Now that the field is set, let's look at the 2011 Bassmaster Classic qualifiers as a group. Words tell great stories, but numbers can reveal truths that words only hint at.
Here are some of the key numbers for the 2011 Classic. First, there are 50 qualifiers for the 2011 Classic. That's a big number, but not nearly the most. The Classic field peaked at 61 competitors in 2003 when Michael Iaconelli won on the Louisiana Delta (the site of the upcoming Classic) and has been more than 50 on five other occasions. The 2011 field features six former Classic champs (Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Mark Davis, Iaconelli, Boyd Duckett
and Paul Elias). That's not nearly the most, either. In 1989, there were 10 ex-champs in the field (including Elias, who won in 1982). There are seven former Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Anglers of the Year scheduled to fish the 2011 Classic (VanDam, Reese, Davis, Iaconelli, Aaron Martens, Gary Klein and Gerald Swindle). The all-time high was 10 AOYs in the 2006 Classic. Fifteen rookies will fish this Classic, representing a full 30 percent of the field. That's actually about average
for the championship. This Classic field is the second most experienced of all time, with an average of 5.56 previous Classics. The most experienced Classic field came in 2006 when the average competitor had fished 5.92 Classics. With the advent of the Elite Series in 2007, experience has definitely paid dividends. Only in 2008 did the average
Classic experience dip below 5.00. The oldest angler in the field is Elias at 59. The youngest is Federation Nation champ Brandon Palaniuk, who will be 23 when the Classic rolls around. Three qualifiers will have a chance to break Woo Daves' record for the oldest Classic champion. Daves was 54 years, 2 months and 28 days old when he won the 2000 Classic in Chicago.
Elias will be 59, Federation Nation qualifier George Crain will be 58 and Shaw Grigsby will be seven months older than Daves come Classic time. No one in the field is young enough to break the record for youngest Classic champ. Stanley Mitchell was 21 years, 5 months and 19 days old when he won in 1981.
Palaniuk could become the second youngest champion ever at 23-3-17, about a month younger than Bryan Kerchal when he won in 1994. Gary Klein will be making his 29th Classic appearance in 2011. He's second to Rick Clunn (32) in career Classic appearances and a good bet to surpass Clunn one day. Kevin VanDam is headed for his 21st straight Bassmaster Classic. Only Clunn (28) fished more consecutively. If he keeps it up, KVD could tie Clunn in 2018 and pass him in 2019. The second longest active consecutive Classic streak is a three-way tie at 10 between Michael Iaconelli, Gary Klein and Kevin Wirth. Greg Hackney and Skeet Reese have been to nine straight Classics.