Celebrating the Life of a Big Keeper
“Charlie Woods knew and loved everyone, and everyone knew him and loved him,” says Charlie’s good friend Harley Wilson of Beckville. “Every time we would go out to eat, even out of town, someone he knew would come by the table and talk to him. He never forgot a name or a face, or the names of everyone’s children and family members.” Harley’s wife Nita adds, “And anytime you were ever around Charlie, you were going to be laughing. He was always cutting up and was just naturally fun and funny. He was also a magnet for children; they all loved him and wanted to be around him.”
The affable Charlie was a Carthage native, the oldest of four children born to Drew and Virginia Spurlock Woods. He graduated from Carthage High School in 1972, attended Panola College, and then entered a ranch management program at TCU. He married Charlotte Regina Adams in 1994 and worked most of his adult life in oilfield-related businesses. Unfortunately, a massive heart attack claimed his life when he was only 58 years old.
Next to his love for God, family, and people in general, Charlie’s biggest passion was fishing. Harley says, “After being very involved with his father’s cattle ranch when he was younger, he dabbled in rodeo team roping events, and he enjoyed hunting with his dad, but he had gotten the fishing bug as a youngster while fishing with his Papaw Spurlock, and for most of the rest of his life, pretty much all we ever did was work or fish or go get something we needed for fishing.”
Another close friend, Nat Lankford, was the other member of the inseparable trio of anglers. He claims, however, that he was a little different from the other two. “Those two were always wanting to make 19-hour-each-way drives to go fishing and loved to go down to Mexico and and also to fish in the ocean. Charlie even wanted to go to Brazil to fish for peacock bass. I always preferred to stick a little closer to home, and I definitely always wanted to be able to see land while I was fishing!”
Charlie and Harley began competing in tournament fishing, which means going all over the state, the nation, and even out of the country to fish. They competed in nearly every oilmen’s tournament available, most notably winning both the Louisiana and the Texas Oilmen’s Bass Invitationals, each against 700 to 750 two-man teams. Charlie also won individual first place honors in the enormous Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League Tournament.
One of Harley’s funniest memories is when the two of them won a boat at the Southeast Oilmen’s Tournament at Toledo Bend. “We were already leaving when they called our names as boat winners,” he recalls. “Charlie was a big fellow, six feet four inches tall and over 300 pounds, and I’m not a little guy myself. I looked at him and asked what we should do, because we only had a matter of seconds to get back and claim the boat, and he hollered, ‘Run, Harley, run!’ I did, and I made it just in time.”
Other funny memories were of Charlie’s propensity for falling out of the boat. “He wasn’t too steady on his feet in a boat and was bad to fall in. One time Nita was in the boat with me, and Charlotte was in the boat with Charlie. It was really cold, and the wind was blowing about 20 miles an hour. Charlie was having some trouble with his anchor, so he just tied on to my boat so we could stay together. Suddenly he lost his balance and just sort of slithered into the water. Between his size and the slick sides of the boat and how hard we were all laughing, it took forever for us to get him back in. He fell in another day at the Red River and another time at Lake Sam Rayburn. That was when the big championship ring he had won fell off his finger, and we never found it.”
When Charlie died, Nat and Harley wanted to keep their dear friend’s memory alive and also to honor his love of helping people, so they organized the Charlie Woods Memorial Tournament at Toledo Bend Lake and decided to donate the proceeds to an endowed scholarship program at Panola College. Because Charlie’s birthday was May 15, they decided to hold the tournament as close to that date as possible and chose the second Saturday in May as the annual date. In the five years of the tournament’s history, more than $63,000 has been raised for scholarships given to sophomore students in Panola College’s Petroleum Technology program.
Harley and Nat both say that there are many people who help them every year with the tournament and that they could never do it all themselves. There are individuals and families and companies who have contributed in many ways every year. The oilfield companies all around, who were able to donate large sums in the first year but who have experienced such terrible economic disaster recently, are still doing what they can because of their great admiration for Charlie. They have sponsors who have enabled them to give door prizes to everyone who participates and provide meals during registration and after the tournament ends. They also have a raffle to help raise money for the scholarships.
“We appreciate the efforts of everyone who helps us keep on honoring this great man every year,” says Harley. “He was family to us, and we thank all the good folks who make his memorial tournament possible!”
The fisherman’s prayer printed in the program at his funeral might best exemplify the fun Charlie Woods had with fishing:
I pray that I may live to fish
until my dying day,
And when it comes to my last
cast, I then humbly pray:
When in the Lord’s great landing
net and then peacefully sleep,
That in His mercy I be judged
big enough to keep.