PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Winning the Bassmaster Classic championship has proved to be a substantial triumph beyond just the title, according to past winners.
As the 35th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic, being held July 29-31 on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers in Pittsburgh, Penn., approaches, a group of former champions say the subsequent attention after clenching the title has changed their careers.
"It was the landmark accomplishment of my career," said 1991 champion Ken Cook. "It was the achievement that brought me to the top of the mountain professionally and has made a big difference in the rest of my life."
Cook and other top brass in pro bass fishing said the value of today's championship is personally and financially immeasurable. Classic winners often transform their title-winning performance into lucrative sponsorships and speaking engagements, often creating long-lasting financial security, the winners said.
"I'm still making money off winning that Classic," said Tommy Martin, who won the title three decades ago in 1974. "I still get invited to a lot of things … and I still do a lot of sports shows because I'm a Classic winner."
Additionally, national and sometimes international recognition gives anglers an opportunity to introduce themselves — and the sport — to the world outside of fishing.
"Having publications like "Esquire," "GQ" and "ESPN the Magazine" have interest in me and the sport was exciting," said 2003 winner Mike Iaconelli. "Things that I would never, ever in a million years imagine myself doing, I've gotten to do because of the Classic win."
Then there's the celebrity factor.
"I couldn't go through an airport to make a connecting flight without somebody saying, 'Hey, Congratulations,'" said 1997 champion Dion Hibdon. "And people still recognize me because of that Classic (victory). It's amazing."
Though the notoriety is flattering, the champions said much of their ambition was satisfied the moment they won the Classic. Everything else — the financial security, recognition and acclaim — is simply a fringe benefit.
"The Classic did it for me," said 1983 champion Larry Nixon. "It just gives you that star in your crown because it's so hard to get. I'm still riding on that Classic victory."
The 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will receive unprecedented coverage on ESPN and ESPN2 this year. A total of 15 1/2 hours of programming will be devoted to Classic tournament coverage from July 29-31.