Northwest Bass, the modern day regional circuit that many anglers have poured their hearts and souls into is changing gears. Not just from the participant side, but those who have driven miles with weigh-in equipment, sponsor banners and spent hours pre-blastoff setting up for the day’s events. Northwest Bass was founded on camaraderie; the friendships, the competition and the determination to build the largest powerhouse in the West.
In 2003, Gary and Lisa Stiles bought Northwest Bass from Bob Banta. In preparation for his retirement from Chevron and Lisa quitting her consulting job, the two focused on building one of bass fishing’s most coveted tournament organizations, together.
As a team, the first schedule included Banks Lake, Tri Cities and Potholes Reservoir. After mixing in additional venues such as Camas, Washington, Tenmile, Oregon, The Dalles, Oregon and others such as Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, they did their best to keep the core lakes active throughout the years. From their second year forward, the entries continued to cultivate, the payouts amplified and sponsor support became fortified. Jeff Priester was offering incentives as Nixon’s Marine bolted into action. Triton Boats became a mainstay and before long, the Stiles/Priester team was now buying boats to give away to those who were best at “keeping the big ones”. As a collective, the trend continued well into 2009. The sport and the brand were growing side by side, which included the largest single tournament boat count at 126 boats on Banks Lake that year.
UPS & DOWNS
While participation was at an all-time high, 2009 also marked the lowest of the lows. The economy started its downturn and cancer created hardship for the Stiles family. Although Lisa’s diagnosis seemed unclear, the very same people behind the competition showed up in a major way, offering help wherever and whenever needed.
“Having Northwest Bass was an awesome thing. We got so much positive feedback…the energy is unlike a regular job. Everyone at Northwest Bass is so positive because they want to be involved. Having that positive support and well-wishes were very helpful,” said Lisa.
Gary followed and softly spoke, “This was the year I really fell in love with the guys. We couldn’t imagine that level of support. People like Kathy Priester actually showed up when Lisa had back to back surgeries and through radiation treatments to help run the tournaments. The Priesters became more than a primary sponsor. They’re more than part of the structure, they’re part of the fabric,” he finished.
That fabric Lisa and Gary were referring to are the anglers who have over the years, made time to fish Northwest Bass. They made it very well known that their success and the organization’s brand was truly built on the transoms of hundreds of anglers, whether it was one tournament here, or from those who fished rain or shine year after year. From blast-off to weigh-in, the true fabric is that of the anglers who made Northwest Bass part of their lives.
“The drive to compete, the ego, and the guys and girls who make up that angler base. (They) have made it what it is today. Each and every angler has a degree of integrity that simply cannot be matched anywhere in the country,” said Gary.
When speaking of the overall success and the experiences along the way, I was amazed to find out that their children were always with them at the tournaments. I had yet to meet anyone else in their immediate family, but that level of resiliency was not surprising at all. Stepping back and looking at the whole picture, Gary and Lisa made Northwest Bass an integral part of their lives. In return for their dedication to our many communities and the sport of bass fishing, the anglers returned the favor only to help drive the momentum. Together, it is an enormous family.
As one of the largest and most successful regional circuits, Northwest Bass survived a difficult time when businesses were shutting the doors completely. Many other tournament organizations could not survive the reduction in participation. Circuits were closing down, weigh-in scales sat in their cases, and many anglers across the country found it difficult to maintain active participation in tournament fishing. On top of the difficult times, Gary and Lisa spent countless hours and an undisclosed amount of fees to appeal a sales tax implementation from the Washington State Department of Revenue that would have set a sales tax precedence to all entry fees statewide. In the end, the appeal and the victory came from not only protecting the tournament rights of all bass anglers up and down the west coast, but nationwide for that matter. Gary and Lisa sacrificed once again to protect the sport of bass fishing as we know it.
Behind the scenes, I was curious as to how each of their personalities fit into the grand scheme of things. Particularly, how two people’s qualities were able to successfully defy many obstacles, personally and professionally, yet run the day to day activities with flawless execution.
“One of the things that makes Northwest Bass so successful is our differences. Gary is a people person. He loves people. He always does what is right. With my engineering background, I come from the detailed standpoint. Together, we made it work,” stated Lisa.
When asked if stepping away would be difficult, I could clearly see some hesitation in Gary’s response. “I think Northwest Bass needs new leadership and energy. It needs new direction and I wholeheartedly believe Willie Nelson, Chase Heaton, and Bob Higby will provide that. We’re proud of the brand and love hearing across the country how Northwest Bass is one of the best ran organizations in the country. We wouldn’t have made this decision if we didn’t think the Nixon’s Marine team couldn’t propel it further,” he said.
With a few moments delay, Gary and Lisa turned and started talking about funny stories. As you can imagine, there is an endless supply of practical jokes and comical situations that could be told, but the chart topper seemed to be about a chicken. A chicken that wound up being stuffed into the livewell of a competitor’s boat just prior to livewell checks. After a full day of fishing and being harassed by several children and adults, guess who wound up taking that chicken home? You guessed it, the Stiles family now had a pet chicken that they named Houdini.
Years have gone by from when Gary and Lisa took the challenge of running a tournament organization. Altogether, they have made many close friends. Some of the most fascinating are those who have grown from an early age to having families of their own.
“We feel like we’ve watched a whole bunch of anglers grow up. Ron Hobbs Jr., Claussen, Lippencot, Palaniuk, Nania ...many are married, have children, so we feel like we’ve helped raised many anglers,” he said.
PASSING THE TORCH
In 2015, Gary and Lisa will be helping Nixon’s Marine as the passing of the torch begins. Lisa will then resume her venture in Occupational Safety and Health. Gary will be competing alongside you in Northwest Bass. While the anglers may be the fabric to the circuit’s success, I think most will agree that the material is only as strong as the foundation of which exists underneath. Gary and Lisa Stiles are not just that foundation, they are the definition of exemplary.
Images 1 -3 provided by Dan Rice, Image 4 Taylor Smith