June 18, 2014 by Colin Moore
The first annual Don Lee Memorial Tournament is set for Saturday, Sept. 13 out of Russo's Marina on the California Delta, and features a team format (see entry information Don Lee Memorial Event PDF).
There are a couple of things that Don Lee would have liked about an event named in his honor. For one thing, it will be a gathering place for all of his friends: bass fishermen. For another, half the proceeds from the $100 entry fee will go toward the Don Lee College Scholarship Fund for winners of the 2014 The Bass Federation High School Fishing California State Championship.
Lee, who passed away in the spring of 2013, was like the hub in the West Coast bass fishing wheel, with spokes emanating in all directions, and all leading to famous California fishermen or events that shaped the careers of many in the fishing industry. Though Lee wasn't a pro, he might as well have been as his name is associated with most of the early stars of Western fishing, either by helping them get started or through his involvement with various tournaments.
In 1975, Lee became the West Coast representative for Ranger Boats after Mike Folkestad won a Western Bass Open on Clear Lake out of a Ranger. Lee, a well-known rep for several tackle companies at the time, was so impressed by Folkestad's performance and the boat he fished from that he flew to Flippin, Ark., to seal a deal with Ranger Boats founders Forrest and Nina Wood. It was an association that endured through more than 30 years, and the beginning of a long friendship with the Ranger crew.
"I still have his number in my phone," says Forrest Wood. "I haven't been able to bring myself to removing his contact information. He was a good friend to Ranger, a good friend to Nina and me, and a good friend to the fishermen whose lives he touched in various ways. He was a great businessman and just a fun person to be around. There's not too many people in this world that you can say are unique or one of a kind in a good sort of way, but Don certainly was."
Beyond his many ties with the fishing and boating industry, Lee also was a consultant for FLW when the organization began to stage tournaments in the West. Lee served as a liaison between FLW and California fishing communities, whether that might have involved running interference for tournament directors or helping in the negotiation process with potential tournament sites.
"I worked with a lot of factory representatives and others from the fishing industry through the years, and Don Lee was at the top of my list as far as being passionate about the sport of bass fishing," says Bill Taylor, director of tournament operations for FLW. "He was always willing to go the extra mile to help us or anybody who was trying to elevate the sport. I'm sure all of Don's friends and associates will do all they can to support this tournament held to honor his memory."