Throwback Thursday – Larry Nixon – Living Legend

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Time for another Throwback Thursday.  Let’s take a gander at legendary angler Larry Nixon from the popular Legends of the Sport column from Dan O’Sullivan’s days at Bass West USA magazine.  Like other editions, this was written in 2009, so Nixon’s tale continues to grow.  Perhaps the most natural angler to ever set foot on the pro tours, Nixon continues to rack up accolades including a tour level win on the Detroit River in 2012 and a top five finish in the Forrest Wood Cup in 2013.

by Dan O’Sullivan

According to online dictionaries, the term ‘Legend’ has several meanings, it can mean; ‘an unverified story handed down from earlier times, especially one popularly believed to be historical.’ It might mean; ‘An explanatory table or list of the symbols appearing on a map or chart.’ Or in the case of the bass fishing world, a ‘Legend’ is; ‘one that inspires legends or achieves legendary fame.’

Larry Nixon 2013 Forrest Wood Cup

Larry Nixon Fishing during the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

A Legend of the sport is someone who has made significant contributions or achieved uncommon accomplishments en route to leaving an indelible mark on the history of the sport. These are individuals who have set new standards, created new trends and driven the bar to new heights as they have blazed the trails of their careers.

Without these individuals, the sport of bass fishing would have nothing to measure itself against. The industry, minus their involvement, would likely be in a much less advanced state than it is. The drive of dominating competition, on and off the water has left a trail of history that many are witness to, yet few are a component of.

One of those anglers is Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark.

Nixon by the Numbers
Like any other major sport, bass fishing has its yardsticks, tools by which anglers are compared to their contemporaries and those generations ahead of and behind them. Larry Nixon may actually be one of those yardsticks, as opposed to an angler who is measured by one.

Each professional league, BASS and FLW has its millionaires, anglers who have eclipsed the million dollar mark in their careers. There are those who have done it in FLW, and those who have done it with BASS, but with some research, one finds that only Nixon has done it in both places. At present, only George Cochran is within striking distance of matching that accomplishment.

Nixon’s career BASS earnings total $1,634,858.60 while he has posted $1,138,269 in FLW earnings. What makes his the sum total of his paychecks more impressive is that his single largest payday in 29 years of BASS competition was $109,000, and since 1998, is biggest FLW payday was $200,000. In a career that spans more than 30 years, Nixon has averaged $6,287.92 in 260 Bassmaster entries and $11,614 in 98 FLW events fished.

All told, in 358 professional entries, Nixon has finished in the money 247 times. The end result being that 68% of the time that Nixon’s name goes on a tournament roster, he performed well enough to collect a paycheck.

If paydays were the only measuring tool, Nixon would certainly be ranked among the top athletes our sport has ever seen. However, to stop at the monetary would be leaving a lot of his accomplishments on the table.

His long career has included 25 trips to the Bassmaster Classic, which produced a Classic Championship on the Ohio River in 1983. His career also includes two Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles, the first in 1980, followed by a second in 1982. He finished in the money in 176 of his 260 Bassmaster entries; included in those paycheck finishes are 14 wins, 12 2nd place finishes and 82 top 10 performances. He is one of only 11 anglers to have won both the Bassmaster Classic and Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles.

In support of his accomplishments at BASS, Nixon’s FLW resume includes 98 tournament entries, in which he collected a paycheck 71 times. He has won three FLW events, all on the Tour level, and has made the top 10 cut 14 times. In his 11 FLW seasons he has had 10 qualifications to the Forrest L. Wood Cup.

Aside from those mind boggling statistics, the one thing that truly set Nixon apart from his competition was the Bassmaster Megabucks format. Megabucks was two events in one, a qualifying round in which the full field competed for three days then were cut once, a fourth day in which the top 10 anglers were settled for the finals. The finals consisted of moving to a section of the lake that had been cordoned off in a series of holes over a two day period.

In the finals, anglers would get 50 minutes to fish each hole before having to rotate to the next one. The draw of Megabucks was that it featured one of the largest paydays in the sport at the time. Nixon won four Megabucks events, his first in 1988, two in 1990 and another in 1991. No other angler claimed more than one victory in Megabucks.

Larry Nixon

Larry Nixon 1979 Arkansas Invitational – photo courtesy B.A.S.S.

Nixon was the first angler to eclipse $1,000,000 in career earnings. He reached that milestone on October 17, 1992 at the Megabucks event at Lake Guntersville, in Alabama. His $30,000 4th place prize put his career total at that time at $1,003,486 with BASS. Several other anglers have followed in his footsteps; however, he was the first.

With all of these accolades and titles, the Bee Branch, Ark. pro is, along with four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Rick Clunn, one of the main inspirations for many of the pros who compete today. The consistent excellence, and the mild mannered, easily approachable way in which he carried himself led many young anglers to believe they could pursue the casting for cash game as a profession.

