My first interview and I land a legend. How did I pull it off? I asked, that’s how! Find out why Dee says fish like an old man.
On Tour With Dee Thomas
Outstanding: It is the fall of 2009 and I sit as a spectator at a FLW National Guard California Delta final day pro weigh in. The anglers that comprise this top ten might look like any final cut anywhere across the nation. However one exception stood out, this angler is none other than Dee Thomas. Well into his 70's his boat is equipped with a custom hand rail and he uses an oxygen tank to assist his breathing. Yet Dee Thomas stands on stage with nine other anglers most easily half his age.
It is remarkable, many an accomplished tournament angler seems to reach a point in their career when nothing much really happens even when they continue to compete actively. Dee on the other hand demonstrates that this is not the case for him. In spite of his condition his determination is obvious as he remains right in the thick of one of the biggest events in the western United States; competing against younger anglers some the best on the planet and most in great athletic shape. While observing Dee on stage I could not help but think of the times I have watched young physically fit anglers just mentally quit, simply give up in the middle of competition. Dee shows all of us that he can still get the job done.
I have read and heard of the impact that Dee Thomas has made on bass fishing through his creative innovations and so that day in Oakley California as I listened to Dee speak on stage I was inspired to find out more about this legend. What drives him and what makes Dee Thomas who he is?
Expecting to be rejected I called to ask Mr. Thomas for an interview and was extremely surprised when Dee said yes and invited me to spend a day with him. After speaking with him for only a few minutes once again his charterer was "Outstanding".
Since being the 1st Winning Californian to travel back east and win a B.A.S.S. event Dee has had a high demand for his time for interviews from journalists and radio show hosts. While considering his current condition I wondered why he said yes to my "On Tour " request.
I learned that Dee's priority is to "Give Back" and in the spirit of this he did not hesitate to give me his time.
Give back, those two words are one of Dee's biggest messages to fellow bass anglers, especially successful tournaments anglers. Do something that does not only benefit yourself , do something to help people experience and enjoy fishing, especially children and those who are physically challenged. Dee feels he sees too many selfish attitudes in bass fishing and wants to encourage anglers to get involved, teach, support, build, protect our beloved sport and "Give-back".
Out on the water I watched Dee make his first flip of the day. Seconds after his lure softly entered the water he turned to me with a smile and said, " I haven't been bit yet, I must be off today"!
In this joking way he expressed his self confidence, he is confident in his skills, choice of equipment and last but not least his knowledge. If there is one word that sums up Dee Thomas and his angling success it would be Confidence.
Confidence is at the core of his mental preparation as he fears no one. Fishing his second B.A.S.S. event in 1975 at Bull Shoals Arkansas at the end of day one Dee found himself in second place with Tommy Martin leading the tournament. The moment he looked at the leader board Dee realized he could compete against and beat anyone in professional bass fishing. He remembers looking at the standings after the first day weigh in and telling himself, "there was no doubt as to what I can do"!
He went on to clobber the field and win the 3 day event.
Anyone who has experienced the professional tournament trail knows that it is one of the most physically and mentally demanding challenges an angler confronts. When I asked Dee how he is able to still keep up in this sport and continue to perform at such a high level he laughed and simply answered, "the bass do not know how old I am"! What a revelation , the bass do not know who Dee is and Dee has always felt that when he is angling the competition is only between the bass and himself. This has been the forefront of his approach throughout his career.
Dee went on to explain that he has never fished against a man; he has never tried to beat a bunch of guys, he has always tried to beat the fish. When he enters a tournament he does not think about the field, his goal is to go out and catch the five biggest bass that he can.
Dee selects his techniques informed by the specific body of water he is fishing , including the time of year, the time of day, water conditions and the conditions of the day. Never having to or wanting to, worry about other anglers he only determines what the bass want at that time. In doing so as he puts it, "the results will follow".
Change Make it Work For You
During a trip to Clear Lake Dee was observing two anglers loading their boat. They had fishing poles that were at least 14' in length. At first Dee thought they were perch fisherman. When asked they replied with big smiles, "No we fish for black bass". The answer surprised Dee. At the end of the day Dee waited at the dock so he could see firsthand the catch the two long pole angler's brought in. In the days before catch and release these guys had 10 bass the smallest was 3 pounds. This left a big impression with Dee.
