On July 30, 1994, Connecticut's Bryan Kerchal made history. He became the first Federation Nation angler to win the Bassmaster Classic.
Kerchal was a pretty unlikely hero. Just a year earlier the 23-year-old short order cook finished last in the Classic on Lake Logan Martin in Alabama. But now he was a year older, a year wiser and the butterflies of being surrounded by the biggest names in bass fishing were replaced by the resolve to do better — anything except another last place finish.
The 1994 Classic was held on North Carolina's High Rock Lake. It was BASS' first visit to the impoundment, so the pros' experience there wouldn't be as much of a factor as it had been on Logan Martin, where the Classic was contested in both 1992 and 1993. Kerchal would be on a more level playing field his second time around.
Practice was tough for the young angler. Nothing seemed to work until he spotted a red shad plastic worm floating on the water near his boat. He picked it up, threaded it on a hook and soon started getting bites. It turned out to be the key to his win.
When it was over, Kerchal summed up the feelings of tens of thousands of Federation Nation anglers across the country and the world when he said, "This is amazing. Of course, it's every Federation angler's dream to do this. I never thought it would happen. But I'm really proud and feel really good about it. I worked hard just to get here, and I've come a long way."
At his final professional tournament, on Georgia's Lake Lanier where he finished 33rd, Kerchal offered a message that still rings true. "If this is your dream, kids, don't let anybody tell you that you can't do it."
Tragically, he was killed later that year, on December 13, 1994, when a commuter plane in which he was flying (American Eagle Flight 3379) crashed near Raleigh, N.C.