Most folks, by nature, don’t find it easy to put in the time nor do the research on a whiz-bang project, then let others take the credit for all their hard work. If you’re honest, I’ll bet you’d be hard pressed to find many of that personality type in your sphere of influence. I was lucky enough to have such a person in my life – my former boss and mentor, Jerry (aka “Bubba”) Puckett.
As many of you may know, we lost Bubba a few weeks back. He may have left “Yamamoto Central” for New Mexico years ago, but the impact he has had on this company and the handful of writers he handpicked along the way to help him start the Inside Line is quite honestly, immeasurable. Bubba was big on hellos but never much for goodbyes – but we, as fellow writers and partners in crime, can’t let him go without sharing just how much he meant to us, and how he shaped all our lives for the better.
Jerry left the oil fields of Texas and New Mexico around the mid 80’s and set his sights on beautiful Lake Powell, where he began his guide service. He would pass Gary Yamamoto often as they jetted back and forth between Wahweap Bay and upper arm of the San Juan, but it wasn’t until they nearly collided coming around a steep point one day that they both actually came off pad and spoke with each other. Jerry recalled once in an editor’s log, “We managed to avoid the imminent collision but then we circled back around and each promptly accused the other of being in ‘my spot.’ Neither of us got anywhere with that tack. That’s when he said he knew who I was - not too tough as I had Bubba’s Guide Service plastered all over my Ranger. I told him I knew who he was too – Hell, I had about a grand worth of his baits in the boat with me for one, and two, Japanese Americans in 20-foot Champions were pretty scarce in the desert back then.”
Jerry was writing a weekly newspaper column featuring Yamamoto products at the time, simply because that’s pretty much all he was using to guide with on Powell – Grubs and Hula grubs. Both Gary and Jerry realized they might be mutually beneficial to each other. Jerry added, “That was the beginning of a friendship that proved to be one of the most gratifying and beneficial of my life, and one that led to the creation of the entire Inside Line project, along with many others. Thanks to Gary Yamamoto and his willingness to pick up the tab, we’ve had the opportunity to share the fun of fishing with a lot of folks. It’s been a pretty good ride.”
Fast forward a bit to 1992, while the newly-opened Yamamoto plant worked overtime to produce a unique line of soft-plastics for the Japanese market, Bubba got together with some of his local friends and hashed out a hair-brained idea to produce a fishing publication that would educate subscribers and provide them with unique “insider” access to the hottest bait no one seemed to be able to get their hands on. In March of 1993, the first edition of Gary Yamamoto’s Inside Line hit the streets.
In those early days, subscribing to the Inside Line was the only way an angler could find out about and purchase products we were making only for Japan (our domestic program didn’t get rolling for another two or three years – another project Bubba played a behind-the-scenes role in). It was a smallish “rag” in the early days but it quickly grew in page-length and contributing writers as Bubba began to stealthily snatch up contributors from the many popular message boards spreading across the fledgling internet at the time. I reached out to some of our earliest contributors to the Inside Line and they shared these thoughts and memories of Bubba below.
Wayne Gustaveson – Bassin’ Biology
Jerry “Bubba” Puckett came to Lake Powell in the late 80s to use his extensive fishing experience in guiding others and teaching them how to catch fish. Bubba had the talent to guide less experienced anglers into a great fishing experience. He was extremely successful as a guide and as my friend. Lake Powell, in my humble opinion, is the best fishery in the world. I may be biased since I have managed that fishery since 1975. I helped introduce striped bass in the 70s and was responsible for the smallmouth introduction in the 80s.
Bubba and I crossed paths at the boat ramp and fish cleaning station often. The first time I went fishing with him was a winter trip. I was struggling to catch stripers in the cold water and he said he knew where a school was in Navajo Canyon. We graphed the bottom and trolled a bit without luck. About halfway back into the canyon, Jerry jumped up and dropped a bunch of bait over the side. “Let’s fish here,” he suggested. We dropped our baited hooks in the water, the striper school turned on and we put a lot of fish in the cooler. Later as I contemplated that event, it seemed logical for me to allow chumming so that anglers could use that technique to catch many more fish. It was necessary to keep the striper population in check because they reproduced without limit and were over populated most of the time. It took a while for me to convince them but at the right time chumming was allowed by NPS. Anglers began to catch many more stripers and the population responded positively to the event. Thanks, Jerry!
