The fishing and family life of Dion Hibdon
January 01, 2013
Dion Hibdon often uses the first person plural pronoun "we" when he explains how he fishes. His father, Guido Hibdon, uses it regularly, too. In fact, Guido used it as far back as the 1960s, when he, his two brothers and father were noted Ozark fishing guides and regularly anointed as the best anglers in the Ozark region. It's a different we than the we that used to embellish The New Yorker magazine in the days of E.B. White and James Thurber. The Hibdon's we reflects the way they fish, which they often did and still do together, and that creates a we situation in the minds and lexicon of the Hibdons.
Across the years, the Hibdons' we factor permeated the angling media. For instance in an interview with Brent Frazee, the outdoors editor of the Kansas City Star, on April 28, 1996, Dion addressed the we factor and his relationship with his father: "We work well together. When we practice, we can each head out and try different things, then compare notes. It's one of those two-heads-are-better-than-one-things." Then on Jerry McKinnis' Bass ProFiles television show on ESPN2, McKinnis interviewed Dion and Guido simultaneously, and the we pronoun graced the entire show.
Some knowledgeable observers have said that Dion, who was Guido and Stella Hibdon's third child, seemed to be so genetically linked to the Hibdon family's piscatorial heritage that he was almost predestined to follow his father's foot steps and become a professional bass angler.
Rick Clunn of Ava, Missouri, befriended the Hibdons decades ago, and he quickly developed a great admiration for their angling talents. In fact, Clunn told Bass Fan a number of years ago that Guido Hibdon was one of his three angling heroes. At that time, Clunn was also aware of the Hibdon's we phenomenon. When Dion won the 2000 FLW Championship on the Red River at Shreveport, Louisiana, flipping a 3/8-ounce black-and-blue jig and Guido Bug around a series of logs that were graced with current on the main river channel, Clunn analyzed the tournament on his Website, and part of Clunn's focus was on the characteristics of being a Hibdon. Clunn wrote: "Self-reliant, Slow, Precise, Surgeon like, Meticulous. These are all adjectives that describe the Hibdon Clan. Another description would be, being true to themselves. All of these characteristics is why Dion won. He basically 10-pounded the field to death. He never wavered or stumbled; he simply and patiently waited for the field to come back to him, to eliminate themselves one by one and then he edged past the final four. He survived."
Dion's interest in fishing blossomed nearly three decades before the championship win that Clunn described. Stella and Guido Hibdon noticed that Dion exhibited an interest in fishing at a surprisingly tender age. From that point on, the entire family cultivated Dion's deep-rooted inclinations to be an angler. Thus, it's not surprising that he participated in his first tournament when he was 11 years old on the Lake of the Ozarks, where his father was the master of ceremonies. Dion fished that event with his uncle Virgil Conners, and it is assumed that this tournament enkindled Dion's latent desires to follow his father's footsteps.
During Dion's childhood years, however, his father's extremely busy guiding schedule prevented them from fishing together on a regular basis. Then during Dion's teenage years in the early 1980s, his father's schedule became more complicated as he continued to guide and began competing in the tournament world. Dion remembers spending more time fishing with his uncles and his father's best friend, Jerry Cox, than he did with his father during those hectic and busy times. But when Dion was out of school during the summer, he traveled with his parents to various tournament sites. To this day, he has fond memories of spending more than a month camping at Lake Mead, Nevada, as his father prepared for the U.S. Open. Of course, he fished daily with his father and relished his mother's cooking. Then when Lake Mead was off-limits to the competitors for several days prior to the U.S. Open, the Hibdons went trout fishing in the nearby mountains. He remembers that they fished almost incessantly. In addition to being a joyful time, Dion remembers those Nevada summers as a great learning experience that helped him to formulate some rudimentary strategies for how he wanted his life to unfold after he graduated from high school. In addition, his parents dramatically enhanced his learning experience by entering him in the 1983 U.S. Open.
During his high school days, Dion acquired a boat, which allowed him to guide on the Lake of the Ozarks and compete on several regional tournament circuits, such as the U.S. Bass Fishing Association event at Stockton Lake, Missouri, 1983. Those successful and enthralling forays into the tournament world further enhanced his nascent desires to become a professional angler.
When he graduated from Versailles, Missouri, High School in 1985 at the age of 17, he announced that he wanted to join them on the tournament trail rather than attend college. He told his parents that fishing was what he wanted to do for a living. He explained that fishing fever constantly coursed through his veins, making it a vital part in his daily existence, and if they didn't allow him to do it, he said it would be a bitter pill for him to swallow. What's more, after working for a local marina for a spell, Dion quickly realized that he didn't want to spend his life working for someone else; he wanted to be his own boss, and he told his parents that the best way to do that was to become a professional angler. Guido and Stella Hibdon understood his request and ultimately concurred, and he competed in his first Bassmasters tourney on September 25-27, 1985, at the New York Invitiational on the St. Lawrence River, where he struggled to catch 7.1 pounds of bass and finished in 217th place.
