Backstage Perspectives – Bill Decoteau from The Bass University

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by Mike Ferman

A shot from the filming of Bill's TV Show The Bass Bureau

A still shot taken while filming Decoteau’s TV show

There are some people who you meet in life and instantly know you are going to like – Then you really get to know them and they grow on you even more. Our next subject was one of those people for me. What started as a young boy with a passion for fishing led to one of the industries’ most beloved characters.

While this person built a name as an Outdoor Writer, Editor, Photographer, Tournament Angler, Tournament Director, Company Spokesperson, TV & Radio Show Host, and Emcee & speaker for numerous fishing related events and charities. He is also the onsite coordinator and emcee of The Bass University. But all that means nothing the second you meet who some refer to as ‘Hawkeye’ or ‘Wild Bill’, what stands out instantly is the heart of this man.

William, ‘Bill’ Decoteau is of the rare breed who simply can’t say no, to almost anyone or anything. He is hard working, caring, highly present, and has a unique level of attention to detail; those are the things I noticed when I first met our next guest. Pleas enjoy this edition of Backstage Perspectives – With Bill Decoteau:

Mike Ferman (MF): Who took you fishing for the first time and what were you fishing for?

Bill Decoteau (BD): Trout fishing on opening day with my dad. It used to be a really big thing to do and people would be standing shoulder to shoulder. I remember that it was always the 3rd Saturday in April; it would be dark and you couldn’t make a cast until first light.

MF: What was the first fishing related purchase you remember making?

BD: A Garcia two-piece rod – 2508 was the number. I pulled weeds, cut grass, and I collected milk bottles; believe it or not you could get 25 cents for a one gallon milk bottle way back when. I bought it at a store called Tops, and then I saved for a Mitchell 300.

Cold Water Bassin - Bill caught this fish deep on a dropshot in cold northern water

Bill Decoteau with a Cold Water Northern Dropshot Largemouth

MF: I know your favorite species of fish to chase is black bass, but what other species do you like to target and how?

BD: I really love everything. That being said I do take a trip every year to Louisiana and chase Redfish in the marsh. I love the marsh because you can catch anything. I use bass tackle, mainly a flipping stick and just go flipping around in the canes. You can catch largemouth bass, redfish, or speckled trout on any cast. You can even catch a shark or a flounder. But the redfish are my favorite; they’re a lot of fun.

MF: What bass fishing technique or style do you struggle with most?

BD: I would say my biggest overall weakness is spending too much time in one place – Or not knowing when to move on to the next thing when something stops producing. As far as an actual technique; fishing contact baits. Things like a jig, t-rigged worm, or a Carolina rig that requires you to know where your bait is at all times. I fish them well enough to survive but I do feel like I struggle with being able to pick out the exact piece of cover or structure I am on with those baits sometimes.

MF: If the world was going to end as soon as the trip was over; and you could fish one last body of water anywhere in the world, where are you going fishing?

BD: I have yet to fish for peacock bass, so it would have to be that. I’ve got a friend who is a guide in South Africa and I think they have peacock bass over there so I’d like to go there and fish for peacocks.

MF: Where is home and who is waiting for you when you get there?

BD: Well my wife is with me right now at our cabin in Maine. But we live in Hamden, Mass., it’s a little rural country town up in the mountains along the north eastern Connecticut border.

MF: How did you end up working in the fishing industry?

Two Lunkers Bill Caught at an American Bass Anglers Tournament

Bill Decoteau with a Pair of Tournament Kickers

BD: As far back as I can remember I was interested in fishing. When I was young they gave me the nickname ‘Billy Fish’ which eventually became ‘Billy Bass’. I used to go fishing with a friend of my dad’s who lived next door; he would teach me how to trout fish in streams.

One day we separated and while I was landing a trout I stumbled across a pool just off the main stream we hadn’t fished before. So I landed the trout and put him in the creel. But instead of leaving I decided to make a couple casts and I caught this little fish, it was leaping and jumping and I had no clue what it was — It turned out they were smallmouth bass and I stayed and caught a bunch of them. When I went back and told my dad’s friend he told me they were junk fish, called them brown trout, he said they were no good, and told me to just leave them alone.