In the spring stripers migrated along the steep canyon walls and then gathered in front of the Glen Canyon Dam as they were not able to go any further due to the concrete barrier. It was the “go-to” spot for striper anglers to gather to catch 100s of stripers from March to May. I was responsible for reporting to the fishing public about where to fish. One April morning as I pulled up to the eight boats already fishing at the face of the dam, I noticed Jerry there fishing with his clients. I waved and he responded in his typical “Bubba-fashion” - he stood up in his boat and in his commanding voice, hollered to all those anglers catching fish. “I want to introduce Wayne Gustaveson. He manages the fishery and was responsible for introducing stripers into Lake Powell. It is his fault you’re catching all these fish right here today.”
He said a bunch of other stuff too in his eloquent MC manner but I was too embarrassed to remember much more. He concluded by saying, “We should honor Wayne by giving him a round of applause!” All of the anglers stood up and started clapping. I sheepishly thanked the group then quietly went fishing further up-lake. Typical Bubba.
I have been publishing weekly fish reports since 1990. I placed printed copies of the report at service stations, in houseboats, and at many other places where anglers might happen. In the late 1990s the Utah Division of Wildlife established a web site and I sent my reports there for a wider distribution. That worked quite well for some time, but the web managers hired by the DWR started working for Utah and quickly moved on to higher paying jobs. My fish reports would languish unpublished until a new tech person was hired.
I got used to it but in 2000 I had a really good fish report that did not get published due to the missing webmaster. Bubba had finally hung up his guiding job at this point after fishing every day for about three years straight without a day off. He began working with Yamamoto Baits as their fishing expert and quickly learned everything he knew about computers and the internet in a six month period. I asked Jerry if he had any ideas as to how I could keep my fishing reports online when a webmaster went AWOL.
“That’s easy,” Jerry said, “just make your own website!” I had no clue how to do that so Jerry had his staff make me a web page. That happened on a Friday and on Monday morning a new site called “Wayneswords.com” was born. That website is now 17 years old and is still functioning well in getting my weekly fish report out to the internet community. Over 5,000 members have joined and shared their information about all matters Lake Powell related.
Jerry Puckett – Thanks for being my friend and neighbor, for helping me start a website, for showing me your total dedication and talent in living everyday life to the fullest. You will be missed but never forgotten.
Stop the Presses!
Probably all of us have encountered in life a truly special personality. None have made a greater or more lasting impression on me than the colorful stranger who called me many years ago and introduced himself as “Bubba.” Seems this character was on a mission to catch a handful of writers that might be interested in telling fishin’ stories in a magazine called Gary Yamamoto’s Inside Line. Bubba had been reading some of my internet posts on a popular bass fishing website called NCBF, and saw something in my writing that fooled him into thinking I could be coached.
Bubba was right, because Bubba knew how to coach a bass angler to share interesting stories about fishing experiences. I loved to hear his booming voice on the phone, often calling to find out how fishing was, and if there were any stories to tell. One night in 2004 I had an idea for an article, and emailed it to Bubba.
Me: Bubba, stop the presses! (As a writer, I always wanted to say that.)
In case it isn’t too late and you have an inclination, I have attached a story about fellow Washington angler Luke Clausen's Classic victory.
Jerry: Consider them stopped, bro! I really like this piece Marc, and it shows your development as a writer. Correlating current events to other of your life experiences and dissimilar events is a proven formula for stories with great read appeal. I'd like to run this as the last page item, One Last Cast, in the May/June issue.
Thanks Marc, and again, nice job.
This is one of many examples of how Bubba mentored me, and many others. Nobody could tell stories better than Bubba, but he was an excellent listener as well. He was full of surprises, and went out of his way to send me Senkos, Shad Shaped Worms, and all the other great GYCB creations knowing they would spawn many more stories to share.
I always hoped for the chance to fish with Bubba in my boat. Looking back I realize now that Bubba Puckett has always been with me; in my boat and in my heart. Every time I reach into my tackle compartment, I see the Yamamoto Baits and think of Bubba, and I can hear that booming voice I will dearly miss.
Rest in peace, Bubba, I love you, man!
A Team of Grass-Roots Fishermen
When Heidi told me the news about Jerry passing, I was blown away. Had a tear or two fall down my cheek. If there is one thing I hate, I HATE losing friends, and Jerry Puckett was definitely a GOOD friend.
