer meant so much to me – as a friend, colleague and mentor. He was one of the people I looked up to when I was young. I’ve received a lot of mail regarding that piece so I think it was well received.”
I asked Dave what he felt was the biggest difference between the industry back in the early days compared to now. He had a number of thoughts and concerns.
“As far as professional bass fishing goes, most of the pros back in the early days had normal day jobs,” he said. “They weren’t all blue-collar workers but nearly all of them had to work at some job outside the fishing industry.
“They’d all take off for a week to come fish an event, they’d hang out together and they all had a lot of fun. It wasn’t as cutthroat back then as it is today. They had a lot of talent and they shared their secrets willingly.
“Today’s pros are busy marketing themselves, their sponsors and doing a lot of other things industry related. They’re much more competitive because there’s a lot more at stake. They’re all trying to chase their dream of being a professional bass angler. That doesn’t mean today’s pros are any less nice. They just have a lot more on their plate.
“The number of events we have today are also a big factor,” he said. “It used to be we only fished six events and the Classic. Now we fish eight Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, plus a post-season event, and the Classic.
“In the early days, B.A.S.S. tournaments were novelties. A major body of water might only have one or two major tournaments a year. Now, it seems like every weekend there’s a fairly big tournament on the major bodies of water.”
He also commented on how technology has changed the scope of professional bass fishing.
“The advances in technology represent the biggest change overall. When I started all the anglers had were flasher-style depthfinders, a trolling motor and a 125 hp motor. They didn’t take all the rods anglers take today and their boats didn’t have the storage that boats of today have.
“Now anglers have bigger boats, more powerful outboards, more tackle, and electronic devices like GPS and the Hydrowave. Quite frankly, the anglers of the past didn’t catch many fish compared to today’s anglers. There were a lot of 12- to 13-inch fish weighed. In fact, when we went to a 14-inch minimum, a lot of anglers raised hell about it.
“A good example of this is when Bo [Dowden] won the Classic at Thousand Islands in 1980. He won with about 18 pounds a day throwing a jig and a spinnerbait. Now when we have an event there, guys will weigh 21 to 22 pounds a day for five bass. It’s because of new techniques like the drop shot and equipment like the GPS, side imaging and so on.”
I was also interested in what he felt the future was for print media.
“Back in the day when I wrote for the newspaper, writers were exalted people in the community. You were someone of knowledge and authority. It was a memorable time and it was a lot of fun.
“The media today worries me, though,” he said. “You can’t deny that the Internet is replacing print media. A lot of magazines, including fishing magazines, have gone out of business. Our own website, Bassmaster.com, is going great, with double-digit growth every year. Bassmaster Magazine is holding its own in circulation — we still have more than 500,000 members and about 4.3 million readers of every issue — but it has forced us to make some changes in the way our magazines handle content.
“Before the Internet, people got their news about bass tournaments from local newspapers and from Bassmaster. But on Bassmaster.com, you can follow tournaments in real time through BASSTrakk and the live leaderboard. Bassmaster can’t publish tournament results until a couple of months later. Consequently, we have reduced coverage of the competition to just a couple of pages per issue, and we try to find more timeless and relevant ways to report on bass fishing.
“The Internet is all the rage among some advertisers and young readers. And it has some obvious advantages. But I believe there will always be a place for magazines. I like to say that you can find out anything you want by searching on the web, but a magazine teaches you things you didn’t know to search for.”
What advice would he give young journalists wanting to get into the outdoor business?
“First, I wish it were possible for every writer to start out on newspapers. The daily deadlines teach you to work fast and write fast, and the immediate feedback from readers teaches you to get things right. With the demise of newspaper outdoor writing jobs, though, that isn’t an easy way to start.
“I also believe that writers today must be capable of providing content in many different ways. To have a good career in this business, they’ll have to be talented writers, photographers, videographers and web editors. The days of specializing in just one of those skills are limited.
What’s Left to Do
I asked Dave what, if anything, he had left on his so-called bucket list. Here’s what he had to say.
“I want to be able to take my grandkids fishing. My memories of fishing with my dad and uncle are etched in my mind forever, and I hope to get to do that with all my grandkids.
“Another thing I want to do is catch a 13-pound bass. I’ve never caught one heavier than 11 1/2. I’ve also never fished in California so maybe I could accomplish both of those dreams at the same time.”
Overall Dave feels he’s had a blessed life in the industry and with his family.
I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “The quality of people you run into in this industry are people you enjoy to be with and trust. From the biggest-name pros to the manufacturers, they’ve all been great.
“It’s also been a blessing that I’ve been able to live my childhood dream and have a family that’s supported me along the way. My job has allowed me to spend a lot of time with my kids in the outdoors and they’ve all become skilled writers. Plus, I’ve been married for 35 years and my wife loves fishing as well. I’m just so grateful. It’s been a great life and I hope I can continue doing what I love to do as long as possible.”