The air temperature was hovering in the high 40s on an October morning when I met Roy Bilby on the Mohawk River. Fog was burning off the water, and a sweatshirt wasn’t enough to keep warm before the sun pulled itself overhead, but a bite in the air wouldn’t stop a man who was after his 30,000th bass.
Roy Bilby is a local pro, a member of the Mohawk Valley Bass Anglers Club, and a carpenter and locksmith at Suny Cobleskill when he’s not on the water, which is … rarely. The man once went 230 straight trips without coming up empty.
Over the years, the Upstate New York fisherman has kept incredibly detailed logs that he says make him a more efficient angler with each outing.
After catching one smallmouth against a lock gate on the Mohawk, Bilby pulls out a tape recorder and makes vocal notes of where the fish was caught, the temperature of the air, water, the lure being used, and the size of the fish.
“When I get home, I’ll play this back and add to a detailed journal,” he explains.
Bilby is an energetic, careful, detail-oriented fisherman, as you might imagine, but after six hours on the water on a day when it didn’t crack sixty degrees until we’d been on the water for four, I realized that it wasn’t so much that he was detail-oriented, meticulous, or that he was a student of the fish that accounted for his astronomical number of caught bass.
On a day when few of us might even be on the water to begin with, the bass were not cooperating. After three hours at various spots, we were coming up empty. But Bilby once strung together 235 straight trips without getting skunked.
“We were on the water until midnight for that final skunking,” he remembered. “My buddy, with me at the time, didn’t want to go in, he didn’t want to be the one on the boat when it ended. But if you’re just going to fish until you catch a fish regardless of circumstance… well, anyone can do that.”
It was that resolve, the determination to fish until midnight before calling it quits, that allowed Bilby to reach the 30,000-bass milestone.
More than skill, which I can testify that he has as in spades as an angler, more than attention to detail, which you can clearly see that he demonstrates with his copious note-taking, and more than luck, which he admits plays a small part in any fishing, and certainly a streak like the one he’s had, it’s just pure, relentless resolve that gets you to 30,000 fish. Bilby won’t quit.
Bass number 30,000 was an otherwise unimpressive specimen: It was a smallmouth between one and two pounds, and one of only four we scratched together on the day, but its significance was overwhelming.
Even the most dogged fishermen among us, if we truthfully assessed our lifetime totals, aren’t anywhere near Bilby’s numbers. With a garage sporting 160 rods, three boats, and more lures than some small tackle shops, Bilby’s passion for the sport far surpasses the average angler’s.
And it’s that drive, resolve, and refusal to quit that has got him to 30,000 bass, and I suspect it’ll have him at 50,000 before he quits keeping track.
If there’s something we can take away from a man who has caught more fish than most of us ever will, it might very well be a lesson best illustrated by a relatively small smallmouth bass caught after four empty hours on a brisk October day when the fish simply weren’t cooperating: Keep moving, changing tactics, have faith (on the back of his jersey he has inscribed, “Prov. 3:5-8” — (“Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”)) — and don’t quit.