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Champion fisherman Butch Ward dies

November 23, 1999

Butch WardBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

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Nelson "Butch" Ward, a renowned fisherman who won numerous bass fishing contests and spent decades passing on his love for the sport to others, became ill on Sunday and died Tuesday of pancreatitis. He was 58.

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Ward, whose sudden death shocked friends across Washington County, was known for his exploits with a rod and reel.

The Clear Spring resident won more than 20 bass tournaments and was a nationally recognized authority on smallmouth bass fishing on the Potomac River. He was named Bass Man of the Year in 1987.

"Fishing was his life," said his wife Linda Ward.

During the more than 30 years they were married, Linda Ward rarely accompanied her husband on fishing trips and when she did she never held a pole, she said.

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"I just went to keep him company," she said.

Linda Ward and her husband met as high school students at a Halloween square dance at the Winter Street School but it was not love at first sight, she said.

It was not until years later, after Nelson Ward returned from serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, that the couple reunited and were married, she said.

Ward's friends said he attacked other projects with the same enthusiasm he chased bass.

Beverly Altman, a member with Ward on the Clear Spring High School reunion committee, said Ward took it upon himself to organize the event.

It had been 20 years since the Clear Spring High School Class of 1959 had last had a reunion, and she said Ward called the class president and spearheaded the effort to organize the 40th reunion this September.

"He was really the ringleader behind the whole thing," she said.

Ward was a river guide, and he accompanied celebrities like former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and his players on fishing expeditions.

"He was one of the best smallmouth bass instructors, participants, guides," said Randy Wagner, a local fisherman who knew Ward for almost 30 years.

Wagner, who is a manager at Forty West Marine boat dealership in Clear Spring described Ward as a "do-anything-for-you type of guy."

Ward set up events for children and organized fishing tournaments for the Paralyzed Veterans Association.

"He took an enormous amount of pride in everything he did. It had to be done the right way or he wouldn't do it," Wagner said.

Jim Kline, first vice president of the Maryland Bass Federation, of which Ward was president, said he was shocked by the death.

"He was probably known as Mr. Smallmouth Bass of Maryland," Kline said. "Butch is definitely going to be missed. There are not many people who are willing to give as much energy and time."

Ward was a longtime member of Maryland Bass Federation, which boasted 119 clubs and 1,353 members across the state.

Although Ward did not have children, Kline said he took particular interest in children's tournaments and other events.

"Butch probably had 10,000 youth who were all his children," he said.

Ron Hovis, a local fisherman who occasionally crossed paths with Ward, said Ward had a passion for fishing and a respect for its conventions. He tirelessly preached the importance of returning small fish to the water.

"His main contribution was his advocacy of fishing in the proper way," said Ron Hovis. "He taught a lot of people how to fish."

Those who knew Ward said he threw himself into conservation efforts. Kline said Ward led a number of fish-rescue operations along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

"He didn't mind going to meetings. He didn't mind writing letters," Hovis said.

Hovis said Ward displayed a good-natured competitiveness when it came to bass fishing.

"I wasn't going to show him my favorite spots, and he wasn't going to show me his," Hovis said. "Like all fishermen, he did tend to stretch the truth once in a while. If you don't do that, you can't be considered a fisherman."

Bill Newkirk, who owns B&B Embroidery between Williamsport and Clear Spring, said he remembers Ward as a good adult-league soccer player.

He also was a valued customer. Newkirk said Ward ordered shirts, hats, jackets and other items for the Bass Association.

"Butch was in an out of here a lot," he said. "He was probably one of our best customers."

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