Still the man - Major League Fishing

Still the man

Larry Lewis of the Georgia Bass Federation has logged more than 34 years at the helm and isn’t ready to call it quits yet
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For more than 34 years, Larry Lewis has served as president of the Georgia Federation, longer than any other leader in the organization. Photo by Colin Moore.
August 7, 2010 • Colin Moore • Angler Columns

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – The Bass Federation’s National Guard Junior Bass Championship staged simultaneously with the Forrest Wood Cup here on Lake Lanier ended with much fanfare and the crowning of champions in the 11-14 age group and 15-18 age groups. Shane Edgar, who isn’t much taller than the trophy presented to him by Federation President Robert Cartlidge, claimed the title in the younger division over five other sectional representatives while Greg Zellers was the winner in the older group. Edgar, of Glendale, Arizona, earned the right to compete for the national championship by winning the Western Division title. Zellers was the Northern Division titlist.

The Junior Championship was a celebration of youth and the promise of tomorrow’s talented anglers. Yet many of attendees on hand to witness the youngsters’ weigh-in here at Laurel Park no doubt paused to marvel at the gentleman from Georgia whose hair has gone white in the service of The Bass Federation (TBF).

For more than 34 years, Larry Lewis has served as president of the Georgia Federation, longer than any other leader in the organization. Now he’s three months shy of his 70th birthday and, while most men his age tend to look back rather than forward, Lewis still sees a role for himself in the TBF.

“These are exciting times for The Bass Federation, what with the huge push we’re making along with our partners, the FLW and the National Guard, to engage more youth in the sport,” says Lewis. “I’m going to stick around long enough to help in anyway I can. I’ve still got the energy and enthusiasm, but I know there’s going to come a time when somebody else is going to have to step up and take over. I’ve got a replacement coming along, but he’s not quite ready yet – neither am I.”

Larry LewisAmong other things, Lewis is making final preparations for the big Camp Sunshine Benefit Bass Tournament the Georgia Federation holds every year at Lake Lanier. A fund-raiser for a youth camp that caters to terminally or seriously ill children, the tournament is co-sponsored by HD Marine of Buford and Wendy’s. It’s raised more than $800,000 for Camp Sunshine, at an annual clip of about $75,000.

Lewis has witnessed a number of major milestones in bass fishing, including the development of the Federation in the late 60s to the Great Schism of 2005, when The Bass Federation split with the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) Afterward, the TBF affiliated with FLW Outdoors, though another group of former state Federation members stayed with BASS and became the Federation Nation. The split followed the purchase of BASS by ESPN, and to this day Lewis thinks it could have been easily avoided.

“I was there when they (ESPN representatives) told us how it was going to be and if we didn’t like it, they were going to fire us and get some new people in to run the Federation,” recalls Lewis. “Of course, that was like telling 52 people who owned their own companies that they were fired. ESPN couldn’t fire us because they didn’t own The Bass Federation – we did.

“The best thing that ever happened to us is when we hooked up with FLW [Outdoors]. The FLW has provided more monetary support for our projects in the short time that we been partnered with them than BASS ever did. Still, if the ESPN people had just apologized to us at the time and acknowledged our right to choose for ourselves, the split probably would never have happened,” says the Roswell resident.

Lewis jokes that at every Georgia Federation meeting, he asks members to elect a new president and then he leaves the room. When he returns, he discovers that he’s still the guy calling the shots. It just proves that Lewis is too good to lose, and that Georgia fishermen are smart enough to realize it.