By Todd Ceisner
An innovator. A sportsman. A fiercely devoted family man. A survivor. A legend. A friend. And quite possibly the best jig fisherman who ever lived.
That's how Guido Hibdon was remembered Sunday by those who knew and competed with and against him for 30-plus years on the pro bass tournament trails he helped lay the foundation for.
Hibdon passed away Saturday in his native Missouri at the age of 71 after a long illness stemming from a battle with colon cancer.
In his wake, Hibdon, the patriarch of a renowned fishing family, left a deep impression on the sport of bass fishing, from pioneering techniques and baits still in use today to being a humble gentleman through all of his success.
He won the 1988 Bassmaster Classic and is one of three anglers to win B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles in back-to-back years. He competed in 300 tournaments between B.A.S.S. and FLW, appearing in 10 Classics and six Forrest Wood Cups. He was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2002. His last victory came at the Lake Champlain FLW Tour in 2007.
He checked all of the boxes to achieve icon status.
When asked to describe Hibdon's impact on the sport of fishing, some of his contemporaries - legends in their own right - had difficulty putting it into words.
"The first word that comes to mind is monumental," said Peter Thliveros. "He helped create the industry in its present form through his techniques and lure creations. The Guido Bug alone changed the soft plastic industry. After that came out, pork rinds took a back seat."
Rick Clunn called Hibdon the toughest man he's ever met.
"To most people, it's hard to describe how much he meant," Clunn said. "He didn't talk a lot, but when he did he was wise with what he said. Even when he criticized something, he did it in a way that you felt good about it.
"I've always prided myself on sleeping out in the cold or not turning on the AC, but I don't think he ever woke up a morning where something wasn't hurting him. I think he's the most mentally tough angler I've ever known."
Larry Nixon was always impressed by Hibdon's willingness to educate people about fishing, no matter the topic.
"Not only was he a good fisherman and innovative, but he was so good to people," Nixon said. "I never saw him ignore an opportunity to teach someone about bass fishing and I was around him a lot. He had that good old country boy nature and showed someone how to rig a bait and how to use the lure and make them love the sport of bass fishing. He was a true sportsman.
"He is one of the icons of the sport. He was so innovative. He did things a lot like I do them. I learned a lot from him. He's the best light-line fisherman there ever was. That wasn't everything, though. He was a complete fisherman. He won tournaments cranking and won some flipping. He was a personal friend that I'm going to miss."
First in Class
Thliveros was Hibdon's roommate on the road in the later stage of Hibdon's career and grew close to the Hibdon family over the years. When schedules allowed, Thliveros would get together with the Hibdons during the offseason. When Thliveros had a tournament in the vicinity of Lake of the Ozarks, he made a point to stop by and check in on his friend.
"They were basically my family on the road," Thliveros said. "Over the years, we got to be extremely close, more than just fishing. The last year or so, I've been in contact almost weekly. Up until two weeks ago, the prognosis wasn't that bad, but things deteriorated and we knew he'd never be what he was. Knowing him as we knew him, he'd not want to continue in the condition he was in. It's very sad for all of us who were close to him and knew him well,"
Thliveros credited Hibdon with teaching him how to sight-fish, a technique Hibdon developed a proclivity for at Lake of the Ozarks, where he started guiding as a teenager in the late 1950s - first from shore, then from a rowboat. Thliveros' first B.A.S.S. win came at the St. Johns River in the 1992 Florida Bassmaster Top 100 and he did it sight-fishing - just how Guido taught him - with a tube bait that was handmade by Virgil Connor, Hibdon's brother-in-law.
"I learned through Guido the techniques and patience it took to do that kind of stuff," Thliveros said. "He taught every one of us how to bed fish. If not for him, I wouldn't have won the first tournament I won. At the time, bed fishing was not about belligerently fishing the fish and hitting them on the head and making them bite. It was about finesse and convincing the fish it was mad enough to eat. It was light line and a spinning rod and a game pf patience and sometimes you won and other times the fish won. He was without question the best at it. He pioneered that technique."
The tube bait also wasn't very well known to bass anglers until Hibdon got paired with Bobby Garland at the 1983 U.S. Open, where Garland introduced Hibdon to the Gitzit tube. From there, Hibdon popularized the tube as an effective bait to fool fish.
"Bobby Garland created it and Guido made it famous," Thliveros said. "We learned about tube baits and sight fishing from Guido. Someone else would've come along and done it, but he was the first."
Hibdon also had a unique method of arranging his rods on the deck of his boat before tournaments, Thliveros recalled.
"Before every tournament, he'd have his rods laid out and he'd put a white towel over his baits and reels," he said. "It was partially to taunt people and partially to keep people from seeing what he was throwing. He did a lot of things. He was a neat and cool individual."
Clunn said he learned of Hibdon's passing Sunday morning and as he sat on his deck overlooking the Ozark mountains, he had the urge to cry about losing his friend.
"But the more I thought about Guido, I got the biggest smile on my face," he said. "I have so many good memories about him."
Clunn admired Hibdon's survivor mentality. So much so that he cited the lyrics from the Michael Martin Murphy song "Desert Rat" when describing just how tough Hibdon was. One verse reads:
"Good by ol' desert rat
Ya half crazy wild cat
You knew where it was at
What life's all about.
Ya saver of catalogs, king of the prairie dogs
Success is survival and you toughed it out,
You toughed it out."
"He was the true survivor," Clunn said. "I'd change the name of the song to 'River rat', but it fits him perfectly. Guido's whole family is about survival. They were trappers and fishermen. He did something he loved and no matter how tough it was his family supported it. I didn't think anybody loved this sport more than me or could be tougher than me, but he was one of them. Most people will never know that about him. He represented the sport in a much greater way than how many Classics he won or how much money or tournaments he won."
Clunn said Hibdon's impact on the sport goes beyond namesake baits and techniques. It's the way he carried himself that should be remembered as well.
"His influences goes beyond tube baits," he said. "I've seen so many types of anglers in 43 years and you can label them all a certain style, but Guido was like (Robert Redford's character) Roy Hobbs in "The Natural." He was humble. He understood it all because he was a trapper and understood the predator-prey relationships. I'm not sure we'll ever see another like him."
Nixon recalled a time when Hibdon had done well at a tournament at Lake Lanier in Georgia sight-fishing, but the next tournament there the fish weren't on beds and Hibdon was struggling.
"He'd heard I was catching them so he asked me if I'd show him what I was doing," Nixon said. "I said, 'Sure,' and we went out the next day and I showed him what I was doing. It's unusal for another pro to practice together with another pro, but he was a great friend of mine and I've missed him sorely the last two years."
Hibdon was forever a stickler about the hooks he used for various techniques. He was especially particular about hooks for different kinds of jigs and even the paint jobs.
"We shared a lot of ideas and thoughts about fishing," Nixon said, "but the big thing about him was he always had to have the exact perfect hook for everything he was doing. He taught me the most important thing is to have the perfect hook to suit your style of fishing. I still use that today - that's why I'm always hunting for new hooks."
Thliveros said that during his prep work for the recent Lake Lanier FLW Tour, he uncovered a bag of jigs he had taken from Hibdon because Hibdon was going to throw them out. Their flaw?
"The only thing wrong was there was a speck of paint missing from them," Thliveros said. "If there was the smallest thing wrong he wouldn't use it. Now, I have a Ziploc bag full of them.
"To this day, he was the best jig fisherman that ever lived. His attention to detail on jigs and how they looked from the size of the head to the hook to how the skirt was tied and put on, it was incredible."