The 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro will go into the books and memories of fishing fans for a lot of reasons, but probably not for the reasons most expected. Our new champion, Randy Howell, made a historic comeback on the final day to win the event and claim fishing's greatest title, but Lake Guntersville did not provide the slugfest everyone predicted.
Let's start with the good, the bad and the career records. This story is one of a series. The other installments will cover stuff like the B.A.S.S. Nation, College and Weekend Series performances, Howell's new place in Classic history and the lures that have won the Classic.
Absolutely everyone was expecting big things out of Lake Guntersville during Classic week, and if the championship had been a week earlier or a week later, it might have delivered. Still, it was impressive ... it just didn't live up to the hype.
For starters, the 2014 Classic set records for heaviest weight caught by the field, heaviest average weight per angler day, heaviest average bass and heaviest weight for an individual five-bass limit. Here's a closer look at each.
The old record for heaviest weight caught by the entire field of anglers was 1,578-14 set at the Red River in 2009. The 2014 Classic blew that away with a new record of 2,107-15, but there's a caveat. There were more anglers in this year's field than in the 2009 Classic. Nevertheless, Guntersville was clearly more productive.
In 2014, the average angler brought 15.61 pounds to the scales every time he took the stage. That's up from the old mark of 12.43 pounds in 2009 on the Red River. In this category — comparing apples to apples — Guntersville obliterated the old record.
The average bass brought to the scales at Guntersville weighed a hefty 3 pounds, 10 ounces — another new record. That's up from 2-15 in 1980 at the St. Lawrence River, but those fish were almost exclusively smallmouth bass.
The mark that everyone will remember from this Classic was set by an unlikely hero — Connecticut's Paul Mueller, who qualified from the B.A.S.S. Nation and finished second. On Day 2, Mueller's five best weighed an impressive 32-3. That's second only to Rick Clunn's 33-5 also set on Lake Guntersville on Day 2 of the 1976 Classic. Clunn did it with a bigger creel limit. Mueller's total is tops for a 5-bass creek limit, surpassing the old 5-bass mark by almost three pounds. That mark was 29-6 by Luke Clausen on Day 1 of the 2006 championship on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida.
The day before competition began, I polled all 55 qualifiers and asked them what the winning weight would be. Their average was 77-1 — a number that would have broken both the record for the 5-bass-limit era (69-11 by Kevin VanDam in 2011) and the all-time record (75-9 by Rick Clunn in 1984 with a 7-bass limit).
Only one angler predicted a winning weight of less than 70 pounds (Chad Morgenthaler at 68-15), and even he was too high. Howell's winning total was more than two pounds off KVD's record and nowhere near Clunn's all-time mark.
No double digit bass were caught in the 2014 Classic, though plenty of fans seemed to expect them. Fred Roumbanis' 9-3 giant in the opening round held on for Carhartt Big Bass honors, leaving Preston Clark's 11-10 from the Kissimmee Chain in 2006 as the king of the hill until at least 2016 (it will certainly not fall at Lake Hartwell next year). The affable Oklahoma pro dedicated his first bass of the day to a young fan battling cancer. Fittingly, that bass was his 9 pounder.
On the second day of competition, Kevin VanDam passed Rick Clunn for most career weight in the Bassmaster Classic. Clunn entered as the leader with 772-2; VanDam trailed with 751-1. Though he finished a disappointing 26th, KVD added to his résumé with the all-time weight lead at 784-5.
Other anglers who competed this year and who rank high on the all-time weight list are Gary Klein (third with 609-8), Tommy Biffle (fourth with 508-10), Aaron Martens (fifth with 508-8) and Michael Iaconelli (ninth with 447-15).
Also of note, Klein competed in his 30th Classic, joining Clunn as the only anglers to fish 30 or more championships (Clunn leads with 32). Roland Martin and Larry Nixon are next with 25. KVD now has 24.