Spanish moss drapes from the fat- bottomed cypress trees, creating a setting out of a John Grisham novel. Humid and steamy, Lake Bistineau in northern Louisiana is the epitome of a Louisiana swamp, with untold numbers of frogs and other critters playing a symphony among the trees that fill its shallow backwaters.
For some, the lake is beautiful and mysterious. For Homer Humphreys of Minden, La., it's just another day at the office.
“I’m on the water 260 to 285 days a year,” he says, while trolling his Bass Cat boat through the cypress knees. “If I am not fishing tournaments, I am taking people fishing through my guide service.”
Humpheys professes a love for fishing that came naturally and unexpectedly.
“When I was in high school, I wasn't very good at typing,” he says slyly, in his northern Louisiana accent. “I was better at catching fish than I was in class, so when I found out my typing teacher loved catfish — well, let's just say that I passed that year.”
The Path to the Pros
“The first year I started fishing tournaments back in 1974, I was still working full time,” he says, as he casts a chartreuse-and-white spinner bait across a skinny water flat, flanked by cypress trees. “But back then I didn't get paid in money. They paid us in bass boats, and my wife has a picture of 12 boats in our front yard.”
In those early days of his career, Humphreys was a meat cutter and meat market manager for Safeway grocery stores. He says that because of his productive nature, his employer allowed him to fish on the tournament circuit while he still worked at the store.
By the second year of his bass tournament career, Humphreys had won some money and even more boats, and decided that being a professional angler was a wise career choice. In 1976, he walked away from the security of a full-time job and started fishing the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) tournament trail.
The Pro Circuit
For the uninitiated, the BASS Tournaments is the most prestigious of the fishing tournament trails, and the organization boasts a membership of half a million members. Each year, it holds the Bassmaster Classic, which is generally considered the world championship of bass fishing.
Being a full-time angler was tougher than Humphreys expected, however. “I almost starved the first two years,” he admits. “Since I had so much success early on, I thought I could jump on the tournament trail and start winning right away.”
What he didn't realize then, he explains, is that his competition had fished the lakes on the tournament trail many times, and they were familiar with waters that were new to him.
“I can remember being out in the middle of Lake Powell (Arizona), trolling around and wondering if my depth-finder was correct. I think I was sitting on three feet of water when (1983 Bassmaster Classic Champion angler) Larry Nixon came up on me and said, ‘What are you doing out here? Do you have a problem?’
“‘No,’ I told him. ‘I am only in three feet of water.’ He said, ‘Nope, you are in 230 feet of water. You're reading your depth-finder wrong.’”
Those first couple of years on the pro circuit were humbling as well as educating for Humphreys, and the lesson at Lake Powell, in particular, taught him to buckle down and start learning the lakes he fished. He ended up nearly winning that Lake Powell tournament and started doing well afterward.
40,000 Miles a Year
Early in his professional angling career, Humphreys recognized the need for a steady paycheck and income diversification. Drawing on his past retail experience, he and his wife, Lora — who has served as his business partner from the beginning — opened a specialty meat market and, later, a barbecue restaurant.
“Lora stayed and ran the market and restaurant while I was on the road,” he says, referring to the 40,000 miles a year that he often traveled as an angler. The businesses were solid, he reports, but as with any small business, cash flow was sometimes an issue.
“I remember fishing at Lake Mead and was sitting at about second place, when Lora called me about the business having cash-flow problems,” he explains. Worried, he spent a sleepless night and then fished the next day, doing poorly and slipping to approximately 40th place.
“When I told my wife, she was mad as an old, wet hen,” he laughs. Humphreys says that when he got off the road, he learned that Lora had closed down the businesses. “I asked her what we were going to do to pay the bills, and she told me that I was going to get off my tail and fish! That’s what I’ve been doing since.”
A Multifaceted Businessman
Humphreys, now 61, is enjoying the fruits of the decisions he made nearly 40 years ago. In addition to being a competitive angler who has twice earned his way into the Bassmaster Classic, Humphreys is a multifaceted businessman, who believes that diversity is the key to keeping his economic engine running.
He and Lora own a company called Pro Bass Distributors that supplies retailers with fishing equipment from his custom line — which includes lures he designed — and distributes products from other manufacturers, as well. He also serves as a fishing guide on area lakes and does occasional seminars and speaking engagements.
“The whole business is built on figuring out ways to operate when I can't fish. No matter how bad the day is or how big the floods are, I can keep on working every day through the distributorship,” he says.
When he can't fish, he also appreciates the opportunity to enjoy the home that he and Lora built near Minden, La. “I always wanted a house on a hill,” Humphreys says, describing his dream home. “With the help of the Louisiana Land Bank, we built a house and we’ve grown our place to 35 acres now. Every time I call Louisiana Land Bank, they are always ready to help. They are great people to work with.”
Humphreys and his wife are relative newcomers to the Louisiana Land Bank, as they have been customers for only five years. In that time, they have established a solid working relationship with their lender Jon Fielder, vice president and manager of the Shreveport branch.
“Homer is a unique individual with a great outlook on life,” says Fielder, who worked with the couple on the Land Bank's rural property, rural home construction and improvement loan programs. “He always has a smile and is one of those guys who never met a stranger.”
Fielder notes that helping them build their dream home was a pleasure. “As you might guess, his house is nestled perfectly within casting range of a stocked pond,” he says.
While Humphreys has the country place he always wanted and a life that is the envy of many fishermen, he says he has no urge to slow down.
“People ask me when I'm going to retire, but I tell them that retirement is picking and choosing what you want to do every day. I do that already. I love people. That's the whole key to success. Loving to work with people, and helping people, is what makes my day,” he says.
For more information, visit www.homerhumphreys.com.
– Russell Graves
Advice for the Weekend Angler
Homer Humphreys loves the weekend angler. It delights him when he teaches people how to catch fish, especially if they haven’t had much fishing success in the past. “If I carried you out here, and you’d never got a five-pound bass before, and I helped you do that, that would make me happy,” he says.
But he maintains that great angling is within reach of just about anyone, with or without a guide. Humphreys knows what he’s talking about: During his professional angling career, he's caught more than 3,600 pounds of fish during tournaments.
To increase your odds of catching fish on your next outing, follow Humphreys' advice:
Learn the Fish
Beginning anglers should learn the habits of the kind of fish they are after, Humphreys says. For example, largemouth bass and channel catfish occupy two different niches in a lake and have varying food preferences. Therefore, learn what the fish like to eat, where they look for food and when they are likely to feed. Learn the biology, and your success rate will improve.
Learn the Lakes
“If you plan to fish one or two lakes in your area, stock your tackle box with local favorite baits,” he advises. “Don't buy baits that may work in Dallas, when you are fishing in Minden, La.”
Humphreys' advice is sound. The bait-fish and feed in one lake may not be available in another lake, so learn what the fish eat in a particular body of water and buy lures to match.
While Humphreys has a large collection of rods, reels and baits — each used for specialized fishing scenarios — he points out that the weekend angler does not need all of that equipment.
“Don't go buy a rod like we all have for jig fishing, worm fishing, spinnerbait fishing,” he says. “Go buy a rod or two that you can (use to) throw a spinnerbait, a crankbait and a soft plastic bait.”
Humphreys says his best advice is to just get out and go fishing. Each time you're on the water, you'll learn something new and have a great time trying.
– Russell Graves