Granted I never met Jerry face-to-face, but we shared countless emails and he played a vital role in my writing career. Jerry was responsible for giving me my first shot at a writing gig on a national level with the elite Inside Line team way back in 2002. Prior to that I had long been a fan of the Inside Line magazine and GYCB and still am to this day.
I honestly feel like the IL is one of the best fishing publications out there. Not written by fancy editors and freelance writers, but actual grass-roots fisherman like myself, Mike Whitten, Marc Marcantonio and many more. It was an honor to be a part of that team and couldn’t feel more special than when Jerry asked me to submit my very first article, titled “Sling Shot Bassin’”.
The one thing I will miss about Jerry more than anything was his story tellin’. He could wrap you up in a story like Jimmy Hendrix did with his guitar. I Love you and miss you, Bubba. Thank you for all you did for me over the years.
A Part of the Family
It’s been many years since my lone trip to Page, Arizona and Lake Powell, but I remember the adventure like it was yesterday. The highlight for me was the first and only time that I had the privilege of meeting “Bubba” in person.
Inside Line, though quite polished, was still a relatively young magazine. And Bubba’s staff and stable of writers was small enough to make bringing everyone together feasible. At the time I was pretty new to the writing game and as both a novice and typically quiet person I was a bit more than apprehensive about actually talking to an editor face-to-face.
Remarkably (and thankfully) it didn’t take Bubba long to welcome me, relieve my nervousness and make me feel at home. He was one of those rare individuals that had an innate ability to turn uncomfortable situations around – to not only make someone feel like they should be there, but like they were an important member of a close-knit family. And as with all families, Bubba will be terribly missed.
A Gentle Critic
Bubba Puckett was the man who got me involved in writing for the fishing world. An internet friend, Gene Graddick, introduced me to Bubba and suggested I send him some articles.
Bubba became a friend, a critical eye and a mentor. He was always a gentle critic, but listening to him made my articles much better. He is the reason I’ve been proud to be a part of the Gary Yamamoto world since the beginning of this decade.
I’ve been writing about, and using GYCB baits for almost 15 years. And they just get better.
He was a great man, and a gentle critic. I think about him often.
Thank You, My Friend
Life is a constant trip made up of crossroads. One of my most important intersections brought Jerry “Bubba” Puckett into my life. He was the editor of a bass fishing magazine that I loved…Inside Line by Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits.
I’ll never forget that first phone call ...
“Hello Dean. My name is Jerry Puckett, and I’m the editor of Inside Line Magazine. I’ve seen your bass fishing posts on NCBF, and I’d like you to write for my magazine.”
I was shocked. I’d always wanted to be an author but never gave thought to writing professionally. I expressed my lack of confidence, and Jerry promised he would help me polish my writing. For several years thereafter, I worked with “Bubba,” developing my craft of writing. He gave me confidence to finish writing all the books that I started in the past but didn’t finish.
Jerry, I don’t know where you are in the afterlife, but please accept my eternal thanks for your support, guidance, and encouragement over the years. You made a big difference in my life. Best wishes on your new journey."
Everybody Has a Story to Tell
When Heidi asked me if I wanted to share my thoughts about Bubba, our fearless leader back in the day, I wondered, “Where do I even begin?”
When Jerry started hunting down writers and staff for his Inside Line magazine, I was a still newbie with my fledgling reel repair business and floated onto internet attempting figure out how to promote my business, get customers in the door, and gain the trust of anglers. After all, not many women operated on fishing reels, so I was a bit of a pioneer in my own right back then.
One day I got an email from some guy named “Bubba” who mentioned something about his “dawg pound.” He asked me if I would like to join up and talk about fishing reel repair. I had no idea what this dawg pound thing was, but I jumped at the chance.
Jerry spent countless hours sharing with me how he began his business, and his family’s efforts to support him. What really impressed me was how he insisted the way to success was to focus on "quality." If I gave folks a quality experience, they’d be customers for life.
Jerry gave us all so much advice over the years. When I first joined the team, I warned him that I was definitely not a writer, but he refused to accept it. He bellowed over the phone one day, saying, “Connie, yes you are! Everybody has a story to tell, so just tell that story. That's all there is to writing. Be a story teller!” Bubba was full of stories.
He was also remarkably down to earth and always made complicated things seem so very simple. I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity and privilege to know such a wonderful person, full of wisdom and the ability to captivate his audience. Being associated with GYCB all these years is the best thing ever to have happened to me. So thank you, Jerry.