For the next several years Dion and his parents traveled together as they ventured from one tournament site to the next. At that time, Dion's older sister and brother, Dotty and Chuck, were grown and out on their own, which made it unnecessary for the Hibdons to hurry home after each tournament. Therefore, Dion and his parents would often be on the road from shortly after Christmas until late May. During the winter months, they spent a lot of time deciphering the ways of the bass that inhabit the natural waterways of Florida, and as spring unfolded elsewhere, they visited different reservoirs located at various corners of the nation. Throughout these marathon angling adventures, they had a double-stacked boat trailer so they could tow both of their boats with one vehicle. Dion and his father spent an incredible amount of time on the water. He remembers that his mother would drive them to the boat ramp in the morning, where they would launch their boats, and then she would pick them up in the evening. Dion called it an extraordinary time that allowed him and his father to spend a lot of time together and garner an incredible amount of knowledge that continues to help them understand and unravel many of the goings on in the worlds of the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.
Dion notes that he and his father are deeply indebted to his mother. Her hard work and her nifty ability to formulate plans, make reservations and prepare schedules allowed them to do nothing but fish. To this day, he calls her the master planner and organizer, saying that she makes life on the road, which can be trying, an easier ordeal.
From 1985 through 1987, Dion competed in 17 Bassmaster tourneys. Even though he described it as a struggle, he managed to have two top-10 finishes, and missed qualifying for the 1987 Bassmaster Classic by only six ounces.
By 1988, all of Dion's hard work began to yield some significant dividends, allowing him to qualify for the James River Bassmaster Classic, which his father won. Then in 1989 he enjoyed his first big-time win, beating Rick Clunn by 11 ounces at the Red Man Golden Blend Diamond Invitational at Kentucky Lake.
Across the next 10 years, Dion's lifestyle changed significantly. On June 30, 1990, Dion married Jill Linette Marriot, and in 1991 their son Payden was born, and their twin sons, Connar and Lawson, were born in 1995.
Besides becoming a husband and a father, doctors informed him 1991 that he had juvenile diabetes, which is the most severe form of the disease. To control its debilitating effects, Dion had to give himself four daily insulin shots, which could be administered only before meals, and that was a difficult routine for a professional tournament angler to manage. Ultimately, Dion was fitted in 1995 with an internal insulin pump that routinely pumped insulin into his blood stream every three minutes, and this medical device made his days on the water more flexible and devoid of the periodic fatigue factors that would often confound his days before he was fitted with the pump.
By 1996, he had earned an average of $2,025 at each of the tournaments that he had fished. And many observers and his fellow competitors in the tournament world deemed Dion to be one of the most knowledgeable anglers on the tour. But he hadn't won a Bassmasters event. What's more, Dion was a touch disheartened by what he called "several mediocre years in a row."
After Kenyon Hill, a fellow professional angler and friend from Norman, Oklahoma, told the Hibdons about benefits that he had gained from talking with a sports psychologist in Tulsa, Guido Hibdon, who realized that Dion possessed all the angling skills and knowledge to be a winner on the Bassmaster circuit, urged him to contact the sports psychologist in Tulsa.
Several weeks prior to the 1997 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Logan Martin, Alabama, Dion had an appointment with this sports psychologist. They talked about how tournament anglers can be waylaid by a sundry of minor and major adversities, which can generate what psychologists call "formative negative dispositions,"and that negativity can impede the way an angler locates and presents a bait to his quarry. In that one session, Dion learned how to arrest negative thought patterns and cultivate positive ones. Although it is difficult to measure the effects of his session with the psychologist, it appears to have been effective, because on August 9, 1997, Dion held the Classic's first-place trophy in his hands.
Before Dion won the Classic, the media occasionally noted that he was always fishing and competing in the shadow of his father, and some observers suspected the we pronoun was a reflection of that shadow. Dion said that he and his family never saw that shadow hanging over him. But during some of that hubbub, Dion uttered one retort, noting that his father casts an extremely large shadow in the angling world. Therefore in Dion's eyes, more than 90% of the tournament anglers are overshadowed by Guido Hibdon, because he is one of the greatest professional anglers in the history of the sport. Virtually in the same breath, Dion proudly proclaimed that his father, mother, grandmother and uncles did a stellar job of rearing him and teaching him the Hibdon way of catching fish, and that's why he uses the pronoun we.