The Beginnings
Like so many who learn to enjoy fishing, Nixon began going bass fishing with his dad, a Baptist Minister, when he was five or six years old. “My dad loved to fish for bass, but he mainly fished for food,” said the 58-year-old pro. “He taught me that to be really good at fishing required knowing where to find fish, and a lot of patience; those lessons have carried me a long way in competition.”

While his father taught him a lot about fishing and life, the elder Nixon was not a very competitive person, it was a job choice and a group of friends who taught him to excel in competition.

Along with the teachings of his father, Nixon, who spent a couple of years in college, used to guide on some of the more storied bass fisheries in the country. Making a living as a guide required having the ability to locate fish quickly, and Nixon proved that he could find them as well as anyone. “I started picking up guide trips using the old Ranger Boat that my dad had purchased,” Nixon said. “At that time, all of the really good guides were migrating from Bull Shoals to Greer’s Ferry Lake to Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn, so that was what I did. ”

It was during his time as a guide that Nixon came to know Tommy Martin, another Toledo Bend guide that would become a good friend and one of his mentors. Together with Martin, John Torian and Harold Allen, they would become known as the ‘Hemphill Gang,’ perhaps one of the most feared groups of anglers to ever enter BASS tournaments.

Throughout the years, Nixon would travel with and compete around Martin, and it continues to be Martin’s passion for fishing and love for life that sets an example for him. “Tommy still has the fire,” Nixon revealed. “He will be 69 in November of this year, and he still gets up every morning looking to go after it, he still guides and competes, he’s been a great example for me and friend to me all these years.”

“Tommy encouraged me to enter tournaments,” Nixon said of his longtime friend. “So I saved some money from guiding and entered the first BASS Invitation of 1977 on the St. Johns River in Florida. I finished 16th in that event, and won $900, which was enough to keep fishing.”

He would end up cashing a check at every tournament in 1977, and qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic. However, even with his success, things were not all they’d cracked up to be. “The sum total of all of those checks wasn’t even $4000; I was broke and on my way out,” Nixon said. “My father raised me to not be in debt, and if it wasn’t for placing 2nd (to Clunn on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain) in the Classic and getting a $10,000 prize, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this as a career.”

He took that momentum however, and would go on to cash seven consecutive checks the next year. It was Clunn that really helped him with his first major sponsor that would enable him to go even further. “Rick introduced me to the people at Glastron Boats,” Nixon reported. “Glastron provided me a boat to use, my entry fees and $300 for expenses at each event; without Rick, and the people at Glastron, I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it one more year.”

As history would later show, if that had occurred we would have missed one of the most impressive careers, and one of the true big event specialists our sport has ever seen. One event, one format, would prove to the fishing world that Nixon meant business on the sport’s biggest stages. Outside of the Bassmaster Classic, there was no bigger stage than Megabucks, and Nixon owned them.

Mr. Megabucks
With $2000 entry fees and a big purse, the Bassmaster Megabucks was the precursor to today’s high stakes events on the Elite Series and FLW Tour. Until that point the winner of a major national event could expect to claim $25,000 to $30,000 for their prize. Megabucks represented one of the single largest paydays available at the time, sometimes topping $100,000.

Larry Nixon

Larry Nixon 1999 Mich Top 150 St. Clair – photo courtesy B.A.S.S.

The anglers, that usually numbered more than 200, would start the event on the main portions of a body of water. They would have the opportunity to qualify for the top 10, who would then move on to a final two-day championship round. That championship round would be held on a separate section of the lake that was closed to competitors for the qualifying round. That section of the lake was divided into 10 separate holes that anglers would have to rotate through on a schedule.

What this meant was that anglers would have less than an hour to examine the hole, pick out the likely spots for bass to live in and catch them before having to move to the next one. Nixon said it was his ability to find fish quickly that gave him an advantage in the format. “Qualifying for the final round was the most difficult part of Megabucks,” Nixon said. “It was challenging with so many anglers trying to make the final 10 spots.”

Once in the finals, Nixon used an innate sense of locating fish, and the skills his father instilled in him to combat the course. “I looked at it differently than most I suppose,” Nixon speculated. “Rather than looking for big, tournament winning bites, I tried to fish the most obvious spot on the hole first.” Once he caught one, he would begin to expand on the area.

“I could always spot where a bass lived, it was a necessity learned in my guiding days,” Nixon said. “I focused on trying to catch one fish per hole, then I could start putting together a pattern. If I focused on each particular area, it would keep me from getting overwhelmed by the schedule and the process of rotating.

