Home anglers, big names never broke through

The Bassmaster Classic is hard on home fishermen. It's has also been rough down through the years on "name" fishermen.

 Not once in 36 Classics has a fisherman from the host state been the winner. That statistic is in danger this time around, with a platoon of Alabama anglers in the field of 50 that will work Lay Lake.

 Name recognition

 Here in 2007, "names" probably mean less than they did in the first Classics. Many anglers today are household familiar through the media information on bass fishing in general and the Classic in particular.

 A casual conversation on fishing may include just first names on occasion — "Kevin" to bass fans is Kevin VanDam. "Rick" is Rick Clunn, the four-time Classic winner. "Denny" is Denny Brauer, "Ike" is Mike Iaconelli, "Gary" is Gary Klein and the list goes on.

 In earlier times, meaning the 1970s, the Classic had "names" all right, although the event wasn't as well-known around the nation.

 And the biggest, the best known "names" never won a Classic.

 Roland Martin, an early outdoors television fixture, came close but never won a Classic.

 Bill Dance, another outdoors television fixture with his trademark T cap, came close as runner-up in 1973 but never won a Classic.

 Jimmy Houston, still another outdoors television fixture with his mop of blond hair and frequent cackling laugh, never won a Classic.

 Newcomers excelled

 Newcomers did well in those first Classics. Four of the first five events were won by anglers fishing in them for the first time.

 Classic I in 1971 of course had a rookie winner, Bobby Murray of Hot Springs, Ark.

 The second Classic was won by Don Butler of Tulsa, Okla., who had finished fifth in the event the year before.

 Classic III in 1973 was won by Rayo Breckinridge of Paragould, Ark.

 Tommy Martin of Hemphill, Texas, won Classic IV.

Classic V, 1975, was won by Jack Hains of Rayne, La..

 In 1976, Rick Clunn, then living at Montgomery, Texas, broke this pattern. Clunn had fished in the 1974 and 1975 Classics.

 Since then, other rookie Classic winners have been Stanley Mitchell in 1981 on the Alabama River at Montgomery, Charlie Reed in 1986 at Chattanooga, Tenn., David Fritts in 1993 at Birmingham and Bryan Kerchal in 1994 at Greensboro, N.C.

 One from the Federation

 The story of Bryan Kerchal, the Connecticut short-order cook who is the only Federation or "amateur" contestant to win a Classic, is forever etched in outdoor annals. Kerchal was killed in a plane crash not long after his Classic victory at Greensboro.

 Earlier, though, another federation angler came close.

 Danny Correia, a Massachusetts fisherman with that strong Boston-area accent and a ready smile, finished second in 1986 at Chattanooga, Tenn., on lakes Chickamauga and Nickajack. He had reached the Classic through the Federation ranks.

 In those days of southerners dominant in bass fishing, Correia's runner-up finish was the highest by a northern Classic contestant.

 A little northern exposure

 If you want to delve a little deeper in this geographic factor of Classic winners, most have been southerners — to no one's surprise. This region is where competitive bass fishing was born.

 Three winners have been so-called border state residents — Missouri's Guido Hibdon, Dion Hibdon and Denny Brauer.

 Bryan Kerchal of Connecticut, Kevin VanDam of Michigan and Mike Iaconelli of New Jersey are from the north, and Luke Clausen of Washington is a westerner.

 Takahiro Omori is from Japan but lived in Texas when he won the 2004 Classic.

 Record catch

 Rick Clunn set the overall Classic weight record with his 75-pound, 9-ounce catch on the Arkansas River in 1984. And who held the record before than?

 Clunn did.

He caught 59 pounds, 15 ounces in 1976 on Lake Guntersville in Alabama for the first of his four Classic victories. These marks were in the days of a seven-bass daily limit. For years now, the limit has been five a day for the Classic. 

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