When Dion is asked if he still fishes the same way his father and uncles taught him to fish in the 1970s and '80s, he says that he and his father nowadays will employ any tactic that will catch bass. In fact, they have never been wedded to one style; versatility has always been one of their fortes. According to Dion there is one basic difference in their styles of fishing, and it revolves around the fact that Dion likes to move around a lot in search for aggressive bass, while his father prefers to stay put once he locates some bass in an area, and then his father finds a way to catch them -- even the non-aggressive ones. So when Dion's aggressive bass stop biting, his father tells him how to provoke them to bite. In short, Dion says: "I find them, and he figures out how to catch them."
Twenty-six months after Dion won the Classic, doctors determined that his father was afflicted with throat cancer. It was curable, but while Guido recuperated, he was able to compete in only one Bassmaster and three FLW tournaments in 2000. Since 1985, Dion had competed in only two major tournaments without his father. For the first time in Dion's career, he had to travel, practice and compete without the company and assistance of his mother and father. Dion was flooded with worry, a tad forlorn, and for a spell, he suffered with a quasi-withdrawal syndrome. But as the 2000 season unfolded, all of the worst-case fears and scenarios that initially coursed through Dion's mind didn't materialize. Instead, it became an exceptional rewarding year. Dion discovered that his father's woes forced him to become a better angler, motivated him to win the FLW Championship and garnering 2000 Ranger Cup Points Championship. Dion also noticed that this difficult time eventually gave his father a new and more positive outlook on life, which was reflected in the way Guido competed after his recovery in 2001, finishing in 4th place in the FLW's angler-of-the-year race.
Dion and his father's ability to employ any tactic that will allure the bass was reflected at the Lake of the Ozarks FLW Series tournament on October 11-14, 2006. Typically early and mid-October is a trying time for bass anglers -- even for the Hibdons -- at the Lake of the Ozarks. During most October days, the bulk of the anglers probe boat docks, and the Hibdons are masters at that tactic. But rather than fishing the docks with a jig, the Hibdons elected to employ a method that they had never used before, and use it at places that they had never fished before. They focused on deep-water ledges at bluff points, as well as at bluff pockets that were graced with rock slides that created a ledge. Some of these lairs were endowed with man-made brush piles. The drop-offs were steep, and the ledges were in 20 to 25 feet of water, and from those ledges, the water plummeted to depths of 40 feet or more. They probed the ledges and occasional brush piles with either a half-ounce or one-ounce football jig. Their jigs were dressed with either a brown or green-pumpkin skirt, and the jigs' trailers were either a brown or green-pumpkin Guido Bug. The depth and disposition of the bass, as well as velocity of the wind, determined the size of jig that they used. At times, the bass preferred a dragging jig, and at other times, they wanted a hopping one. Besides experimenting with different retrieves, they used a variety of angles to dissect each lair.
Even though deep-water structure fishing had never been part of their repertoire, the Hibdons shined. Dion caught about a dozen keepers each day and weighed in 71-08 pounds of bass, beating Larry Nixon, who finished second, by six pounds, and he beat his father, who finished fourth, by 10 pounds. (By the way, after Nixon saw Dion's fish swimming upside down at the weigh in on the first day, he knew that they had been extracted from deep-water; so Nixon executed a similar deep-water pattern during the next three days) According to Dion, it was a pattern that could be plied at many locations around the lake's 1,150 miles of shorelines, which enabled him to fish new deep-water lairs every day of the tournament. Another reason why the deep-water pattern worked was because the deep-water bass weren't affected as much as the shallower boat-dock bass were by the radical changing weather patterns that buffeted the northern Ozarks.
It's interesting to note that Dion and his father fished Stren Series Central Division tournament at the Lake of the Ozarks on October 8-11, 2008, and they fished docks on points that were buffeted by current rather than the deep-water ledges, which again reveals their versatility and ability to use any method that will catch bass. Dion won again by catching 55-03, and his father finished fourth again by catching 48-09 pounds of bass. They caught the bass by flipping, pitching and skipping a 7/16-ounce black-and-blue jig with blue tinsel and dressed with a black-and-blue Guido Bug around, along and under the docks.
In 2003, Dion elected to fish only the FLW circuits. He explained that Bassmaster's new tournament schedule conflicted with his seminar and fishing show appearances in the late winter and early spring, noting that he usually appeared at 30 or more seminars and shows, which significantly augmented his yearly income. Moreover, his sponsors were aligned with the FLW. But if the tournament schedules for Bassmaster and FLW were spread across the entire year, Dion said he and many other anglers would compete on both circuits. Moreover, in Dion's eyes, a schedule scattered across four seasons would be a better test of the anglers' prowess.
A few years after the turn of the century, the Hibdon family began to endure some perplexing and tumultuous times. Most of it revolved around Dion and Jill Hibdon's martial woes. Some it pivoted around with two of their three sons becoming afflicted with diabetes. Eventually Dion and Jill Hibdon were divorced in 2011, and then Jill Hibdon died in an automobile accident on Dec. 7, 2011.
