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Homer Circle, Everybody’s Uncle

By Jay Cassell

“Hey Jaybird, how do nasty chickens communicate?”

“How, Homer.”

“With fowl language!”

Groan . . .

And thus begins a typical phone call with Homer Circle, longtime angling editor of Sports Afield magazine and an OWAA member since 1946. As Fred Kesting, longtime executive editor of the magazine, once told me, “There are two things you can always count on with Homer: 1) a “G or G” joke — you’re either going to grin or groan at the inevitable joke when you pick up the phone and hear, “Oh Fritz, did you hear the one . . .”; and 2) “You can count on Homer always being there for you, in good times and bad.”

That hit the nail on the head. For no matter how many great articles and columns “Uncle” Homer has written over the years, no matter how many new lures, rods and reels he has tested, no matter how many awards, how many accomplishments he has achieved — at the heart of the matter is the fact that Circle is a compassionate, caring person — more so than anyone else you’re ever going to meet. Guaranteed.

Award-winning film producer Glenn Lau told me this about Circle: “For 30 years I have had the privilege of seeing people light up when they meet this man. Everyone, from all occupations, feels honored when Uncle Homer takes the time to listen to their stories and share some of his own. He is without a doubt the finest humanitarian that I’ve ever met. He is what many of us would like to be, open and receptive to everyone.”

Lau related a recent incident in Las Vegas. “In the 10-minute cab ride from MGM to a restaurant on the outskirts of town, the cab driver knew he had met the greatest man on Earth — and he told me so. The friendly conversation that took place in the front seat of that cab moved the cabbie so much that he didn’t want to charge us for the ride. The person the cabbie was talking to was, of course, Uncle Homer.”

What amazes me about Uncle Homer is that everyone who knows him has similar stories. A few years ago, Homer gave me a call at the Sports Afield offices in New York. He knew that a number of us were under extreme pressure, and wanted me to know that this, too, would pass. At the end of our conversation, he said, “Just remember, Jay, I love you like a brother, and if there is ever anything I can do to lighten your load, please call on me.”

He lightened my load just by uttering those heartfelt words.

That sincerity and honesty have helped him stay a steady course throughout his long career. His outdoor accomplishments are almost too numerous to list.

He is past president of OWAA (1967-68), receiver of the Jade of Chiefs award for conservation work (1965), Excellence in Craft for his writings (1989), and the Ham Brown Award for service to OWAA (1979).

He is a former Arkansas Game and Fish commissioner, the recipient of Jaycee Service, Unsung Heroes, International Game Fish Association’s Fellowship, Evinrude Service to Fishing, and the Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Golden Glow awards, plus the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 1991.

He has hosted three national television shows on fishing: “The Fisherman,” “Sports Afield” and “The Outdoorsman,” all directed by Glenn Lau. He holds four world records on sporting fish species. He has authored seven books (the latest being Bass Wisdom; Lyons Press, summer 2000), has been the angling editor of Sports Afield for more than 35 years, starred in more than 50 fishing films, one of which won seven national awards. He has written and narrated two national radio shows. He is a consultant to the tackle industry with an in-depth background in all phases.

A devout Christian, Circle is also a member of the Fellowship of Christian Anglers Society, a society devoted to promoting fishing among Christians and trying to spread the word among kids.

His is a remarkable life, with simple beginnings. While fresh out of high school, he took a job as a salesman in an outdoor store in Ohio. For the next eight years, he had the chance to see and use every new hook, line and sinker that was introduced to the market.

In 1937 Circle met and eventually married the former Gayle Poole. “I saw this beautiful girl kicking footballs on the sidelines at a football game,” Circle said. “I hung around long enough to meet her.” And eventually marry her — “She’s the best catch I ever made,” Circle said. The Circles have now been married for 64 years; have a daughter, Judy; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

One day an editor for the Springfield Daily News came into the outdoor store where Circle worked and asked him if he knew anybody who could write authoritatively about fishing. Knowing he was the best-qualified person for the job, Circle volunteered himself — and was hired.

The tackle industry was still in its infancy then. Not willing to limit his fishing to lures sold on the market, Circle decided to make his own instead. The result was a plug, which he called The Walnut Crab. It worked so well that he took it to the president of Heddon fishing tackle, and declared he would match his lure against any lure Heddon had to offer.

Heddon didn’t buy the lure — but they wisely hired Circle as the vice president of advertising and public relations, both for Heddon and the Daisy BB Gun Company, the parent company. In 1964, Circle began free-lancing fishing articles to Sports Afield magazine, which, at the time, was headed by Editor Ted Kesting.

One thing led to another and the rest, as they say, is history. Circle eventually left Daisy and became the angling editor of Sports Afield, a position he still holds to this day. In that time he has written more than 400 departments and 100-plus features for the periodical.

How can he keep churning out so much material about a fish?

“There’s just so much to learn about largemouths,” Circle told me. “They’re so unpredictable. They’re a continuous challenge — the seasons change, the waters change, their habits change. Actually, it’s been easy to have a fascination with this one species over the years.”

Circle also had this to say about fishing: “The good Lord meant that men should fish — and that fish should bite — but not always,” he once wrote. “Man, being a greedy cuss, would soon wipeout the fish crop. There are days when you catch fish easily — and days when you get skunked. It’s part of the design; it’s the bad days that make the good days seem all the sweeter!”

“There are only two kinds of people who never get skunked fishing. Those who don’t fish, and those who lie about it.”

And Homer Circle doesn’t lie. So when he says these words about leading the good life, I listen. “You know, if you take one day at a time, and try your hardest everyday, things are always going to come out well. Even when things don’t look very good for you, there will always be a shining light. You just have to keep working for it, and it will appear.”

Good advice, from someone with wisdom.

Jay Cassell, of Katonah, NY, is an Outdoor Life contributing editor, editor at large for Lyons Press and host of the TV series “Woods N’ Water.”

© Outdoor Writers Association of America