Well, I went home and bought a subscription to Outdoor Life and I started reading everything I could on bass fishing. That’s how I fell in love with fishing for bass. As for how I got into the industry; I guess just networking and relationships really. I’ve been involved with fishing so long that one thing led to another and one minute I am just a fisherman. The next I’m being asked to write an article, or filling in at an event when a speaker can’t make it leads to doing more seminars. I had a TV show and two radio shows. I guess networking is the key really. This is a small world and you never know who’s watching.

MF: There are so many facets to your professional life in this industry. When you do find time to relax, how do you like to spend it?

BD: I’m actually doing it right now while we do this interview. I’m on my dock at my cabin in a beautiful Adirondack chair with my feet up watching the pontoon boats drift by with a cold drink and a rod next to me – just in case, you know.

St Lawrence Fattie

Bill Decoteau with a nice St. Lawrence River smallmouth bass

MF: As the emcee of The Bass University you are present for almost every class. Which single class topic/lesson stands out the most?

BD: There are two that really stand out in my mind right off the bat. The first is Dave Wolak; Dave did a class that was brilliant. It was one of our first seminars, it was in New Jersey and Dave took his students underwater. He showed the class where the bass live and what types of numbers of bass were living in certain types of cover and explained everything from the fish’s perspective. It was a great presentation and very thorough.

The second was a class by Jeff Kriet where he basically covered fishing from shallow to deep. He had a 1-2-3 punch that I liked, and the level of detail and sincerity in his presentation was amazing.

At one point he was talking about fishing deep on humps and rises or in depressions and you could really visualize what he was teaching you. He taught the class little things like how to change the angle of approach when they stop biting one direction and fire them back up.

Needless to say he had the entire classes’ attention and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the time and effort he put into it for us. He had some comedy in him too, but his honesty and the simple approach he took to breaking everything down really did it for me. Everyone in the room could understand everything he was saying and were all still able to learn so much that day. That class was a true joy to be a part of.

MF: How has working for the Bass University changed how you look at fishing and how you go about learning more and improving your fishing ability?

BD: That is an interesting question! It’s reaffirmed to me that the little things make the biggest difference. You’ve got to recognize that no two anglers are created equal, and it’s the little differences that matter. Being in so many classes and hearing so many different pros speak you pick up on the little things that are different and you can apply them to best fit your needs.

It’s about balance and taking the fullest advantage out of what will work best for you. I may hear two pros talk about crankbaiting one day, but I know that I will most likely hear two slightly different views on the same thing. I know that I taking what I need for me from the little differences that stick out has helped me improve as angler.

working with the USO option 2

Bill Decoteau emceeing the USO Tournament

The small details you pick up have also been a huge help. For example one or our instructors Bryan Thrift has a bait called the Airfrog; that bait works best with one particular size and brand of hook; it makes all the difference in the world for that bait. It’s the little little things that matter most. The minute details are what makes the best anglers the best and will make the average anglers much better.

 

MF: Time for the Flash 5… Please answer with the first thing that comes to mind.

MF: If you had to choose ONLY ONE technique or lure to use for eternity… What would it be?

BD: I want to say a jig, but I’m going to say a ribbon tail worm – it’s so versatile, you can fish it from top to bottom.

MF: Sushi – Yes Please or No Not For Me?

BD: Yes Please!

MF: What’s your favorite lure color?

Bill, Adrian Avena, & Mike Iaconelli take extra time to recognize and speak with their young students directly during classes at the Bass University

Bill Decoteau, Mike Iaconelli and Adrian Avena visit with young The Bass University students

BD: Green Pumpkin – it works everywhere in the country.

MF: Clam Chowder… Red or White?

BD: White obviously; I am from New England after all.

MF: You are going to be indefinitely stranded on an island and are given one last request. What are you asking for?

BD: A Boat, or if that’s not allowed then I’d like the wood and tools to build one.

MF: Is there anyone you’d like to thank or mention?

BD: I’d like to thank the Lord for giving me every day, it’s a blessing. I’d also like to thank my wife who is my rock and my best friend; after putting up with me for 43 years, she may just be up for sainthood.