Feature Article: Hightower Obit

Remembering Richard Hightower

Tackle industry rep and passionate fisherman

BY PAUL LEBOWITZ/WON Staff WriterPublished: Nov 06, 2019

He loved Newell and he loved wahoo

Richard Hightower was not a man to be defined by his death. “He went out John Wayne-style,” said his son, Dale Hightower. “He died outside.” Instead, Richard is remembered for many aspects, but two stand out: wahoo fishing and Newell reels.

RICHARD HIGHTOWER, tackle rep and passionate fisherman, will be remembered for his love of Newell reels and fishing for wahoo. BILL ROECKER PHOTO

In the mid-1980s, Richard reinvented himself. He’d always fished, but it wasn’t until then that he made his passion his life’s work. He became a tackle manufacturer’s representative, a distributor, first as a salesman for a small wholesaler.

Later, Richard went to work for Berkley, before they’d bought or were owned by anybody. He was a district merchandiser and covered Northern California from his Southern California home. Dale remembers his father driving a straight 6 Chevy Citation, a “vehicle you can get a few samples in.”

A few years after that, he signed on with Curt Dills and Associates, a big rep group, where he sold Fenwick, Ande, and Rocky Boots among other outdoor products. That’s where Richard really dug his heels into being a rep, Dale says. In the early-’90s, he picked up Newell reels.

“My dad worked hard, super hard, for people who didn’t pay much,” Dale said. “Carl Newell said ‘you do such a good job, why don’t you come work for me as my National Sales Manager’ and the rest is his­tory.”

When Richard joined Newell, they were known for taking your Penn and making it better, Dale said. Under Richard’s management Newell’s image changed, it wasn’t just an aftermarket company.

“My dad believed in Carl, the reels and the dream. He worked with Carl on better drags and higher gear speeds,” Dale said, and wahoo fishing had a lot to do with it. Together, they broadened the appeal and utility of Newell reels. “It put Newell on a different level.”

Newell is gone now, and it made Richard sad. “Newell changed a lot of things on how modern reels are made today.” When Carl passed away, Richard wanted someone to buy the company to keep Carl’s legacy alive. “It just disappeared, and when it went away, it hurt my dad.”

Richard was loyal to a fault. “He cared about the companies he repped, but wahoo and Newell were his legacy,” Dale said.

Richard was a regular on long range trips, always with the quintessential wahoo reel, a Newell 533 5.5 (it retrieves 46 inches of line per crank). He fished every boat and with nearly every captain. “I’m sure there isn’t a long range boat he never fished on,” Dale said.

He always loved the Red Rooster III. “He knew Capt. Andy Cates when he was a kid on the boat,” Dale said. Richard fished all the islands that are closed now, Roca Partida, San Benedicto. “He’s done it all.”

Dale remembers one incredible feat. In a single day, Richard caught a bigeye, bluefin, yellow­fin and an albacore — and it meant little to him. Instead, his goal was a 100-pound wahoo, and importantly, it had to be on a San Diego boat, preferably “his” boat, the Rooster, on the iron — bait didn’t count.

personalbestPERSONAL BEST — Dale Hightower, Richard’s son, with a new personal best ’hoo caught on his father’s rig during a recent Rooster trip.

Richard came close to fulfilling his dream several times. He caught several 80s and dumped a legit fish that was over 90. “That’s all he wanted, and it had to be on a Newell reel,” said Dale. “He might have settled for a troll fish but not a bait fish, for him that was like cheating.”

Photos of Richard with fish are rare — Dale said he was an old school guy. “He didn’t care about the picture part, he cared about catching and eating them,” Dale said. “He was a wahoo hoarder, he referred to them as his pets.”

Capt. Cates of the Rooster will never forget Richard. “He was riding the boat my whole career,” Cates said. “A Newell was the only thing he’d have in his hands whatever was going on, it was classic. He really loved trying for wahoo and would get a complex if he wasn’t the best rod of the day. He was really competitive when it came to wahoo, but not for anything else.”

Close to the end, Richard had a hand in the development of a star drag reel series that is the spiritual successor to Newell — the Accurate Terns. “Jack Nilsen (Accurate patriarch) and Justin Poe (Accurate VP) called my dad and said they wanted to do something beyond Newell and asked for his input,” Dale said. “You worked with Carl every day, what would you do differently, how could we make a better Newell?”

Poe said Richard was the ideal person to work with, as he knew the ins and outs of Newell reels, all the failure points that could be improved to make a Newell with modern components and manufacturing techniques.

Unfortunately, Richard never had the opportunity to fish a Tern. Dale said Richard would have been thrilled with the results. He’s extensively fished them, catching surface iron yellowtail and his dad’s favorite fish, the wahoo.

As the Red Rooster III prepped for Richard’s traditional annual trip in early October, a special Tern 600N engraved with Richard’s name came onboard. Dale led the trip in his father’s stead, forevermore known as the Richard Hightower Memorial Wahoo Charter, and he raffled that reel off with a stipulation: if you won it, you had to spool it up and fish it. The winner did just that, catching a wahoo on his first cast.

Dale fished the trip in his father’s memory, and brought along his dad’s long range tackle box. Everyone was welcome to use it. And early in the trip with his father’s wahoo rig and a Tern 600N, he caught a good one, not Richard’s 100 pounder but a personal best for Dale. Everyone on the trip caught at least one ’hoo. It was a perfect tribute to his father Richard, and happened as if it was meant to be, as Richard would have intended.

missingmanMISSING MAN — Richard Hightower’s long range tackle box aboard the Red Rooster III shortly after he passed. His annual early October trip will now be called the Richard Hightower Memorial Wahoo charter. DALE HIGHTOWER PHOTO

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