By Pete Robbins
Larry Nixon may not be running entirely on original factory parts, but he’s convinced that he still has plenty of fuel in the tank to keep his long and consistent fishing career going.
Nixon, who turned 67 years old on September 3rd, received for his birthday the best gift an ailing fisherman might hope for – a new left hand. Repetitive motion had worn it out so the doctor went inside and took out all of the cartilage in between his thumb and the first joint on his wrist. That sort of monumental surgery might’ve scared most anglers as it directly impacts their ability to work, but Nixon had undergone the same procedure on the opposite side 15 years earlier. He knew what to expect, and furthermore he’d been through a more serious procedure in between the operations on his hands when he endured major heart surgery in 2016.
No one could blame Nixon if after all of this body work he’d call it quits and renounced life on the FLW Tour. After all, contemporaries like George Cochran and Denny Brauer have left the FLW Tour and Elite Series, respectively, and now compete relatively infrequently. Others like Rick Clunn continue to compete, but not consistently at Nixon’s high level. Indeed, the most famous resident of Bee Branch, Arkansas, is a victim of his own success. Even at an age when he’s eligible to receive Social Security, he continues to be in the hunt at nearly every tournament he fishes. He finished 19th overall in the FLW points race this year, and would have done much better if not for a lone clunker at the Potomac River. Even at that one, he was around eventual winner Tom Monsoor, and made a strategic error in how best to intercept and catch the plentiful bass.
As a result of his strong overall campaign, he qualified for his third Forrest Wood Cup in the last five years, and finished 17th. It was his 16th Cup overall, to go with 25 Bassmaster Classic berths, a total of 41 major championships in 40 years.
Nixon downplayed the wear and tear that four-plus decades on tour has taken on his body. “You’re only out there eight or nine weeks a year,” he said. “You’ve got 52 to get well. And once you’re there, it’s only for seven days.”
He admitted, though, that that “I can’t do the things I used to do. I can throw a topwater for three or four hours but I can’t do it for nine. I can’t throw a big spinnerbait all day. And I’m not there at the crack of dawn like these kids are. I think that if you can’t find them between daylight and 4 or 5 or 6 o’clock, you’re probably not going to find them after that. It’s a timing thing. That’s what bass fishing is all about. As a full time guide for 10 years, I learned that there are certain times when you really have to work.”
He feels that his innate understanding of those timing issues has enabled him to compete with anglers decades his junior. This year’s Forrest Wood Cup champ, rookie Justin Atkins, wasn’t even born when Nixon won the 1983 Classic on the Ohio River, just short of his 33rd birthday. That was half a lifetime ago for Nixon, whose kids are older than Atkins. While Nixon hasn’t won a major event since the 2012 FLW Tour tournament on the Detroit River, he’s consistently at the top of the heap, with nine Top 10 tour-level finishes since that last victory, so he’s hardly an elder statesman hanging on for dear life. He knows what he can and cannot do well, and that’s half the battle.
“There’s nothing I don’t like except swimbaits,” he said. “You really have to work with them. You’ve got to be committed and I can’t do it for a long period of time. It’s the casting part that has gotten me the past few years. I just never developed confidence in it because I never really got to work on it, although I did throw one at the Cup.” Similarly, while he said that he’s a capable sight fisherman, he’d always prefer to “fish for them” and hesitates to commit to spending the entirety of his practice without making a cast.
What he has going for him, he said, is that he knows “what a bass thinks.”
“After three days of practice I know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work,” he explained. “I don’t waste any time on what’s not going to work. I am good at eliminating and developing what is going to happen. The kids today are so good. Me and Denny and Rick Clunn taught them everything we know. I can’t compete against that kind of skill. But where I can compete is in on-the-water decision making.”
He recognizes that the slew of injuries that have befallen him may have actually prolonged and benefited his career. When he wore out his right hand, he learned to flip and pitch left handed, but as he entered his sixties, he learned to rely more heavily on a Senko and a shakey head. He’d always been a proficient worm fisherman – indeed his Classic title came on the back of a Texas Rig – but late-developing physical limitations compelled him further to pick apart key areas. That’s part of the reason why he didn’t hesitate to have this most recent surgery.
“I’d been hurting really bad for three years,” he said. “I had to have shots before the Cup. But even if I’d retired it was still going to hurt. The doctor promised me that I’ll be good as new and fishing by January. Right now it’s all about deer and ducks, but come about January 15th or 20th, it’ll be all about fishing.”
He’s already looking forward to next year’s schedule, which he said gives him multiple chances to win. Nevertheless, if he doesn’t win another title, or even another tour-level event, Nixon will have been satisfied with where his career has taken him. He certainly wants to win the Cup, a victory that he said he’s had within his grasp on multiple occasions, but at this point in his career he’s thrilled to be competitive on a weekly basis. He’d retire “if I thought that I was out there embarrassing myself,” but clearly that’s not the case. His recent record speaks for itself.
“I don’t have to win anything else,” he concluded. “But I feel like I’m going to win another event somewhere. I’m not done yet. What can I say? I love it. It’s all about me and the fish. It ain’t about me and the other guys.”