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Is Gene Gilliland the Most Thoughtful Bass Fisherman in America?

Chronicling the conservation initiatives of Mossy Oak and its most eco-conscience partners often leads to very interesting, parts-of-the-sum discoveries.

That’s a good thing, because sharply defining the positive influences of the modern American conservation movement – the enormity of the fundraising, the myriad of science-based programs and the landscapes of volunteer stewardship – simply scales beyond what is calculable.  

bass fisherman

Within the species-specific conservation push by traditional sportsmen, an arena generally delineated by the enthusiasts of deer or ducks or fisheries, the value of outdoors-led organizations becomes only somewhat easier to quantify. Since 1967, when skinned back to the core of conserving the all-popular green sunfishes – the basses – it is the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) that remains a critical component in the American conservation movement. 

Thanks in part to its long and exemplary track record of conservation-based stewardship, the B.A.S.S. machine has earned outdoors’ most dynamic partnerships with endemic and near-endemic corporations. Mossy Oak is one so honored to team with B.A.S.S., and also with many of its most astonishing athletes. 

The primary conservation oracle at B.A.S.S. is an exceptional gentleman named Gene Gilliland, who replaced the late Noreen Clough upon her retirement in 2013. “She worked with the B.A.S.S. Nation state conservation directors and developed a vision for the program’s future in conservation,” Gilliland has said of Clough. “She helped me better understand how to navigate government bureaucracy and get things done to improve fishing. 

Gene Gilliland largemouth bass
Gilliland, a native Texan, replaced his passion for tournament competition some years ago. He now fishes for the pure pleasure of the experience with his wife, a recent recruit, and friends. Oklahoma is blessed with public waters that feature solid, multi-species bass fishing. Gilliland regularly mixes in trips to local private retreats where “the bass are always eager to bite.”

“B.A.S.S. Conservation works with partners on so many levels – local, state, regional and national – to address the threats that our freshwater resources face,” he continued. “One of our biggest challenges is helping the general public understand that what is good for the fish is good for them, too.”

For one so busy, Gilliland is disarmingly patient, cordial, impassioned and knowledgeable. He earned his Wildlife and Fisheries’ Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M University and his Fisheries Biology master’s from Oklahoma State University. He had ascended to assistant chief of Fisheries at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation before retiring from the state agency and accepting the role as B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director. 

Gilliland is a talented technical and popular writer of bass science and bass fishing. He is the coauthor of “Keeping Bass Alive, a Guidebook for Tournament Anglers and Organizers.”  

If such lists should attempt to define people, that’s about one-third of Gilliland’s professional credentials. And please know that, whenever possible, this fellow much prefers to unwind from it all through bass fishing.

Gene Gilliland smallmouth bass
From his home in Oklahoma, Gilliland often joins a small party of like-minded smallmouth bass enthusiasts in the species’ northern sweet-spots. The last 12 trips have been to Lake St. Clair in Michigan, where they often target numbers of big, pre-spawn fish with suspending jerkbaits.

Our first discussion with Gilliland seemed to only ripple the surface. He allowed that increases in invasive species (flora and fauna), declining habitats, maintaining angler access and clean water were top priorities of the B.A.S.S. Conservation agenda. 

He pointed to the emergence of organized high school and college tournament fishing as one of the greatest conservation opportunities in a generation.  To that point, he said:  “Increased conservation messaging by the pro-angling community, those who these terrific young guns follow and admire, is at the top of everyone’s wish list.
“Education can’t start too early, or too late,” he explained. “Nor is there ever too much of it. Having bass fishing’s top influencers tell us about the importance of resource management works for every occasion.”          

Spotlighting the conservation-based organizations within the Mossy Oak partnership portfolio often leads us to individuals like Gene Gilliland: well-informed professional super enthusiasts of natural resource stewardship. The superstars behind the curtains of conservation. 

In subsequent meetings with Gilliland, discussion points will include the tenants of catch-and-release, more insights to the freshwater conservation efforts of B.A.S.S. and a mix of this master’s tips for targeting America’s favorite game fish.  Meantime, 

Please visit for more about this exceptional organization.  

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