Here on an expansive flat, stalking skittish bonefish, Barney Adams is completely in his element. The Adams Golf founder, whose Tight Lies fairway woods created a frenzy among the golfing populace a decade ago, seems utterly at peace in retirement, casting a shrimp fly with a 6-weight fly-rod to a Lucite-smooth pool by a gnarly set of mangrove roots. Adams drops his fly in front of a trio of bonefish, who are unimpressed by his deft presentation and swim slowly away. Much like golf, where he toiled for years before finally striking it rich, fishing appeals to his inner engineer.
“I like tinkering, seeing what works and what doesn’t,” Adams says. “I just don’t drop a piece of bait overboard. Rather, I want to try a variety of lures and techniques, and in many ways it reminds me of all the time I used to spend on driving ranges fitting clubs. On the range I was looking for better ball flight. And in the boat I am looking for better results.”
There is no shortage of business executives who dream of hanging a “Gone Fishin’ ” sign on their doors as they approach retirement. But for most, it’s only a dream.
Not for Adams. He spends roughly 80 days per year visiting prime fishing grounds around the world, including this one not far from the Abaco Club. Adams has been to Seychelles in the Indian Ocean for bonefish, and he has been to Belize for permit and tarpon. And he has made seven trips to the Amazon in search of quarry so exotic it would highlight any aquarium exhibit.
His goal in traveling the world was both recreational and anthropological. He wanted to see “a part of the world where people existed in a way that had not changed a lot in 500 years.” Along the way, he has seen sights he never would have imagined back home in Plano, Texas.
“I saw a couple paddling a canoe through the Amazon rain forest,” Adams says. “The woman was pregnant, and they were going to a hospital 200 miles away so she could deliver her baby.”
On another day in the Amazon, he says, “I remember floating by guys fishing with bows
and arrows they had made from trees as they listened to music on iPods.”
Fishing is a lifelong love recaptured for this 63-year-old grandfather of eight. As a 10-year-old, Adams would fish for brook trout with his brothers in a creek near their home in Marcellus, N.Y., just outside Syracuse, or scour a nearby pond for smallmouth bass with his father. Occasionally, they would try their luck on the
big waters of Lake Ontario.
But for much of the next 40 years, the sport became an afterthought as he earned his B.S. degree in business from Clarkson University, went to work for Corning Glass, and eventually started his own company. As he approached retirement, he began drawing up a list of must-hit fishing holes around the world, gleaned from magazine articles he had clipped over the years. But when he turned over Adams Golf to his successor, Chip Brewer, and began his world travels, he quickly learned that he was little more than a 25-handicapper with a fishing rod in hand.
On one of his first international fishing expeditions, to Seychelles, Adams realized how much he had to learn. He was using a fly-rod, and it was tough going thanks to steady winds that made casting difficult for an inexperienced angler. And his feet were bloodied from the crushed coral because he had neglected to bring proper footwear.
“It was like taking up golf at the age of 60 and playing your first round at Pebble Beach in a gale,” Adams says. “You either quit, or you learn how to play. And I decided to learn how to play.”
It’s here that he sees his current passion – fishing – lagging behind his past passion, golf. Adams believes that both sports demand acquired skills, and that “there is as much pressure to cast to the right spot in the water as there is to hit a short iron stiff.” But he says the fishing industry could learn a thing or two from golf on the art of instruction.
“There is such sophistication in teaching in golf when you consider all the different tools used to break down swings and show players what they are, and aren’t, doing right,” Adams says. “But there is very little of that in fishing. It’s a sport that would benefit so much from the use of video in casting instruction, for example. But it remains very much like the old days of golf. You know, with the pro saying to the student, ‘Watch me do it,’ and ‘Now, do it yourself.’”
While fishing has been slow to embrace technology in instruction, Adams lauds the way the sport has applied it to equipment, using everything from GPS to relocate favorite fishing holes to computer chips placed in reels to prevent back-lashing and enable anglers to cast with lighter bait. And he can’t resist quipping that the fishing industry need not fear a crackdown on technology “because there is no USGA in
But Adams, once the inventor of golf’s Next Big Thing, professes no desire to become the inventor of fishing’s Next Whizbang Gizmo. He’s content to plan his next trip. He plans a return to the Amazon and ponders new destinations. Some are overseas, but he is mostly looking for new haunts in the U.S. because “exotic fishing often mean exotic plane rides, and I am increasingly intolerant of those.”
But what he tolerates very well are sessions like these on the water, trying to entice bones with his flies as he watches crabs scurrying in the sandy seabed below, gazes at satin-white ibises gliding in the sky above and listens to his grizzled guide share stories from past outings.
Make no mistake about it, Barney Adams has most definitely gone fishin’. And he’s not coming back anytime soon.