By trimming his tournament schedule during these difficult years, Dion was also able to spend more time with his three sons, trying to help them to negotiate all the obstacles and problems that erupted. On a number of those days, Dion and his sons fished together. According to Guido and Stella Hibdon, Dion's three sons seem to be blessed with the Hibdons' piscatorial inclinations -- especially Lawson and Payden. During many of these difficult days, Dion's boys also spent a lot of time fishing and talking about fishing and the woes of life with their grandfather Hibdon.
Payden Hibdon's prowess was exhibited by winning the 2006 Junior Bassmaster World Championship. After that win, Payden competed as a co-angler at five FLW events. He fished as a professional for the first time at the Stren Series Central Division at the Lake of the Ozarks on October 1-2, 2009, when he caught 10 bass that weighed 14-15 pounds and finished in 55th place. At this tourney, he competed against his father, who finished in 15th place, and his grandfather Hibdon, who finished in 11th.
Commencing with the PAA Bass Pro Shops Tournament Series at Cherokee Lake, Tennessee, on July 9-11, 2010, Payden began fishing as a professional at some of the big-time venues with his father and grandfather. Dion and Payden travel together on the 2011 FLW Tour Opens Division, where they competed in two events. In 2011 and 2012, Payden, Dion and Guido Hibdon, accompanied and shepherded by Stella Hibdon, traveled together on the FLW Tour Majors Division, and it's a major Hibdon caravan, consisting of three trucks, three bass boats, and a giant RV. In essence, Dion, Guido and Stella Hibdon are paying Payden Hibdon's tournament expenses.
Now the we pronoun encompasses a new generation of Hibdons. For instance, Payden says: "we can talk about anything because we are so close," and he often proclaims that his father and grandparents have taught him everything that he knows.
Dion says that Payden has spent so many hours fishing with his grandfather Hibdon for the past eight years that he has become almost a spitting-image of Guido Hibdon in his youth. Dion hopes he and his father can spend the rest of their days on the tournament trail watching Payden develop into another Hibdon legend, and he also hopes that he and his father can win a few more tournaments along the way.
Because family has played such a critical role in the life and times of Dion Hibdon, the way he performed as tournament angler was adversely affected when the fabric of his marriage and family life became tattered. That disharmony also affected the way Guido and Payden performed as a tournament anglers. Stella said that all of the discord played havoc with "her boys" ability to concentrate on every cast and retrieve, and if their minds aren't acutely focused upon alluring bass, even the extremely bass-savvy Hibdons have a difficult time catching their quarries and faring well in tournaments. In addition, Payden was diagnosed as being afflicted with diabetes, which was discombobulating to him and his family, and it upset the way he fished at times.
But as 2012 slowly unfolded for the Hibdons, the trials and travails that plagued them for half a dozen years gradually ebbed.
Dion married Amy Donran of Versailles, Missouri, on Jan. 30, 2012. Amy is a special-education teacher at an elementary school in Versailles. Three of Amy's four sons (her oldest son is in the U.S. Marine Corps) and Dion's three sons live with Dion and Amy in Versailles.
By the end of the FLW Tour, Dion was exhibiting much of his old form, and he fished well enough to take ninth-place honors at the FLW Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Lanier, Georgia, on Aug. 9-12, 2012.
On Oct. 20-21, 2012, Dion, Guido and Payden staged the Hibdon School of Fishing, and at the same time Guido began Guido Hibdon's Guiding Service. He hopes that Dion and Payden can be part of the guiding service, but the U.S. Coast Guard has temporarily foiled this endeavor by denying Dion and Payden a license because they are diabetics. Stella Hibdon, however, is working hard to get this decision overruled, and she has solicited the help of the American Diabetes Association, asking them to file a discrimination suit on behalf of Dion and Payden.
Once the 2013 tournament season commences, Dion, Guido, Payden and Stella will be on the road again, hoping that the Hibdons' piscatorial genius will shine brightly again and again, and their names shining at the top of the leader boards.
(1) The photograph is courtesy of the Hibdon's facebook.
(2) BassFan posted a feature on Payden Hibdon on Jan. 18 entitled "Hibdon Keeps Chin Up Despite Struggles." It can be seen at http://www.bassfan.com/news_article.asp?id=4480#.UQp1SR3LS5w
(3) In the first Walmart FLW Tour event of 2013, which was stage at Lake Okeechobee, Florida, on Feb. 7-10, Dion Hibdon caught 15 largemouth bass that weighed 41 pounds, 11 ounces. He finished in 17 place and won $12,000. His son Payden caught 10 largemouth bass that weighed 17 pounds, 11 ounces and finished in 130 place. His father, Guido, caught 10 largemouth bass that weighed 15 pounds, 11 ounces and finished in 150 place.