J.R. Roberts Memorial Team Bass Challenge
January 2020, Volume 109
Robby and Eddie Roberts were raised by a father who was a farmer and Korean War Veteran. Their father was also a fisherman, and as a result they have been fishing their whole life. They learned the ins and outs of the sport from their dad, J.R. Roberts. His love of fishing and the opportunity to continue his dad’s legacy is why Robby holds the J.R. Roberts Memorial Bass Challenge every year on Lake Bruin in St. Joseph, Louisiana.
Eddie started the tournament in 1987 as a team or singles derby and is held every February; their dad’s favorite month to fish, and on his favorite lake. With 100% payback, 1st place pays $4000 based on 100 entries and the $20 Big Bass yields another $1000.
This will be the 33rd Annual J.R. Roberts Memorial Team Bass Challenge on Lake Bruin. A quick rundown of the February 1, 2020 event includes: an entry fee of $100 and launch site can be anywhere on Lake Bruin with first cast at 6:30 a.m., weigh in is at 3 p.m. at the State Park campground, and the lake is off limits from Monday, January 27th through Friday, January 31st for all tournament anglers.
I recently got the opportunity to sit and talk with Robby about the tournament, bass fishing, and his love of Jesus Christ. Robby is a guy with a huge personality, as most bass fishermen are. I asked, “How’d the idea to start the tournament come about?” and without missing a beat he jokingly replied, “Daddy died!” I knew at that point the conversation would be anything but dull.
As kids, his dad would take the boys out at night on Toledo Bend, where they had a cabin. “We didn’t fish the banks like folks do today, we fished offshore.” It was during this time, Robby learned a lot about reading the conditions of the lake and what produced fish. “Dad taught us to look at the types of timber standing” whether it was standing on old creek channels or atop ridges with pine growing, the timber would indicate what landforms are under the water and that information is vital to finding fish. “That was back when your depth finder was a ½ ounce jig you would cast and then count down to see how deep of water you were in”, Robby told me laughing but serious. That was long before the electronics of today.
As we sat and talked in the backyard, Robby and I discussed the changes in bass fishing over the years. He talked about the early 1970s and the fact he wasn’t real fond of bass fishermen at that time. The idea they ran up and down the lake “catching all of the fish” wasn’t a positive thing. It wasn’t until the competitive side of the bass tournaments caught his eye that he began to compete in the tournaments in the late 1970s. “I was in the Concordia Bass Club, Texas Bass Association and the old Redman Circuit”, Robby smiled as he told of the clubs of yesteryear.
Being farmers, most of the winters the Roberts spent at Toledo Bend fishing. Fishing in the pitch dark of night taught him to feel the subtle tug of a bass on his line. “We fished a lot at night back then, that’s how I learned to work a worm!” Robby went on to tell me the worm is the bait to catch the big bass, “Go on YouTube and find Glen Lau, he said a bass can’t learn a worm, he will hit it every time unlike a crankbait or spinnerbait.”
The biggest thing to change bass fishing in our lakes according to Robby was the introduction of the Florida Bass. He tells of a time even in his dad’s memorial tournament where a guy would come to the scales with 20 pounds and get maybe 10th place. You didn’t have these big huge 8 to 10 pound fish but plenty of 5 to 6 pound native largemouth bass that you would catch. “These Florida bass they tell me can maintain his body weight with one minnow a week in this cold water”, Robby laughing told me that they just do not like this cold water. Eating just once a week is the last thing a tournament angler wants to hear about bass.
He then began to tell me of a book, The Black Bass, by J.A. Henshall that described the bass and the respect people had back then for the bass. He started a story, “They had so much respect for the species that they would kill the fish quickly when they’d catch them to keep them from suffering while they died.” As a result, growing up he had been taught to kill the bass he caught quickly with an old screwdriver to the head before tossing the fish into the ice chest. Robby went on to tell me about a fishing trip he went on with his Uncles Troy and Burl in the “new” Terry Bass Boats with the added feature of livewells. “Burl had the new boat and he told Troy, when you catch a fish just throw him in the live well. Soon Troy hooked one and wouldn’t you know it, as soon as Troy caught one he popped it in the head with the screwdriver and threw it in the livewell.” Robby said enthusiastically, “That’s real man!”
