CELEBRATION, Fla. If BASS ever had a guardian angel, his name was Don Butler.
Butler's support of BASS and bass fishing was second to none. When Ray Scott was forming the organization in the late 1960s, Butler was the first to join, giving Scott a $100 bill so that he could be a life member.
Butler owned a Tulsa, Okla., lumber company and was a key advisor to Scott in the earliest days of BASS. When Scott was short of funds to send BASS membership applications to anglers, it was Butler who saved the day.
"I tried borrowing money to buy the stamps I needed, but I had no collateral," Scott recalls. "The post office wouldn't lend me the stamps, either. One afternoon, Don Butler called and asked how things were going. I told him the whole story.
"The next day, I got a call from a Western Union office saying that a money wire was waiting for me. I assumed it was a fisherman's entry fee. Instead it was $10,000. The only clue I had about who sent it was that it was from Tulsa, Okla., Don Butler's hometown. About three weeks later, I was able to repay him."
Like Johnny Morris (Bass Pro Shops), Tom Mann (Mann's Bait Company and Humminbird Electronics), Bill Dance (Bill Dance Outdoors) and Roland Martin (Fishing with Roland Martin), Butler benefited from the early days of bass fishing.
He formed his own lure company (Okiebug) and tackle distributorship. He was a fishing innovator and designed the first aeration system for a bass boat, making catch-and-release a viable option for millions of anglers.
Apart from being a supporter of BASS and bass conservation, Butler also was a fine fisherman.
In 1972, he won the CITGO Bassmaster Classic in dramatic fashion. After falling behind by nearly 13-pounds on the first day, Butler bounced back and took the lead on Day 2. By the time the three-day event was over, Butler had used his Small Okiebug spinnerbait to easily outpace the rest of the field. His 13-pound, 7-ounce margin of victory is the second largest in Bassmaster Classic history.
The next season, Butler won the Arkansas Invitational on Beaver Lake. He effectively retired from tournament fishing after the 1975 BASS season. In 26 career BASS events, Butler finished in the money an impressive 17 times. In addition to his two wins, he had eight top 10 finishes.
Butler died in December of 2004 after a long battle with cancer. He was 74 years old.
Daily tournament weigh-ins of the Bassmaster Memorial begin 3:30 p.m. CT, May 18-21 at the Will Rogers Coliseum. The final day's weigh-in will include same-day coverage on ESPN2, May 21 at 7 p.m. ET. The Bassmaster Memorial also features an outdoors expo on May 20 and 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT.
Local sponsors include the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau. For more information, visit www.FortWorth.com.
Sponsors of the Bassmaster Majors include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Advance Auto Parts and Theraseed.