Junior Collis of Milledgeville, a mountain farm boy who grew up to be a bass tournament champion and a virtual legend in Georgia bass fishing, died Wednesday at a hospice in Dublin.
Funeral Services will be conducted Saturday, March 30, 2013, at 2 p.m. at Williams Funeral Home Chapel of Milledgeville. Interment will follow at Baldwin Memorial Gardens.
The Family will receive friends at Williams Funeral Home from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday.
Collis, 83, underwent throat cancer surgery a few years ago, and his wife, Alta, said that in February he was hospitalized after suffering his ninth case of pneumonia and also a heart attack. He had been on a liquid nourishment diet more than two years.
David Collis of Decatur, Ala., his son from his first marriage, said, “My father loved fishing, but he also loved to teach other people how to catch fish. He enjoyed talking about fishing with people everywhere he went.”
The widely known angler, who lived on Lake Sinclair, encouraged people to release bass so that they could be "caught again another day.”
Collis fished in a number of Ray Scott’s Bass Anglers Sportsman Society national bass tournaments, winning a very challenging one on South Carolina’s Lake Keowee in 1973.
Contestants hooked few bass, but in three days, Collis caught a total of 23 pounds, 15 ounces, including a 9-pound, 9-ounce bass that struck an 8-inch black grape Jelly Worm that a friend, Eddie Withrow, had predicted would attract a great, great-grandmama bass.
His tournament prize of $3,296 was small by today’s standards.
A truck driver, Collis didn’t have the cash to pay the entry fee to fish on Keowee, so his Atlanta Bass Club friend, Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Zook, paid his $200 fee.
The victory made him the first Georgian ever to qualify for the Bassmasters Classic, which was held in 1973 on Clarks Hill Lake. He didn’t win but made new friends and earned the respect of more pro anglers on the cast-for-cash trail.
Junior Lee Collis was born April 17, 1929, on a farm at Gravelly Gap near Blue Ridge in the North Georgia mountains, and he helped the family grow corn, tomatoes, okra, peas and watermelons.
Two local men asked the farm boy, then 10, to operate the motor while they trolled on Lake Nottely. They handed him an old reel and a Creek Chub Pike, inviting him to try his luck. The men didn’t catch a fish, but he landed his limit of bass. The kid from Gravelly Gap had caught a chronic case of fishing fever that day, and he was happy no doctor found a medicine to cure it.
After serving in the U.S.Army Air Force, he moved to Atlanta, worked a year as a carpenter, then got a job as a driver for Yellow Freight, and he delivered merchandise in the big city more than 30 years.
Wayne Johnson, his uncle who became a Lake Seminole fishing guide, gave him some bass fishing lessons, and he began his lifelong pursuit of Old Nelly, the huge, rod bending largemouth of his dreams.
Collis cast a Bagley DB-3, plastic worms, Hot Spots, and Rat-L-Traps to catch many bass weighing from 6 to 10 pounds. He fished in all of the Georgia reservoirs and especially loved Sinclair, Seminole, West Point, Jackson and Clarks Hill..
He wore several hats---- truck driver, bass club member, bass tournament competitor, speaker at the boat show’s bass seminars, fishing teacher, fishing guide, and good will ambassador for the great sport of angling.
Once in a Lake Seminole bass tournament, the famed professional angler and TV fishing show host Roland Martin pulled alongside Collis’ boat and asked how he was doing. Collis said his hottest lure was a Hellbender cast near stumps and trees. Roland found a Hellbender in his own tacklebox, then proceeded to catch a trophy class largemouth and won the tournament.
Roland was ever grateful to Collis and sent him a depth finder in appreciation of the fishing tip.
Collis also was a friend of numerous other pro bass anglers, including Bill Dance and Tom Mann, and he helped make famous the fishing lures designed by Jim Bagley and Cotton Cordell.
In the 1970s, fellow Atlanta Bass Club member Doug Bush said Collis was close to nature and had instincts that city fellows lack.
“Junior has the uncanny ability to sense movement and activity of fish. He just has the feeling and knows when they’re moving and where they’ll be,” Bush said.
Collis once told a friend, “I’ve often smelled fish. People have laughed at me, but a fish does put off an odor. Specially a bass will put off a little different odor from a bream or a crappie. Sometimes I can smell a snake lying over on the bank.”
He was asked if he had one million dollars, how would he spend it. He smiled and said, “I’d fish every day. I never get tired of fishing. Every day is another excitement and another day to catch fish.”
One spring day Collis and an Atlanta friend caught almost 50 bass in a central Georgia farm pond. He released a 5-pounder, smiled, and said, “I hope the good Lord lets me fish until the day that I die.”
Collis will lie in eternal rest next to a handsome grave marker that features a color image of him holding a stringer of big bass.
A visitor to the Milledgeville cemetery will know that Junior Collis discovered the secret to happiness.
Survivors include his wife, Alta Godfrey Collis of Milledgeville; children, David(Terry) Collis of Decatur, Ala.; Annett Martin of Loganville; Tammy (Tim) Swafford of Thorton, Colo; and Butch (Darlene) Bunch of Columbia, Tenn.; 10 grandchildren; a number great-grandchildre; siblings Jack Collis of California; Jim Collis of California; Glenn Voyles of Georgia; and Mary Fox of Atlanta.
In lieu of Flowers the family requests memorial contributions be made to the Junior Collis Memorial Scholarship Fund, C/O Magnolia Bank, 100 E. Greene St., Milledgeville, Ga. 31061
Express online condolences at www.williamsfuneralhome.net
Williams Funeral Home of Milledgeville 478-452-2148.