I would not have a career as an outdoor writer had it not been for the encouragement of Jerry Puckett. By the time that fellow writer Terry Battisti put me in touch with Jerry in 2005, I’d had a handful of articles published in local and a few marginal national publications. Looking back on them, they were pretty weak – poorly constructed and unfocused. Most importantly, they were wholly conventional. I was adding words but not thoughts to the conversation.
Nevertheless, I had an idea for an unconventional piece called “A Twelve Step Program for Tournament Anglers.” Truth be told, it wasn’t very good or very focused, but it was different (in what I still consider the best possible way). When I mentioned it to the editor at BassFan, I’m sure he just shook his head as he typed back “Not interested,” but Jerry gave me a forum to publish it, even though I’m sure he was shaking his head as well.
I’ve gone on to write hundreds of bass fishing articles, including some mighty conventional ones, but the pieces that have given me the most satisfaction are those where I’ve taken a risk – with form, with concept or by taking an unpopular stance. I’m not saying that I would’ve crumbled had Jerry rejected that piece, but by taking a risk on something that didn’t fit the normal formula, he told me that it could be done. He was encouraging that way, and that one risk led me to others, which led me to understand that even if your writing fails occasionally, the huge successes only come by taking some chances.
I’m now a Senior Writer at Bassmaster, among other things, but the project that most consistently brings me joy is my blog at Inside Line, a publication which of course was Jerry’s baby. Just as importantly, the IL has been a breeding ground, both directly and indirectly, for all sorts of other opportunities, and for that I will be eternally thankful. I didn’t know him as well as some of the other IL writers, as I came in on the tail end of his time at GYCB, but I doubt that any others benefited as much from his help as I did.
Remembering the Good Times
“Ron Colby, how the heck are you?” A big, booming voice came at me over the phone.
“Uh, I’m ok. Who’s this?” I asked.
“Jerry Puckett, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits!”
Every time I would call him, or he would call me, I would get that same excited voice. Even in person when I would make the walk up to his office located on the north end of the campground GYCB inhabited, I’d knock on the door, walk in, and he would great me the same way.
Jerry was, and had, a larger-than-life personality. From his writing, the local morning radio show he was immensely popular for, to just being a great friend - he could turn any negative into a positive and make you feel like you had the world by the tail. He had a story for everything and sometimes he’d tell a story even if it didn’t pertain to the subject matter that was being discussed at the time. He would have us all smiling at the end of it, our pathetic little troubles forgotten.
One day I asked him how he could stay so positive. He told me of events in his life that had changed everything, “Shook the pillars of the earth,” he said. I sat and listened, learning first-hand how he handled those trials and his promise to become a better person. That was the only time he ever spoke about such things with me, and to listen to him being so somber and true had a mystical effect on me.
I’ve never discussed that conversation with anyone. It’s a conversation I plan to keep between Jerry and myself because in the end, he said that day, “All’s we ever take with us in the end is our memories and all that anyone has of us is their memories, so make sure all they can remember is the good times!”
I miss my friend.
GYCB – VP of Operations
“Tater, This is Bubba …”
Sadness, happiness, thankfulness, friendship, guilt and loss. Those were some of the emotions I felt a couple weeks ago when I heard that Bubba had left us. You see, although Jerry and I hadn’t spoken much in the last couple years, he being in New Mexico and me now in North Carolina, he still meant the world to me. In fact, I know there are a number of folks in my position who feel the same loss.
Jerry and I met on the Internet – and not in the e-harmony-type of way. No, we met on a site called the Bass Fishing Homepage, the BFHP for short, which in 1997 was the biggest bass fishing message board out there. Because of the traffic the site got, you can only imagine how many industry insiders would lurk to see what the new hot thing was. Although Jerry was an industry insider, he wasn’t a lurker. He made himself known (Jerry “Bubba” Puckett GYCB I believe was his handle) by helping anglers who had questions about baits, techniques, etc.
There was a solid group of regulars on the site who spent way too much of their day typing replies to questions – some of which could have graced the pages of In-Fisherman, Bassmaster or any of the top rags. In fact, this is how Bubba and I met.
At the time I was a sponsor of the BFHP and was answering a lot of questions folks had regarding drop shotting. It hadn’t caught on really at all except for a small contingent in southern California who had either fished with Japanese anglers in Japan or at the U.S. Open on Lake Mead, NV. Although I was living in Idaho, I was originally from SoCal and a lot of my close SoCal friends were part of the “in-crowd.” I was drop shotting way before it was cool and by the year 2000, I’d probably written 50,000 words on the subject.
