May 2, 2013

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Anyone who has been a serious fisherman since the advent of marine electronics in the early 1970s will likely know the brand name Humminbird, which is still manufactured in sweet home Alabama in the historic city of Eufaula.

And anyone familiar with Techsonic Industries’ Humminbird knows the person most people associate with the line of depthfinders, sonars, GPS units and other marine electronics – Larry Colombo.

Colombo headed up Humminbird’s marketing department for more years than he wishes to admit, retiring several years ago to hunt turkeys and deer and search for arrowheads.

Colombo’s contribution to the fishing industry has not gone unnoticed. As a member of the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame selection committee, he served for 25 years. When he retired from the committee, the Hall of Fame unanimously voted to enshrine Colombo in the hall.

A celebration of that induction was recently held at Techsonic headquarters in Eufaula, and the assembly lines were shut down for the employees to join in.

Elmer Guerri, who has been on the hall’s selection committee for 16 years and a friend of Colombo’s since childhood, made the presentation with the caveat from his wife that no Colombo fishing-adventure stories could be shared.

“Larry is my very best buddy,” Guerri said. “I can only say that about one person. I’ve been around the fishing industry – not as long as Larry because nobody’s been there that long – but almost as long as Larry.

“I’ve always had what I call the Colombo connection. Larry always knew about the latest equipment and lures and the places to use them. He carried me to a lot of those really neat places to go fishing.”

During his presentation, Guerri explained how difficult it is to gain enshrinement into the hall of fame. The considerations include: Conduct which exemplifies high moral and ethical standards consistent with the purposes of the hall of fame; respect for the broad spectrum of interests of freshwater sportfishing; activities which serve as motivation to others and which reflect the honor and dignity of freshwater sportfishing; and activities that reflect the respect for devotion to freshwater sportfishing, rather than the fulfillment of a need for personal aggrandizement or fame.

“Larry never looked for credit for anything,” Guerri said. “That was his hallmark.”

The enshrinement category guidelines for the hall of fame include: recognized as a pioneer in an essential aspect of freshwater sportfishing; contributed a lasting and significant national or international impact to the benefit of freshwater sportfishing; recognized for excellence and innovation of contributions to freshwater sportfishing; magnitude or importance of endeavors stand out among contemporaries as being avant-garde, unparalleled, unprecedented, transcendent, and served as an inspiration to others.

“This honor has absolutely nothing to do with the amount of fish that a person catches in his life, how big they are, or how many tournaments you won,” Colombo said. “It’s about the people that you meet and the people you associate with to make this happen.”

Colombo recalled the connections that led him from his native Indiana to Eufaula in the early 1970s. He got an invitation to go fishing on Lake Eufaula with legendary angler Tom Mann. He made the trip to Eufaula for three years and then ran into Ray Scott of Montgomery, Ala., who was inducted into the hall of fame in 2010.

“Ray Scott came up to me and said, ‘I want you to go to work for B.A.S.S. (Bass Anglers Sportmen’s Society),’” said Colombo, who wrote an outdoors column at the time. “I said, ‘alright.’ I called Tom Mann and told him I was going to work for B.A.S.S. and wanted to use him for a reference. Two days later, I got a call from Tom and he said, ‘You don’t want to go to work with Ray Scott.’ I said, ‘Uh-oh, why?’ He said, ‘because you’d rather come to Eufaula and come to work with Mann’s Bait Company (which still makes lures today right down the road from Techsonic).’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’”

After five years at Mann’s, Colombo moved down the street to Humminbird, where he worked for 23 years.

During his tenure in the fishing industry, Colombo took numerous celebrities fishing, including legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, former manager of the St. Louis Cardinals Whitey Herzog and legendary Cardinals’ slugger Stan Musial.

He also recalled when he got punked by a fellow fisherman.

“The phone rang and the person said, “This is Joe Namath. I want you to take me fishing,” Colombo said. “I said sure and we set a date. When it was time to fish, Namath didn’t show up. Then Bill Dance showed up to do a TV show with Tom Mann, and Bill said, “Hey Colombo, heard from Joe Namath lately?’ Man, I got hooked.

“Then in 1976, the NBA season was ending and John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics was playing the last week of his career. My phone rang and the voice said, ‘This is John Havlicek. I want you to take me fishing.’ I said, ‘Sure Bill, I’ll go along with your game.’ I thought it was Bill Dance again. It WAS John Havlicek.”

Jim Balkom, former Techsonic CEO, said it wasn’t the celebrities that he took fishing that made Colombo deserving of induction into the hall of fame.

“Larry has been the face of Humminbird for 30 years, and that’s a good thing,” Balkom said. “I’ve said this a thousand times: You couldn’t put Larry out with 10,000 gallons of water. He is always positive and always on fire. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say anything negative about anybody.

“He taught my girls, Julie and Katie, how to fish when they were eight and four years old (his voice cracking with emotion). He taught my grandson how to fish and sat in the deer stand with Julie teaching her how to hunt.”

Colombo pointed out that his job with Humminbird was never a burden because of the quality of the product made in Eufaula.

Addressing the Humminbird employees, Colombo said, “The people from Humminbird, because you did their job so well, my job was easy. You’re going to be in the Winn Dixie or the gas station and somebody is going to come up and say, ‘Hey, I heard one of your former employees went into the hall of fame.’ I want you to say, ‘Yeah, and I helped put him there.’”

When Colombo retired from the hall’s selection committee, he nominated me to take his place. It is with great honor that I serve on that committee, and I hope and pray I can do justice to the legacy Colombo leaves behind.