MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Leave it to the Legends to put on a dramatic show. In an event in which the top three teams were separated by only three ounces, Guy Eaker and Ken Cook won the Bassmaster Legends Tournament by two ounces Sunday over Rick Clunn and Tommy Martin at the Bassmaster Toyota Trucks All-Star Week.
Bill Dance and Jerry McKinnis finished only three ounces behind the winners in an event that was held at Black Water Lake, a 100-acre private fishery located 40 miles northeast of Montgomery.
In the spirit of the smack-talking that went on all day among this group of longtime friends, McKinnis accepted the results under protest.
“We were so much better anglers than them, I assumed we were going to win,” said McKinnis, who is now a part-owner of B.A.S.S. “Bill and I are going to go study the tapes, analyze all that and make sure this is all on the up and up, then I’ll be glad to comment.”
McKinnis, 75, who hosted “The Fishin’ Hole” on ESPN for over 25 years, and Dance, 69, who still hosts his show “Bill Dance Outdoors,” have probably logged more TV time than NBC’s former news anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. But they might not ever have had more fun than they did in the 4 ½ hours of competition on Black Water Lake.
“If we do it again next year, which I really want to do, we will have more teams and really make it a blow-out deal,” McKinnis said. “This was just a spur of the moment thing. We said, ‘Let’s go have some fun.’ And we darned sure did that.”
They caught plenty of bass on the way to doing it. Eaker, who is from Cherryville, N.C., and Cook, who now manages his hunting ranch near Lawton, Okla., caught a five-bass limit that weighed 19 pounds, 3 ounces.
Clunn, from Ava, Mo., and Martin, of Hemphill, Texas, finished second with 19-1. McKinnis, who lives in Little Rock, and Dance, who is from Collierville, Tenn., took third with 19-0. Bobby Murray of Hot Springs, Ark., and Guido Hibdon from Sunshine Beach, Mo., finished fourth with 9-11.
Those big names in B.A.S.S. history own nine Bassmaster Classic trophies, six Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles, 40 Bassmaster wins and 312 top-10 finishes.
Eaker, 71, fished the Elite Series through 2010, won over $600,000 in B.A.S.S. events and qualified for 10 Bassmaster Classics. He ranked Sunday’s tournament as one of this top five fishing memories of all-time.
“We really had a great time,” Eaker said. “We caught most of our weight in the first hour-and-a-half. But we did cull some fish after that. And we were culling by ounces. If I hadn’t weighed the fish on a scale, we might have thrown the tournament away.”
Although Cook, the youngest of the group at 64, caught several bass during the day, Eaker caught all the fish that led to their winning weight. That included a 6-pound, 4-ounce largemouth that hit a Fat Free Shad in a sexy shad color pattern during the first 30 minutes. Most of their other fish came on that same crankbait.
But Eaker’s big bass came almost a half hour after Dance put his team on the board. As the four teams were leaving the dock at 9 a.m. Sunday, Dance landed a 5-3 largemouth. It came at 9:04, and it was fitting since Dance caught the first-ever bass in a B.A.S.S. tournament.
In 1967, founder Ray Scott held his first tournament on Arkansas’ Beaver Lake. Dance had borrowed a boat that had a 60-horsepower motor on it. He raced out ahead of the field, stopped while the others were still leaving the takeoff area and caught a fish on his first cast.
Dance and McKinnis thought they had the tournament sewed up Sunday when McKinnis caught a 5-9 on his last cast of the day. It hit a sexy shad-colored Strike King KVD 1.5 crankbait.
Dance and McKinnis figured their chief competition would come from Clunn, 65, the four-time Bassmaster Classic champion, and Martin, 70, who had been catching fish from one area of the lake all morning long.
“Rick figured out a pattern in about 15 minutes, and we just blistered them,” said Martin, who qualified for 19 Bassmaster Classics and won in 1974.
They caught their fish on a copper shad-colored Luck E Strike Series 3 crankbait.
“We figured out pretty quick that the fish weren’t on the bottom,” Clunn said. “That’s fishing. You’ve got to figure out the depth they’re in and what size bait they want. We threw some bigger worms and some deep-diving crankbaits. But the fish were mostly keying on wood in six to nine feet of water. They were suspended. Once we figured that out, we caught them all day long.”
But mostly these bass fishing legends traded barbs all day long.
“I don’t like any of these other guys in the tournament, do you?” Dance asked McKinnis shortly after the day started.
“Guy Eaker,” McKinnis replied. “He’s got good chicken.”
That got a laugh from Dance, who said, “Yeah, he serves some good yard bird, doesn’t he?”
And on this day, Eaker would also serve as the master of the first-ever Bassmaster Legends Tournament.