Then one day I get an email from Jerry.
Subject Line: Would you be Interested?
The content went something like this:
“Tater, this is Bubba from GYCB central here (TB: he always started his emails out like that even if you were close to him) and I’ve been reading your responses on the BFHP about drop shotting. You seem to know a lot about the subject and none of our writers know anything about it. Would you be interested in writing something for the rag? We don’t pay much, in fact we don’t pay anything. Our currency is Senkos if that’s okay with you.
“Look forward to hearing from you soon,”
I’d been published in technical journals many times for work but I’d never even considered writing for a bass magazine. I jumped at the chance. Then in January 2001, Drop Shotting A to Z was published in Gary Yamamoto’s Inside Line. It wasn’t only the first written article on drop shotting it was my first foray into the bass fishing media. After that I continued writing for Inside Line and eventually wrote for In-Fisherman, Bass West, Bassfan and a few others along the way.
But it was Inside Line and more so Jerry Puckett who got me started down the path of writing – and I will always have Bubba to thank for that.
Although that first piece means a lot to me there was one other piece that really sticks out in my mind. Normally as a writer, you’d send your submission into Bubba and he would edit it for length and in some instances wording. This was his job and as a writer, you never got a chance to agree or disagree with the editing process. That’s the way it is, not just at Inside Line.
Well, this one piece I’d written was for the back of the magazine, a column for thought-provoking pieces or pieces of the heart. The column was called One Last Cast and I’d submitted a piece about the man who was more of a father to me than anyone, the man who taught me a lot about fishing, being a man, the man I named my son after. It was a 1000-word piece called The Bridge. I sent it off and as usual, didn’t expect to hear anything until I got the magazine in the mail.
A few hours later I received an email from Bubba.
“Tater, I only have room for 800 words in the back of the magazine. This article is too personal and I don’t want to screw it up. Get it down to 800 words and send it back to me.”
That was the kind of man and friend Bubba was.
Other than being my first editor, over time Jerry became a close friend and confidant. Emails and phone calls were about a litany of topics, ranging from nuclear science (his work after GYCB involved some work in the nuclear field, which is what I do), kids, the early days of GYCB before it was GYCB and of course fishing. He always had time for his friends, whether it was on the phone or in person.
Bubba, thank you so much for taking a chance with me. You opened doors for me I never knew existed and gave me something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I know you’re upstairs on the Big Lake Powell in the sky working that Hula Grub down a stair-step ledge. Just make sure you don’t stick ‘em all, I want to catch a few with you someday.
Just a small handful of fellow contributors and folks who knew Bubba well, but you can see a theme building here, can’t you? I fully believe Jerry “Bubba” Puckett was put on this earth to help his fellow man see their full potential. Every client was a stud angler in his boat, every angler he discovered on message boards could tell a great story, and every friend who walked into his office depressed and down-trodden left full of hope and ideas. It was his MO.
When I started with the company back in 1996, I was in sales and had little contact with the character up in “Trailer #7”. But by then the Inside Line was growing fast and he and his assistant editor at the time needed help with all the typing so I joined the team. When the assistant editor moved on, I stepped in and took his place – a pivotal point in my career and my life in general. Where I saw only conflict and barriers, Bubba saw potential and possibility. I had front-row tickets and watched first hand as the magazine went from a black-and-white newsletter with several contributors to a full-color, glossy magazine with writers spanning across the country, sharing their love of all things fishing.
When overhead got to be a bit much (that’ll happen when you bypass advertising and focus on content), Bubba didn’t miss one beat when I suggested we might want to take the magazine online – after all, it’s where the magazine initially got its start – all those prolific message boards. If you’d asked me, I would have told you I had little to no connection to a group of bass fishing dudes who liked to write about their weekend catches, but Bubba quickly changed that. These days, I can’t drive across the country without getting an earful from one of our pro-staff about why I didn’t stop by on my way through. Bubba knew what crowd-sourcing was before it was ever a trend. He knew how to build a community and we all benefited from it, and hopefully learned to do the same.
The connections we’ve all formed with each other and Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits over the years matter – and I wouldn’t have the amazing relationships in the industry I have today if it wasn’t for Bubba, who simply inspired others with his love for his fellow man, and fishing.
From all of us here at Yamamoto Central in body and spirit, Bubba … Good fishin’.
Inside Line - Editor