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LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Paul Foster, here surrounded by trophies, medals and memories, has retired from tournament bass fishing at the age of 89. Foster, who has been fishing since he was 11, said he loves the competition of fishing and finished in the top 10 for 13 of the 17 years he was a member of the Dixie Bass Club.

NATCHEZ — Paul Foster grew up by a creek. His family fished the creek quite often for catfish, perch and bream using fixed poles.

But it wasn’t until he was 11 years old that he discovered the sport he would love for more than 75 years.

A coach from his school wanted to come fish in his creek for red-eyed bass, and that coach came to the creek and let Foster go with him.

The young boy watched the coach wade into the creek and catch several bass.

“The thrill of that day is what hooked me,” Foster said. “I went and picked cotton and bought my own rod and reel and started bass fishing.”

Seventy-eight years later, that boy from Lincoln County is wrapping up a decorated fishing career that has seen countless fish, dozens of awards and made even more memories, he said.

“I never lost the thrill of it,” Foster said. “I’ve been fishing in bass clubs for 45 years. I still have the competition in me, fishing is in my blood, but I fished a September tournament and realized it was time to give it up. There comes a time when you have to give it up, and physically I am not able to fish by myself.”

Foster is not giving up fishing entirely, but he is retiring from the Dixie Bass Club — one of at least five local clubs of which Foster has been a member.

“It’s been a thrill, and the pleasure of my life,” he said. “I love to compete, and I love the fellowship.”

Only two life events have kept Foster off of lakes and rivers in his 78 years of fishing. The first occurred in 1942 when he enlisted in the military and became a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.

“I dropped out of high school in 11th grade and had just turned 18,” he said. “Pearl Harbor was Dec. 7, 1941, and I wanted to join Dec. 7, 1942, I went to Jackson to sign up, but there was no sign up on Dec. 7, so I had to wait until Dec. 11 to enlist. I volunteered for forward duty.”

While overseas on tours in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and eventually Normandy, France and all the way to Belgium, Foster participated in six major battles and suffered two separate injuries that resulted in a Purple Heart.

He was frozen during the Battle of the Bulge and still suffers from vascular degeneration from the damage and also suffered a concussion from the impact of an explosion.

While overseas, he also noticed a few rivers and lakes that would have been great to fish, but he said there was no time for fishing, and his mind was focused on the task at hand.

“I didn’t have time to fish,” he said. “That’s the only time I didn’t have fishing going on. I missed it for 33 months, and I was on the front lines over half of that time.”

Foster’s second hiatus came in 1996 when his wife, Marsha, died.

“I dropped out a couple of years then,” he said.

Foster continued to fish but did not fish in tournaments for approximately two years. He said he did not want to compete, but fishing helped him cope with his loss.

“I continued to fish, but I didn’t bass fish after she passed away,” he said. “(Fishing) helped. It is a sport of relaxation. When it gets to be work, it’s not fun anymore. Nothing can touch the pure relaxation you get when you’re out early in the morning in the water with daylight coming.”

Foster had the opportunity to meet several big-name anglers, like Bill Dance and Roland Martin, in his experiences fishing in the 1987 and 1988 Bassmaster Classics.

He has fished in tournaments all over the country, but still contends that the Miss-Lou has some great spots that compare with most any other fishing holes.

“The Miss-Lou has some of the best fishing in the South,” he said.

Black River Complex is Foster’s favorite spot in the Miss-Lou with Deer Park coming in second, he said.

Foster has weighed in fish at over seven pounds before, but he has never had an eight-pounder in a tournament.

“One of the greatest experiences was when I was fishing in the Bassmaster and they had a prize for big bass of the tournament,” he said. “I got hooked into a fish that had to be over 10 pounds, but I lost him. One of the top pros came by and said, ‘You just lost $20,000.’”

Foster said he has fished with some of the top anglers in the world, but the Miss-Lou has some great fishermen as well. He said in his 45 years of club experience, some of the best in the area are Robbie Buckles and Dale Jamison.

“They were competitive. Some of the best all around fishermen in this area,” he said.

Foster also raised his children, Glen, Earnie and Linda to be anglers as well. He sometimes fishes tournaments with Glen in the Dixie Bass Club.

Foster plans to head out next weekend to fish again, but his tournament fishing days are behind him.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “I’m going to miss it. It’s been a thrill for so many years, but it had to come to an end.”

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