Equipped with a 12' pole and fixed line without a reel Dee began tulle dipping. He then started practicing and fishing many different lakes, including the California Delta. In the days before braided line the long pole allowed a strong angler to place a bait in well protected holes, hook a bass and then forcefully hoist them out. Dee said, "I became a good tulle dipper and was really tearing the bass up". It did not take long and he began entering California bass tournaments.
Soon Dee and his partner won an event using tulle dipping techniques and the competition was furious. At the time there was nothing in the rules that did not allow the long pole. Perhaps these other competitors didn't realize that they too could tulle dip. Several of the "conventional" anglers went to the tournament director. Under protest they told him that if he continued to allow Dee Thomas to use his long pole they would not fish anymore of his events.
The T. D. went to Dee, explained the situation and then asked Dee how much he would be willing to shorten his fishing pole. Dee much too his credit said, "Ok I will limit it to 7'-6"". With a new shorter conventional set up featuring a reel Dee went back to the business of catching bass. At first the new equipment was not working well for him. He couldn't quite reach his targets, it just wasn't working.
So he started experimenting, holding line in one hand and then swinging his lures out towards his marks. It did not take long and Dee realized that he could get farther back under overhangs , lay-downs, docks you name it. He also discovered that by holding line out in one hand and starting with a longer line length than his tulle dipping gear he could cover a greater range of depth. He was now able to target more bass than ever.
The protesters would soon learn that they should have left well enough alone. Their objections had just made Dee even better. Dee grins as he tells the story of how during the tournaments proceeding the new rod length rule he crushed the field again and again and again. They forced Dee to change and he made it work for him as he developed his new technique of Flipping!
Fish like an Old Man
Flipping sticks as we know them today have not changed drastically since Dee Thomas developed the first one. Yet today they are much lighter, more sensitive and have better guides. Coupled with braided line and modern hooks Dee says , " You don't have to be exceptionally fast and strong". Modern equipment enables an older angler like Dee to get in the ring with younger talent. In fact Dee's advice is to, "Fish like an Old Man". He says if you watch super talent like Brent Ehrler or Skeet Reese they don't rush, they fish methodically and every cast is fished like it is the last cast they're going to make. They also don't overfish. Dee told me that is how he has always fished.
Make Every Cast Count
During practice Dee says it is important to fish the same hours as the tournament. He cites guys pre-fishing that go out mid day and fish late in the afternoon and come back bragging about the 15 pound bag they caught. Dee says they are not helping themselves. The fish typically always bite well late in the day but the information gained does not have much value to Dee. His advice, "You need to pre-fish during tournament hours".
I have had the great privilege of being in the boat with many extremely accomplished bass anglers. This group includes a few Hall of Fame inductees, tournament champions of the highest caliber, television hosts, authors, successful lure and technique innovators and other awesome sticks who tend to avoid the radar. One of the most common traits these anglers display is equipment management. Across the board they are all extremely organized with their tackle and boats. Dee is no exception and one of the best I've seen. Skillful and smooth use of your tools translates to efficiency. This starts with equipment organization. Efficiency is a great friend of success.
Lessons From a Winner
Asking Dee what is it that keeps him not only fishing but still winning he switches to a matter of fact reply, "This is what I do, I fish. As far back as I can remember it is what I have always done". I doubt Dee will ever give up. As he put it, as long as his body will allow he will continue to not only fish but will succeed while competing.
Commitment to a community through teaching . Developing confidence in your skills and adapting to changes. Focusing on the task at hand and making each attempt towards success count. Proper practice, organization, dedication and determination I bet these traits would serve one well regardless of what in life a person does.
Dee hopes that he has taught people how to fish and this above all will be his legacy. Dee, you have done that and so much more. Thanks to your trial and error you have cut the learning curve for all who follow. You are one of the original Californians to show the nation how to not only catch fish in new ways but also dominate the competition. You are an innovator of equipment but perhaps even more importantly an innovator of techniques. It does not stop there, even today you teach us dedication, passion and spirit. Dee you have shown us that age does not matter and you have taught me to never give up.
Mr. Thomas you have taught us well and you continue to teach us every day, thank you.