The B.A.S.S. Federation Nation and the Bassmaster Classic go back a long way — almost as far back as the first Classic, in fact. The "grassroots" of B.A.S.S. began in the late 1960s as clubs became affiliated with B.A.S.S. and used their numbers to influence legislation, impact positive change in the world of fishing, support youth fishing programs, and join together for camaraderie, competition and conservation.
When the first Bassmaster Classic was held in 1971, there was no Federation Nation representative in the competition. It wasn't until two years later that a Federation Nation member would vie for a shot at fishing's biggest prize. B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott understood that one of the primary reasons anglers joined clubs was to fish competitively.
By sending one of their members to the sport's greatest championship, he could not only support the troops who made the big professional tournaments and other efforts possible, but also better market B.A.S.S. to anglers everywhere.
The first Federation Nation angler to qualify for the Classic was Wendall Mann of Snow Camp, N.C. He earned his way there by winning the National B.A.S.S. Chapter Championship Tournament on Pickwick Lake in Alabama. Mann finished 26th in the 1973 Classic out of (you guessed it) 26 anglers. It was an inauspicious start. But things would get better — much better — and soon. The very next year, the BFN qualifier, Charlie Campbell of Missouri, finished fifth.
The Federation Nation earned some angling respect. In 1981, the number of Federation Nation berths in the Classic was raised to five to reflect the number of divisions in the BFN that were competing in the annual amateur championship. That number was raised to six in 2006, where it stands today.
Since 1973, the Nation has sent 169 qualifiers to the Classic, producing 18 Top 10 finishes, including two runners-up and one world champion. The champion came in 1994 when Bryan Kerchal bested the rest of the Classic field on High Rock Lake in North Carolina. The 24-year-old short-order cook from Connecticut finished last in the Classic the year before and overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to requalify as an amateur in '94. Kerchal's was an amazing story of a young man who was living his dream. Tragically, he died less than six months later when his plane crashed en route to a sponsor function. The Federation Nation had lost its brightest star.
In 1986 and 1997, respectively, Federation Nation qualifiers Danny Correia and Dalton Bobo gave the pros all they could handle. A dead fish penalty took 4 ounces away from Bobo's total weight, and he lost by a single ounce in the closest Classic in history. What's more impressive than the Classic performances of Federation Nation qualifiers is the caliber of anglers that the Nation has produced over the years.
Eleven different BFN qualifiers later turned pro and earned berths for other Classics as professionals, including 2006 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 2003 Classic champ Michael Iaconelli. Many others who never made the Classic as amateurs used their BFN experience as a springboard to the professional ranks, including a pair of Classic winners, Denny Brauer (1998) and Ken Cook (1991).
This year, Federation Nation champion Jamie Horton (Alabama) and division winners Matt McCoy (Indiana), Tom Jessop (Texas), Josh Polfer (Idaho), John Diaco (New Hampshire) and Chris Price (Delaware) will represent the BFN. If history is any indication, at least one of the Nation anglers will break through and have an excellent tournament. All of them are certain to have the time of their lives.
For more information about the Bassmaster Classic and the concurrent Bassmaster Classic Outdoor Expo presented by Dick's Sporting Goods, visit Bassmaster.com/Attend.