When golfing legend Bobby Jones wasn’t “shooting” eagles and birdies, he liked to fish for largemouth bass in Clarks Hill Lake on the Georgia-South Carolina border.
Jones was not only one of the finest golfers in the world, he was an all-around sportsman who liked to hunt wild turkeys and bobwhite quail.
The sportsman side of Jones, who in 1930 completed the first and only golf Grand Slam by winning the U.S. and British amateurs and the U.S. and British opens, has taken a back seat until now.
Photos of Jones and his good friend, Major League Baseball’s Ty Cobb, have recently been discovered. The two are pictured playing with bird dog pups at the Georgia Field Trials in Waynesboro, Ga., in 1928.
Had he not been crippled by the disease that eventually proved fatal, Jones might have become a member of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, which came into existence about four years before his death in 1971.
“If I had known that Bobby Jones was a bass fisherman, there’s no doubt I would have cut him a deal,” said BASS founder Ray Scott. Professional golfer “Sam Snead was a BASS member and even bought a 1971 Bassmasters Classic boat,” Scott recalled. “One of our employees, James ‘Pooley’ Dawson, trailered it halfway to Florida from Lake Mead in Nevada to deliver it to Snead. It was a boat powered by a 90-horsepower Chrysler inboard-outboard.”
As it turned out, Scott said he never met Jones, who died of syringomyelia, a rare and degenerative disease of the central nervous system. The disease had reached a point by the 1950s where Jones had to be helped in and out of boats.
“I once fixed up a boat with a comfortable chair in the bow so Bobby could go fishing with me on Georgia’s Lake Sinclair,” said the late Charles Elliott of Covington, Ga., a nationally acclaimed outdoor writer and a cousin several times removed from Jones. “That might have been a forerunner of the modern bass boat.”
In the summer of 1954, Jones joined E.L. “Buck” Perry of Hickory, N.C., for a day’s bass fishing on Clarks Hill Lake. The 70,000-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment on the Savannah River above Augusta, had opened to the public in 1952.
Perry, inventor of the “Spoonplug” and now deceased, saw to it that Jones had a “Grand Slam” kind of day on the lake. The trip had been set up by the late Joe Stearns, public relations director of the old Georgia Game and Fish Department (now Georgia Department of Natural Resources), and Elliott.
“At least, that’s how I remember it,” Perry, then 83, told the outdoor editor of The Augusta Chronicle, who interviewed Perry in 1998 at his business in Hickory. The fishing trip had come to light nearly 45 years later after Stearns’ son-in-law, Matthew Lane of Martinez, discovered an autographed photo of Jones in Stearns’ belongings after the latter’s death some years ago.
Stearns had been on hand at Soap Creek Lodge and Marina on Clarks Hill to take pictures and had sent copies to Jones. Letters of appreciation from Jones to Stearns also were found and preserved by Lane, who had responded the outdoor editor’s story in The Augusta Chronicle about memories of early fishing times on the lake.
“Thanks ever so much for your very nice letter and the excellent color photographs,” Jones wrote in a letter to Stearns dated Aug. 31, 1954. “I am grateful indeed to you for both. I too hope we can do some more fishing together. I want to see particularly if you are still brave enough to slap a big bass in the face with a monofilament line.”
Prior to World War II, Perry – who taught physics and mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University – designed a special lure for his own use.
“After the war, I decided to leave State to go fishing,” Perry said. “Catching bass proved to be no problem, but folks were always trying to find out how I did it. Everywhere I went, the story was the same, so I decided I’d market the lure.”
Not only did he market the Spoonplug, but the bass catches he recorded with it astounded everyone from outdoor writers on down to grass roots fishermen. He is remembered for making 30 straight casts with his Spoonplug into Soap Creek and catching 30 bass.
So here’s Clarks Hill Lake, just two years old and waiting to be placed on every fisherman’s map. What better way to do it than to get a bass-fishing enthusiast and well-known golfer to fish with a well-known bass-fishing expert?
“I remember meeting him at Soap Creek Lodge and soon learned he was a fine gentleman, not egotistical, but as down to earth as possible,” Perry said. “We trolled and cast my Spoonplug, doing more trolling than casting because his health would not permit him to cast as much. I recall seeing heavy braces on both his legs and he used a cane to help get around.
“We caught a bunch of fish and Joe (Stearns) also sent me some of those same photos, which I still have. I’ll say this much about Bobby Jones: He was one of the few celebrities who have fished with me who I really enjoyed having in my boat.”
Guy Yancey “Yank” Moore, employed at Soap Creek Lodge in the mid-50s, guided Jones on Clarks Hill fishing trips on a number of occasions, he said. “He was paralyzed by then and I had to help him get into the boat. He was a hard fisherman and I reckon he’d played golf just as hard.”
Lodge owner “Bear Elam had a big ol’ mahogany boat made up in North Carolina and it was wide and deep,” Moore said. “We used it a lot. We’d troll Spoonplugs and also used spring lizards (salamanders), which were popular live baits at that time, as well as regular bucktail jigs.”
Moore also remembered one other thing about Jones, an Atlanta attorney: “He was a real good tipper!”
Article appears in the August/September 2019 issue of Augusta Magazine.