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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2005
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Fishing giant Tom Mann will be missed

Checking my e-mails this week from the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, I learned of the passing of Tom Mann.

Paul Stackhouse
Outdoors
Paul Stackhouse
Mann, a legend in the bass-fishing kingdom, died Feb. 11 in Eufaula because of heart complications.

Mann was a true leader and a part of almost every aspect of the fishing industry. He has worked at everything from conservation officer to a lure and electronics designer to tournament pro and television-fishing host.

"This is a tremendous loss to those of us here at BASS, our industry and to everyone who loves the outdoors," BASS General Manager Don Rucks said. "Tom Mann was a classic example of the American dream and one of the great entrepreneurs that our sport helped to produce."

In his 2002 autobiography, "Think Like a Fish," Mann described himself as "a depression-born boy who grew up to start a business with five dollars that eventually generated auxiliary industries and a multimillion-dollar annual cash flow."

Mann was born in 1932 outside of Penton in East Alabama, and formed Mann Bait Company in 1958, making the lures himself and having his children package them in his home.

Mann became an Alabama conservation officer in 1960, and it was during this time that he designed a tailspinner lure he called "Little George." It was named after then-Gov. George Wallace. Mann sold millions of the lures during the years and the bait put his company on solid financial footing. In the 1970s, Mann's Jelly Worms started the trend of making soft plastic baits in multitudes of different flavors.

To this day, Little Georges and Mann's grape (purple) plastic worms still play a major role in my bass fishing routine.

I can't even begin to tell you how many children I have taken fishing all across North Alabama where they caught largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, hybrid stripe, white bass, sauger, catfish, skipjack and crappie on Little George lures.

Without having taken a course in electronics, he began experimenting with fish-finding technology, ultimately developing and patenting the Hummingbird depthfinder. Having said that, I can probably safely say that even those outdoor enthusiasts who didn't know his name, knew about the Hummingbird depthfinder.

Mann also was an early supporter of BASS, fishing in the first event Ray Scott (founder of BASS) held in Arkansas in 1967.

"Tom was the second man to send me the $100 entry fee for the Beaver Lake tournament that started it all," Scott said.

Mann recounted the incident in a humorous passage of his autobiography. At first, he told Scott that he wasn't sure he should enter the event.

"I don't know," Mann recalled. "I don't think I want to take the time off work, and I don't want to risk the hundred dollars."

Mann finished fourth at that first event and later learned that Scott had told all 100 anglers that they were the best and a sure bet to win.

He went on to become an early star on the BASS Tournament Trail, winning two events and qualifying for seven CITGO Bassmaster Classics between 1971 and '78, before retiring from competitive fishing in 1985. Though Mann never won the Classic, he did manage four top five finishes, including second place in the inaugural event in 1971.

It is safe to say Mann influenced most serious bass anglers, whether they know it or not.

While the bass-fishing kingdom will miss Mann dearly, the gifts he has left us will continue to make us all better anglers and people alike.

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