CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s tournament bass fishing community lost a legend Friday. Bob Burgess of Charleston died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 71.
Burgess was considered a pioneer of the sport in West Virginia. He was an accomplished bass tournament angler both locally and on the national level.. He fished for years with the state’s largest bass fishing organizations, the West Virginia Bass Federation and B.A.S.S. Nation West Virginia.
He was 2015 Bass Fishing League All-American Tournament Champion (Co-Angler Division). The win earned him a spot in the 2015 Forest Wood Cup tournament. Burgess qualified as a member of the B.A.S.S. Nation West Virginia state team multiple times during his many years of angling.
He was not only a competitor, but saw value in the sport as a business man. He organized and ran a series of short mid-week evening tournaments on the Kanawha River. Buoyed by his passion for competitive fishing and his desire to dream big, Burgess in 1993 would create one of the state’s largest bass fishing tournament trails, the Trail of Dreams. The circuit sponsored fishing events in multiple states and became a favorite of competitive anglers for its large payouts, strict adherence to rules, care of the fish. and ambition to make tournament angling a big time show.
“Bob always wanted to play AC/DC Thunderstruck every morning before blast off and then with the National Anthem playing , the flag blowing in the wind, boats setting in the water he would always get a tear in his eye,” said longtime friend Lyle Atkins in a tribute posted to Facebook.
“Bob was a visionary among our West Virginia fishing community. His concept of a first-class, quality tournament experience for bass anglers caused him to found and lead Trail of Dreams to the multi-state success that it enjoys today,” said B.A.S.S. Nation West Virginia President Ken Hackworth.
“Bob also believed in giving back to our community and proved it time and again. He was a huge supporter, both in deed and financially, of our youth program and especially enjoyed sponsoring our Jr. Bassmaster / High School Tournaments on the Kanawha River,” Hackworth added.
Burgess’ Trail of Dreams also sponsored a fall tournament each year called “Fishin’ for Wishes” in which proceeds of the tournament were directed to the Make a Wish Foundation.
Atkins recalled meeting Burgess in 1994 when he drew him as a partner in one of the state qualifying tournaments.
“From that first encounter in 1994 when I drew an old man in a qualifier to the end we shared a lot of good memories,” he wrote. “I remember him calling to boast about winning $5,000 and me trying to explain to him it was $50,000.”
Although best known for his bass fishing accomplishments, many knew Burgess as their connection for fresh produce from Memorial Day to Labor Day in the Kanawha Valley. He would routinely make the drive each morning well before daylight to pickup a load of fresh picked corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, or any other vegetables and fruits his regular customers might want straight from the farm. The rest of his day would be spent under the shade of a pop-up tent in Cross Lanes peddling. Late in the day, when his haul was thinning, was when people knew the best deals could be made. Burgess loved his customers and his soft heart always shown through. Whatever was left would often be donated to a local food pantry.
“This summer hundreds will miss their corn,” Atkins offered. “Some young anglers will never get to hear him say, ‘Move on up and I will get you out of here.'”
Fisherman Jeff Caruthers also offered a touching tribute on Facebook.
“Bob was the Ray Scott of WV Bass fishing . Through him we had opportunities to compete, fish, fellowship and have fun . It was way more than just fishing , think of all the friendships we all made through Trail of Dreams, all the memories and funny stories , the cookouts, the auctions, the meetings, the blast offs. All because one guy had a passion and he wanted to share it with other people.”
Funeral arrangements for Burgess are pending.