|The World of Virgil Ward
(May 25, 1911 to September 13, 2004)
World Champion Angler, National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame Lengendary Angler,
and Host of the famous Championship Fishing TV Show
|In 1999 outdoor media personality Dan Galusha, and photojournalist Brad Mosier finished two years of work in
co-producing The World of Virgil Ward, which is a PBS television documentary about the life of Virgil Ward. Galusha
and Mosier are multi-award winners in their respective fields, and put all of their knowledge, experience and admiration
for Mr. Ward in to this project. It is from this documentary that the information and photos for this page have been
obtained. Some of these photos did not appear in the documentary.
At this point it must be mentioned that without the funding from Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shops, Sam Johnson of
JWA/Johnson Wax, and Wes Campbell of TTI Hooks, this documentary would not have been possible.
|Dan Galusha and Brad Mosier
take a quick break from filming
for Jim Rogers to take a photo.
|His father had a good business of a cider and saw mill. This was traded for a 120-acre farm, near Amsterdam, Missouri, for which was purchased cattle at $300 per head.
As with many families during that time, they were extremely poor. Many times Virgil and his brothers and sisters didn’t attend school because they had to work. When Virgil
did go to school he would walk three miles.
While attending Amsterdam High School he was the county champion for three years in track. He was never beaten in any running or standing broad jump competition. He
also competed in the discus throw and pole vault, and was the leader of the basketball team.
When asked about his favorite subjects, Virgil jokingly said, “geometry and girls.” Maybe that is why he was called the “sheik” in his high school yearbook.
Although Cleda Irene Thornbrough, who was called the “prettiest girl in school”, attended the same high school, Virgil did not meet her there. Their meeting took place
during one of Amsterdam’s band concerts, of which there were one or two each week.
The meeting eventually resulted in Virgil and Cleada’s wedding on December 3, 1933. Virgil was 22 and Cleda was 21. They were so poor that they could not afford a
wedding photo or washer.
Their first child, Bill, was born in 1934. They also have three daughters, Barbara, Karen and Sandy, and nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Virgil started a plumbing shop in Amsterdam, and also sold appliances. The family lived in the back of the shop, which eventually became the home of the Bass Buster Lure
Company. It remained as one of the Bass Buster plants until its closing a few years ago.
In 1955 Virgil and Bill started the Bass Buster Lure Company, and patented the fiber weedguard. This weedguard revolutionized the weedless jig, and is still used today by
jig manufacturers. He also created the famous maribou jig and Beetle Spin. Later the company was sold to the Johnson Wax Company, who owned Johnson Fishing.
Virgil’s athletic and competitive spirit carried throughout his life. He played basketball until the age of 38 and baseball until he was 48. In competitive fishing he won the
1958 Regional Bass Competition, 1962 World Series of Sport Fishing, 1964 National Championship of Fresh Water Fishing, and 1964 Outdoor Writers and Broadcasters
National Fishing Tournament.
According to Bill Ward, this competitiveness and faith in God is what carried his father through many tough times, including his fight with bladder cancer, which is what finally
Some of his first experiences with the electronic outdoor media were with Lloyd Presley, who had a local outdoor radio show in Springfield, Missouri. Later Lloyd started
Presleys’ Country Jubilee, which was Branson’s first country theater. Virgil appeared on Lloyd’s show reporting his fishing success in that Ozark area.
It wasn’t long before Virgil was going strong in the outdoor media, with a column in 455 newspapers, and a radio show on 200 stations.
From 1963 to 64 Virgil hosted his first TV series with co-host Bud Iman, for the Missouri Conservation Commission. The shows aired on KY3 in Springfield, Missouri. At this
same time he also taught a fishing class at Southwest Missouri State University.
This was the springboard for his most famous accomplishment - the nationally syndicated Championship Fishing TV Show. He hosted the show for 25 years, 21 of which
took the number one rating for fishing shows, according to Nielsen and ARB rating services. One of those years the show placed number one over 400 syndicated shows -
one of Virgil’s proudest achievements.
The show had many top name sponsors, three of which were Bass Pro Shops, Ranger Boats and Johnson Fishing. Owners of these companies, Johnny Morris, Forrest
Wood and Sam Johnson, were not just business acquaintances, but also close friends to Virgil.
This same friendship carried over to his guests, whether they were professional anglers like Roland Martin and Charlie Campbell, country entertainers like Roy Clark, Dotty
West, Junior Samples, Box Car Willie and Mel Tillis, sports celebrities like Pete Rose, Stan Muscial, Darrel Porter, George Brett and Wayne Gretzky, entertainers like
Nanette Fabray, Hugh Obrien, Fred McMurray, Glenn Ford and Martin Milner, guides like Jim Rogers, or outdoor media people, such as myself.
Virgil felt his best show was a trout episode shot in Alaska out of Golden Horn Lodge. He said the fishing was fantastic, with at least a five-pound fish on every cast.
After Virgil’s retirement from the show it was hosted for about three years by his grandson Greg Ward. Greg had been groomed to take over the show, and knew the hard
work his grandfather had put into it. However, Greg did not like the work and fame that went with it, and said he would rather just hunt and fish, and not have anyone know
Many of the people in the outdoor media, including myself, have had their careers influenced either directly or indirectly by Virgil. One such person is Al Lindner, who
decided to start his TV show after being a guest on Virgil’s show.
Throughout his life there were numerous honors bestowed. He was a member of the Ozark Fisherman’s Hall of Fame, the International Fishing Hall of Fame and the
National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. He was the recipient of fishing’s highest recognition, the Dolphin Award, and was included in the Living Legends of American
In 1975 Missouri’s Governor Christopher S. Bond proclaimed October 19 as Virgil Ward Day. Governor Bond said, “Virgil Ward, through his many efforts, has made an
invaluable contribution to Missouri Tourism, and has made millions of Americans aware of the world of fishing.”
In 1997 Brad Mosier, photojournalist, and I had an idea to produce a documentary about Virgil’s life. By 1999 The World of Virgil Ward was first aired on WQPT PBS-TV, in
Moline, Illinois, and later on other PBS affilitates. It is still available to PBS stations across the nation.
While taping the documentary we asked everyone why he or she thought Virgil was so popular. Perhaps it can best be answered by paraphrasing the statement we
received from his grandson, Eric Curnutte – by saying, “He is more than a fishing show host, he is a friend that we looked forward to seeing each week.”
I feel a big part of his success was the fact that the person you saw on television was the person you would meet, if that opportunity had ever been made possible. He was
a good, religious family man, and projected that to his audience.
One of the guests on my radio show once said, “If all people in our industry were as nice as Virgil we would have very few problems in the fishing community.” I would
change that a bit by saying, “If all people in the world were as nice as Virgil we would have very few problems anywhere.”
Virgil championed the causes of catch-and-release, and cleaning up litter, such as old fishing line, way before it was a popular subject. He has taught us a lot, not just in
fishing, but also in how to be a good person.
Virgil was 93 years old, and fished up until a couple of weeks before his passing. His last trip was on his private lake with his son Bill.
In some way try to keep a little bit of Virgil in your heart, and allow The World of Virgil Ward to live on forever.
He will be missed.
God has a great fishing partner.
|Virgil & Cleda
|Eric (grandson) &
(grandson and co-host of
|Virgil Wins Another Tournament
|Virgil's Television Days
|Friends/Guests Who Appeared In The Documentary
Bass Pro Shops
|Forrest L. Wood
Founder of Ranger Boats
Master Fly Fisherman
|Virigil's Famous Theme Song
|Click Here to watch
The World of Virgil Ward
|The First Bass Buster
Photo Submitted by
Todd Hall of
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