By Tim Huffman
Sam Heaton and I have been friends since the late 80’s. I listened to Sam give crappie fishing seminars at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Missouri, when there was just one Bass Pro Shop. His combination of humor, great personality and gift for presenting crappie-catching information kept the seminar rooms packed, standing room only. That was about three decades ago, but Sam is still a fan favorite when he enters a room.
I recently caught up with him at the #1 crappie fishing show in the country, the Grizzly Jig Show & Sale in Caruthersville, Missouri.
What about work? “I’ve recently retired from a dream job,” says Heaton. “At Johnson I worked with sales and marketing groups, pro staff, worked on product development and testing, took customers fishing and taught them how to use the equipment. I loved it. But I had been there long enough everyone was tired of hearing the same old stories and my job turned into more of a corporate marketing job than field promotions. Plus, I had no formal education in computers so that was always a struggle for me. I’m 67 now. It was just time to get off the road and home more to my wonderful wife of 16 years, Lysa. We have a lot of things we want to do together.”
The biggest changes you’ve seen in crappie fishing during the past four decades?
“Electronics and technique. We use to troll jig and cover water with multiple baits. We had to estimate speed and depths. But now with big sonars, the experts can target specific fish, see their bait down at 15 feet and put it right in front of the fish. So technique are more sophisticated.
“Trolling motors have gone from hand control to automatic deploy, guidance and they link into sonars. I remember in Vietnam in 1970-71 we didn’t have GPS; it was landmark identification and estimated yardage. Today GPS controls everything in the boat and has pinpoint accuracy. Shallow water anchors are not just a physical advantage over heavy anchors but they allow precision boat positioning and a stealth approach. Poles are better and more sensitive. Fishing has progressed more than we could have ever imagined.”
You’ve been a part of the BnM Pole Company for many years? “Yes, Buck (Simmons) was the pioneer of crappie poles. When I told Buck I wanted to do a signature series of high-quality rods way back when, he said he didn’t think crappie fishermen would pay $35 for a pole, that was a lot of money back then. I promised him I would sell them door to door if he wasn’t able to get fishermen to buy them. Of course they did sell because they were so much lighter and sensitive than the popular fiberglass poles. Today Jack Wells is continuing the great legacy of BnM being the pole leader for crappie fishermen.”
Note: The Sam Heaton Signature Series poles have been updated through the years and are still some of the top-selling poles in the BnM lineup.
Biggest crappie? “Weiss Lake, 3-lb 6-oz, Yellow Creek, chartreuse-black 1/16 tube jig, 1966, shooting a dock. The fish came at me so I didn’t know it was big until she got to me. A great net job by a client allowed me to catch the fish.”
Favorite crappie lake? “Okeechobee. I like fishing vegetation straight up and down being in direct contact with the jig. I’ll put the lake up against most others for numbers of crappie. The down side is wind and how susceptible the crappie are there from cold fronts.”
Fishing hero? “Roland Martin because he never lost his desire to go catch a fish. Curt Gouty, because he had an articulate way to express hunting and fishing.”
American hero? “The men and women who fight to keep our country free.”
Favorite Food? Sweets.
Favorite movies/books? “Jeremiah Johnson; The Legend of Tom Horn. Bleachers by John Gresham.”
Pet Peeves? “Constant complainers; those who aren’t grateful for what they have.”
Something people may not know about you? “I was raised country poor, very poor. Our recreation was going up and down the creek bank. My first boat that I owned was the hood of a 1948 Hudson. It was huge, maybe 8 feet long and shaped like a boat. I turned it upside down, put a piece of board in the back and tarred it in. I learned to run trotlines on the Coosa River. Now I have a $100,000, 25-foot Ranger with the latest and greatest gadgets you can buy. That’s a long way from a Hudson hood.”
Are you still motivated? “I wish I was fishing right now.”
How would you like to spend your remaining time? “By doing exactly what I’m doing. Guiding some, being in the outdoors fishing and hunting. I’m in relatively good health and am thankful.”
How would you like to be remembered? “As a decent person, outdoorsman, conservationist and advocate for fishing.