April 23, 2013 by Gary Mortenson
While the phrase "true legend of the sport" can seem a bit trite and overused at times, when it comes to FLW Tour pro Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., that label couldn't be more appropriate or accurate. With nearly 37 years of professional tournament bass fishing under his belt, Nixon is almost universally regarded as one of the greatest anglers of all time - as well as one of the most revered gentlemen this sport has ever seen.
But while his easygoing and "aw shucks" personality is as legendary as it is endearing, Nixon didn't become a household name simply because he was a nice guy. It was because was (and still is) an outstanding angler, one of the best in the business.
Born in 1950, Nixon has been competing professionally for the better part of four decades. His career has already outlasted nearly nine U.S. presidential administrations, the rise and fall of disco, and the entire duration of NASA's Space Shuttle program. During that time, he's amassed well over $3 million in career tournament winnings on both the FLW and BASS tourney trails. He boasts 13 Forrest Wood Cup appearances, 25 Bassmaster Classic appearances, four FLW Tour wins, 14 BASS titles as well as a Bassmaster Classic victory back in 1983. And those are just some of the accolades, because the complete list of Nixon's achievements is realistically too unwieldy to articulate in even a small compendium of articles.
So what is Nixon up to these days? And what does he think about the sport's evolution over his storied career? Recently, FLWOutdoors.com decided to speak to Nixon and find out. For starters, the Chevy pro has struggled a bit in the opening stanza of the 2013 FLW Tour season. However, the Arkansas native is hopeful that he is on the cusp of turning things around. And if Beaver Lake is an indication, he's definitely on the right track.
"I had a great tournament at Beaver Lake. I only missed the cut by 1 pound, 10 ounces so I was generally pleased with my performance there. But my first two tournaments were kind of tough for me. I had a rough time at Lake Okeechobee (106th place) and Lewis Smith Lake was brutal (131st place)," said Nixon. "But on the positive side of things, I've already qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup (via a first-place finish in the 2012 FLW Tour Open point standings race) and now we're getting into the time of year where I feel like I'm at my best. At my age, I really don't like the cold weather. It's just tougher on my body. But now as the weather is starting to get warmer, I'm raring to go. Like I said, this is my time of year. And better yet, during these next few tournaments we'll be getting rid of that stinking A-rig."
Ah yes, the Alabama rig. One of the most controversial, innovative and widely publicized baits in the history of the sport, the Alabama rig rarely evokes merely a shoulder shrug when mentioned in casual conversation among pros. In short, everyone seemingly has a strong opinion on the dramatic rise in popularity of umbrella rigs, and Nixon is no exception - hint: he's not a big fan.
"To be honest with you, I think the states are the (entities) that are going to need to jump on this. I don't know if the answer is (banning it) or just reducing the amount of lures to five or less. But I think something needs to be done. However, I'm not necessarily sure tournament organizations should be the ones that have to regulate it," said Nixon. "Now, to be fair, the A-rig has done a lot for the industry and saved a lot of butts. But from a personal standpoint, I hate it. For starters, at my age, it's just hard to throw. It really hurts my hands, arms and shoulders. Also, when you get up to eight, 10 or 12 lures on one rig, I think you've going too far - that's just my personal opinion."
"Again, there have been many evolutions to this sport over the years. But to me, the A-rig is really the one that's the most offbeat," Nixon continued. "That bait definitely outsmarts the bigger and older fish that you normally wouldn't be able to catch. Don't get me wrong, you have to be good to fish this bait. But I'm not sure it's in the best interest of the sport. Realistically, the Alabama rig has made probably the biggest change in winter and early spring fishing that I've seen in my career. It just really dominates coldwater tournaments."
While the Alabama rig is certainly one of the most novel innovations the sport has absorbed over Nixon's lifetime, it certainly isn't the only one. And after speaking with Nixon it's clear, to say the least, that the Arkansas pro undoubtedly sides with the old-school approach when it comes to the topic of the myriad new toys now available to pros of all ages, stripes and incomes.
"Since I started fishing more than 30 years ago, the sports been inundated with a lot of changes. There's new mapping electronics, GPS systems, scans, etc. And in many ways, those (advances) have taken away a lot of the advantages I used to have as a fisherman -being able to read the water and develop (tournament) strategies from experience," said Nixon.
However, Nixon also acknowledges that it's only natural that the sport will continue to grow and push new boundaries when it comes to innovation. After all, similar technological advances have transpired in every sport from football to golf to hunting to hockey - so why should bass fishing be any different?
"There are other changes to the sport that I've seen as well that have had a significant impact. There is no doubt that the side-scan and down-scan (electronic advances) have made a difference. I've been using it but I still haven't perfected (the process). You have to rig those up very precisely. But some of the kids on Tour have got it down to a science, and that's a big advantage," said Nixon. "It really is an evolution in science. I wish it didn't exist, but again that's just a personal thing. Those advances in electronics are the type of things that drive this industry and sport so I'd never say anything negative about it. But the one thing I will say is that no matter what, you still have to be a good angler to succeed, regardless of how good your electronics are."
At the tender age of 62, Nixon is as feisty and motivated as ever. However, that being said, the Arkansas pro acknowledged that at times, he's definitely starting to feel his age. So how is Nixon still able to compete with the young guns on Tour who have twice the stamina and none of the arm and shoulder problems that occasionally befall legends of the sport over time?
"I can't go toe to toe with these younger guys 100 percent of the time anymore," said Nixon. "But 50 percent of the time, I have a good chance against them. I can definitely still catch fish. And as long as I can still fish worms, jigs and the occasional topwater bait when I have to, I'm in good shape. I also have some good friends like Andy Morgan and Luke Clausen, to name a few, who help keep me up to date on the latest trends. And that helps. So don't worry about me, I'll survive."
Now that the season is finally transitioning away from pre-spawn and height-of-the spawn tour stops, Nixon feels as confident as he's been all year that the field will once again have to start worrying about the wily old-timer in the Chevy jersey.
"We've got three more tournaments coming up and they should all be post-spawn events," said Nixon. "And that's right down my alley. I really can't wait."