BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — When Chad Morgenthaler won the Bassmaster Classic Wild Card presented by Star Tron earlier this month, his victory finalized the field for the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville, Ala., Feb. 21-23. The 44th annual Super Bowl of bass fishing will feature 56 highly accomplished anglers from 23 states in what promises to be one of the most hotly contested championships in history.
At stake is a $1 million purse, including $300,000 for the winner.
Gunning for the prize are eight former Classic winners in the 2014 field (Mark Davis, Michael Iaconelli, Alton Jones, Chris Lane, Takahiro Omori, Cliff Pace, Skeet Reese and Kevin VanDam). Between them, they hold 11 Classic titles.
There are also eight anglers who have won the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title (Brent Chapman, Davis, Iaconelli, Gary Klein, Aaron Martens, Reese, Gerald Swindle and VanDam). They’ve won a total of 18 AOY titles.
The average angler in the 2014 Classic has already competed in 5.8 Classics, making it the second most experienced field in Classic history. Even the venue is a veteran. Guntersville was the site of the last “mystery lake” Classic in 1976 when the legendary Rick Clunn won the first of his four world championships.
Klein achieved a remarkable landmark when he qualified for the 2014 Classic. It will be his 30th overall and first in three years. He made his championship debut in 1979 at the age of 21. Since then he’s enjoyed a stellar career that includes two Angler of the Year titles, but a Classic win has eluded him. Only Clunn has qualified for more Classics with 32.
Another angler closing in on one of Clunn’s records is VanDam. The four-time Classic champ and seven-time Angler of the Year will be competing in his 24th consecutive Classic, just four behind Clunn’s record of 28 straight. Klein and VanDam are the most experienced competitors at the 2014 Classic, but there are 13 others with at least 10 championships already under their belts.
Brothers Bobby Lane and Chris Lane will be fishing their fourth Classic together. They also made it to the championship simultaneously in 2008, 2012 (when Chris won) and 2013. Only two other brother combinations have ever fished the Classic together — Don Mann and Tom Mann (1975) and David Johnson and Kevin Johnson (1980).
Speaking of brothers, if the qualifier from the Carhartt College Series looks familiar, it’s because he’s the brother of last year’s collegiate representative. Jordan Lee follows his brother Matt Lee into the world championship of bass fishing after what may be the greatest college fishing career in history. Jordan was the Bassmaster Classic bracket runner-up to his brother in 2012 and then won it in 2013, thus sending an Auburn University student to the championship two years in a row. Jordan is also the youngest angler in the field for this Classic at just 22.
The oldest angler Classic contender is Mark Dove, 58, who’s making his second consecutive Classic appearance and his third overall — all through the B.A.S.S. Nation. If Dove wins, he’ll be the oldest champion in history, surpassing Woo Daves, who was 54 when he won in 2000. Two other anglers in the 2013 field could also break Daves’ record with a win — Klein and Tommy Biffle.
There are 14 Classic rookies in this year’s field. Most earned their berths through the B.A.S.S. Nation (5) and Bassmaster Opens (4). Two others qualified through the College Series and Toyota Bassmaster Weekend Series presented by American Bass Anglers. Only three rookies qualified through the prestigious Bassmaster Elite Series.
Finally, nine Alabama residents will be chasing a title in their home state — Coby Carden, Randy Howell, Martens, Steve Kennedy, David Kilgore, Chris Lane, Jordan Lee, Swindle and Greg Vinson. While several will certainly be selected by the pundits as pre-tournament favorites, only one angler has been able to win the Classic in his home state. That was Alabama’s Boyd Duckett, who won the 2007 Classic on Lay Lake.
Weigh-ins will take place each competition day at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) Arena Feb. 21, Feb. 22 and Feb. 23, and the annual Classic Expo will be open those days in the adjacent BJCC exhibition halls.