By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The historic town of Eufaula has long laid claim to the title of “Big Bass Capital of the World.” Now, the town of 13,000 in southeast Alabama has the big bass to prove it.
A 12-foot-tall replica of a largemouth bass was dedicated last week in downtown Eufaula, where Mayor Jack Tibbs expects it to become a social media magnet.
With a grant from the Alabama Tourism Department, the bass replica was built in nearby Dothan. Tourism also erected a historic marker nearby to celebrate the life of Tom Mann and his contribution to bass fishing around the world.
“We had a meeting with (Alabama Tourism Department Director) Lee Sentell, and he asked about any photo ops in the town,” Tibbs said. “We didn’t have any one place to take a picture. He suggested a big fish statue and very generously offered money to go toward the statue.”
Tibbs found a company, Replica Plastics, in Dothan that is known for building replicas for sports teams. The company built a huge baseball glove for Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.
“With social media as it is, the big fish will be a landmark that will draw people to our downtown,” Tibbs said. “This is a Thursday, and you see how busy downtown is. We want it to be that way every night. There are shops and restaurants here. They come downtown to get their picture taken with Manny and post it on social media. That’s great advertising, not only for the town but the lake also.”
Lake Eufaula is a 45,181-acre reservoir located on the Chattahoochee River along the border of southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama. The reservoir is formed by Walter F. George Dam and is known for its great fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, bream and catfish. Lake Eufaula has been the site of numerous bass tournaments, including Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) events and last year’s Major League Fishing Challenge Cup. Just this week, the American Bass Anglers announced it will hold its Ray Scott Championship at Eufaula in 2019.
Tibbs said the final size of the fish replica, which is 5 feet wide, was deliberately chosen.
“We didn’t want it too big,” Tibbs said. “We wanted people not to have to move too far back to get the fish and people in the picture. It’s the perfect size to take a picture, and you can see who’s in the picture. It’s only been up for a few days, and there’s no telling how many people have already taken pictures with it.”
When it came to naming the big bass, the City of Eufaula held a contest. Tibbs said more than 40 names were submitted, and the winner was Manny in honor of Mann, Eufaula’s most famous fisherman.
“Tom was a famous fishing pioneer, a television host and lure designer from Eufaula,” Tibbs said. “We decided to name it for Tom.
“We also dedicated a historic marker, which have been erected all over the state to recognize historic people and events. Tom was instrumental in getting Eufaula on the map through his lure company (Mann Bait Company). He started four different businesses here, helped develop the Humminbird depth finder, helped Ray Scott get B.A.S.S. going. He did numerous television shows. So, he did a lot to promote not only Eufaula but the state of Alabama. That is what is highlighted on the historic marker.”
Tibbs said during the dedication of Manny he posed a question to the crowd of about 200.
“When people find out you’re from Eufaula, what do they ask you?” he said. “Almost in unison, they said, ‘Did you know Tom Mann?’ In modern day history, Tom was known far and wide.”
Mann also started a business trend in Eufaula with his bait company, which blossomed into numerous lure companies in the area, Southern Plastics and Strikezone Lures, to name a couple.
“There are a lot of fishing lures made in Eufaula on an annual basis,” Tibbs said. “We truly are the lure capital of the world, based on the number of lures made here. Tom had a big part in that because companies that are here are directly related to companies he started or spinoffs with people he taught the business that started their own companies.”
Tibbs said his connection goes way back when bass fishing was basically in its infancy.
“I remember, as a 13-year-old, seeing Tom and Ray when they were promoting B.A.S.S.,” Tibbs said. “They were my heroes as a 13-year-old. It’s interesting that later in life I got to spend time with both of my heroes.
“I should have been mad at them, because I got interested in fishing because of Tom and Ray. Now I think I’ve bought 11 bass boats and no telling how many pickup trucks. I’ve got a garage I can’t close the door on because of all the fishing tackle. But, it’s been a great blessing to spend time with them.”
Mann died in 2005. His daughter, Sharon Mann Dixon, was at the dedication ceremony to celebrate her dad.
“This means the world to our family,” Dixon said. “It was such an honor. We’ve got the memorial highway, the big fish and the historical marker. My dad was a ‘bigger than life’ person. There’s just so much to tell about him. There are a lot of his accomplishments on the historical marker, and he did a lot more than that. He basically put Eufaula on the map. He was a big family man. He held junior fisherman tournaments and family tournaments. We’ve had a great response about this recognition. We just wish he could have lived to see it.
“He and my mother, Ann, were very hard workers. They worked as a team. They started a business together. She took care of four children and helped with the business. I remember growing up, we were bagging jigs at night. There were no idle hands when we were growing up. We were always busy doing something with his lures. The business just grew and grew. And Dad was just a happy person.”
Dixon said her mom and dad made countless friends through the fishing industry and tournament circuits and many have stayed in contact through the years, including Ray Scott, who attended last week’s dedication.
“My dad took all kind of celebrities fishing,” Dixon said. “He took ball players, country singers and even took a monkey fishing. It was actually an orangutan named Radcliffe. He was a cousin to Clyde, who was in the Clint Eastwood movie.
“When he had Fish World, people were so excited to see him and get his autograph. One day, he was supposed to take President Jimmy Carter fishing. President Carter and his bodyguards were in Fish World when a customer came in. He saw Daddy and he was so excited to meet my dad in person that he didn’t even notice the president. Dad asked him if he knew the man standing over there, pointing to the president. That man almost fainted, because all he could see was Tom Mann.”
Dixon found out her dad’s fame was not restricted to the United States when one of her three sons worked in Japan for a few months.
“My oldest son was an international model for 13 years,” she said. “He lived in Japan for a summer. One day he had a Mann’s Bait Company hat on while he was walking around. He said a man came up to him and said, ‘Tom Mann, Tom Mann, good fisherman.’ They had done a big article on Daddy a year before that. The man recognized the name. When he found out Tripp was his grandson, he had to get a picture with him.
“Another time, Tripp was in Hawaii, and he met a couple who asked where he was from. When he said, ‘Eufaula,’ they said, ‘Do you know Tom Mann?’”
Visit and take photos with Manny at 404 East Broad Street, Eufaula, Ala.
PHOTOS: (David Rainer, Sharon Mann Dixon) Eufaula Main Street Director Ann Sparks and Mayor Jack Tibbs show off the 12-foot-tall Manny bass that was named after Eufaula fishing legend Tom Mann. A historical marker was also dedicated to remember Mann’s contribution to the fishing industry. One of Mann’s favorite outings included teaching youngsters to fish.