Turning back to the tournament, Robby told me, “There are some people that have been following us from the start. Some guys from Newellton, Lake Providence, even up to Monroe and West Monroe and some from around here (Concordia Parish area).” Excitedly he told me, “We are seeing a lot of teams show up now that are father and son, that’s fantastic, some of them are little fellows too.” He fishes it with his son, Patrick “Bull” Hall. He said it’s strictly for the fishermen, “we don’t put on much bells and whistles or anything like that - we just fish, weigh them in and I might preach to them a little bit.”
Jumping back to his dad, Robby told me about his dad and a friend of his, Tommy Martin. They got to be good buddies and they’d go fishing a lot. There was a young man over there that was cutting grass and guiding on Toledo Bend. Well J.R. and Tommy got that young angler in a boat and helped him fine tune his worming skills. That young fisherman’s name was Larry Nixon! After that Tommy and J.R. encouraged him to try to fish professionally. The rest is history.
Robby Roberts silhouetted with bass in hand.
Robby's son, and J.R. Roberts Memorial fishing partner, Patrick "Bull" Hall with a nice worm fish.
Robby Roberts holding a tournament stringer he bagged.
J.R. Roberts pictured (right) with fishing legend Larry Nixon, in the early 1980's.
We started talking about his years of fishing on numerous trails and even his winning of the LBCA TideCraft Circuit Classic in 1984 of which he still has the jacket seen in the picture. He told me he simply burnt out from fishing and had to take some time and get away from the competitive fishing side but planned to get back in soon once work slowed down. He said he was working so hard 5 days a week he needed Saturdays to “recharge my batteries and I go to church on Sunday.” “They’ve got me going around so called ‘preaching!’” “If I can just help to save one person, so I went from fishing here to fishing like Mark 1:17, ‘come follow Me and I will make you fishers of men’.”
“It’s amazing” he said “I didn’t get baptized until I was 60.” I stood in front of the church and told them “I want to try this Jesus thing!” Robby fully believes that seed was cast when he was a kid and now he’s returned to serve God. He laughingly told me he would testify if he got a few folks together saying “I may not catch a 6 pounder but if I can catch one soul.”
Eddie, like Robby spent many years fishing. Eddie was a guide on numerous lakes, including Toledo Bend in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He wrote fishing reports for local papers and hosted the “Fishing with Eddie” radio show. Years of wear and tear on the back, knees and elbows have led to an early bass fishing retirement for Eddie.
Robby shows off the 1984 Classic LBCA Tidecraft Circuit jacket from the Classic that Robby won.
One last story Robby told us was about his dad and a trip to Toledo Bend. They pulled up one day to the marina at Pendelton Harbor and the guys were talking bass fishing. “They told of all the techniques and baits they were using but no one seemed to be able to catch much in this cold January weather.” Leaving the ramp, J.R. and the two Roberts boys headed over to “Community Corner” and began to fish. “Dad said get out the spinnerbaits boys and cast it out and let it hit bottom then reel in real slow.” In an hour or two it was time to return to the landing with a boat load of bass. As instructed, Robby and Eddie held up several of the 4-5 pounders to show the guys back at the lodge. Robby said he asked his dad, “How did he know where to find those fish?” J.R. Roberts said, “They told me” by telling me everywhere they did not catch fish!
The J.R. Roberts Memorial Team Bass Challenge Tournament is February 1, 2020 on beautiful Lake Bruin. The signup forms are available by clicking the picture of the form on this page, or on our Facebook page Bassin’ in the Boot, and can be mailed to Robby Roberts 114 Jackson Court, Vidalia, La or dropped off in person at Sports Center in Natchez. If you need more information visit Robby on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bassin’ in the Boot will be there and we hope you will too. While fishing this tournament, I’ll try to keep one thing in mind that Robby told me, “Bass fishing is 90% attitude, 5% skill and 5% luck!”
Robby Roberts holding a recent tournament stringer he bagged at Lake St. John.
Entry form for the 33rd Annual J.R. Roberts Memorial Team Bass Challenge that will be hosted Saturday, February 1st, 2020 on beautiful Lake Bruin in St. Joseph Louisiana. Click the image above to download the forms and submit them to Robby Roberts for entry.