His approach produced four Megabucks Championships. His first in 1988 on Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, Fla. produced a $109,000 prize. His second victory in February of 1990 came on the Harris Chain again, this time he earned $108,788. His third Megabucks title came in November of 1990 at Lake Guntersville, where he earned $76,304. Then came the 1991 event at Lake Chickamauga in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he earned $88,572 rounding out his fourth and final Megabucks championship.

In 15 entries into Megabucks competition, to go along with his four victories, Nixon was also a runner up, and finished 4th and 9th on separate occasions. Combined, he finished in the top 10 of Megabucks nearly 50-percent of the time; an incredible set of accomplishments in what could possibly have been the toughest format the sport of bass fishing has ever seen.

Family Support and Memories
Nixon and his wife Amy have been married for 26 years, and they have three adult children. He credits Amy’s understanding and support for allowing him to reach the level of success he has. “Amy has always supported me throughout my career, both physically and emotionally,” Nixon said of his wife. “I wouldn’t know what was going on half the time without her. She takes care of things at home so I don’t have to worry about them, and she helps keep me organized and on time, I wouldn’t be here without her.”

One of Nixon’s favorites involved his 1983 Bassmaster Classic Championship, and while winning the Classic would be a favorite memory for any professional angler, for Nixon it had special meaning because Amy Larry Nixon FLW Trophy - photo by FLW Outdoors - Jennifer Simmonswas with him. “We were really young and had nothing to our names at the time,” Nixon said. “To have Amy with me when I won the Classic was really special because we did it together, that will always be one of my favorite moments.”

Days Ahead
At 59-years-old, Nixon still competes on the FLW Tour, and he has continued to do so with much of the same level of excellence that has been the trademark of his career. In fact, the week after sitting down for this interview, Nixon would qualify for his 14th FLW top 10 on Kentucky Lake. After leading the first two days, he would eventually finish the event in 3rd place.

Despite injuries and surgeries that have affected his arms and hands, the Arkansas pro continues to see each tournament as his to win. His outlook provides him with goals that he wants to see occur before he eventually retires from competition.

He admits that one of those goals kind of eats at him. “I want to win the Forrest L. Wood Cup, especially since I was so close in 2000 at the Red River in Shreveport,” Nixon said. “I led it every day until the last day when Mother Nature decided to throw a big storm into the area, and the silt came through the lock and filled the gully I was fishing.” To him, completing that goal would be the perfect scenario to wrap up his Larry Nixon FLW Trophy - photo by FLW Outdoors - Jennifer Simmonsglorious career.

Defining a Career
There are accomplishments that create the definition of a professional’s career, and there are individual moments that create indelible impressions that leave their own personal stamp on an industry; that Larry Nixon FLW Trophy - photo by FLW Outdoors - Jennifer Simmonssignature moment of their career.

Larry Nixon FLW Trophy - photo by FLW Outdoors - Jennifer Simmons

Larry Nixon FLW Trophy – photo by FLW Outdoors – Jennifer Simmons

For Nixon himself, his first Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in 1980 is the crowning achievement that provided the defining moment of his professional quest. “Winning the Bassmaster Angler of the Year in Larry Nixon FLW Trophy - photo by FLW Outdoors - Jennifer Simmons1980 really made me believe I had a future in the sport,” Nixon said. “That was the moment that I felt like I had arrived as a professional angler, like I belonged out there.”

While accomplishments and records certainly create the mural that is an angler’s career, there are moments within that point to the fortitude required to survive in the brutally competitive sport of professional bass fishing. For Nixon, one of those moments came in the 1993 Megabucks event at Lake Murray in Columbia, S.C.

While competing late into the second day of the finals, Nixon had zero keepers in his livewell with only three rotations remaining. At a time when most anglers would be in panic mode, Nixon would show the calm, collected nature that so few competitive anglers exhibit. With the cameras rolling, and the commentators remarking about the tough day he was having, Nixon would turn to the camera and say, “Oh, I’m gonna get my five,” as if to show he was the only one with any sense of confidence in his abilities.

When weigh-in would commence, Nixon would not only show up with a limit, but one that was good enough to take the lead. “Even though thinks looked bad only a little while earlier, I wasn’t concerned, I had the belief in myself that I could catch them,” he related. “I’d have won too if Tommy Biffle wouldn’t have caught a big one in the final few minutes to beat me.” Though his quest for his fifth Megabucks title would be short lived, the determination showed what Nixon was made of.

While his career has already left an indelible mark on the sport of bass fishing, he still competes on the FLW Tour, and had schedules been aligned, Nixon would still be competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He has proven himself time and time again, yet with the work ethic and dedication of a man twenty years his junior; he still pursues those fish his father taught him to love so many years ago.

It has been said, that for an angler to be successful as a tournament fisherman, he must be young in body but old in mind. Larry Nixon has always been both, that is why he is a Professional Angler, a role model, an inspiration to many, a Champion – a Legend of the Sport.