Setting the records straight

With all the talk about records falling at the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro, it's not surprising that there's some confusion regarding the top marks in championship history. Hopefully, this will set things straight and put perspective on numbers that might need a little explaining.

The number is ... 75-9

A lot of fishing fans were wondering if the record for heaviest tournament weight would be broken at this year's Classic. In fact, most of the Classic qualifiers (I polled them) predicted that it would fall ... but a lot of them were looking at the wrong number.

In 2011, Kevin VanDam won the Classic on the Louisiana Delta with a three-day total of 69 pounds, 11 ounces — more than 10 pounds better than second place (Aaron Martens). And while it's true that 69-11 is the record for the five-bass limit era, the all-time record is 75-9 and it was set by Rick Clunn in the summer of 1984.

Clunn lapped the field in that championship. He outpaced second place by more than 25 pounds! (That is not a typo.) I consider it the most impressive tournament performance in B.A.S.S. history, and the fact that Clunn had a seven-bass daily creel limit does not diminish the mark.

Here's why.

Clunn made his catch in the summer. The dates of that Classic were August 16-18, and it was hot — very hot. If you know anything about tournament productivity through the seasons, you know that summer and fall are down times. Weights are generally significantly lower than at other times of the year. Bass can be extremely finicky, and catch rates are low.

Second, Clunn's catch came from the Arkansas River out of Pine Bluff — not exactly a dream destination for anglers in search of big catches and lots of lunkers. He posted the heaviest catch of the field on each day of competition and the heaviest catch of the entire tournament in the final round. That's dominance.

But let me put it even more simply: If you want to put a heavyweight bag on the scales, would you rather have seven summertime bass from the Arkansas River or five prespawn bass from Lake Guntersville?

If you picked the river, you should immediately begin applying pressure to that head wound. It's a nasty one!

The number is ... 33-5

On Day 2 of the 2014 Classic, B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier Paul Mueller stepped to the scales with the heftiest bag of the five-bass limit era (which isn't exactly an era, but I'll explain that later). It weighed 32-3 and moved him way up in the standings. He finished second.

Paul Mueller's mark of 32-3 broke the old five-bass limit record of 29-6, but didn't quite catch Rick Clunn's all-time record of 33-5.

Most think Mueller's catch was the best in Classic history — and it is for a five-bass limit — but it's not the heaviest catch ever. That mark was set by Rick Clunn in 1976, also on Guntersville and also on the second day of competition.

There was a 10-bass daily limit in those days, and Clunn weighed in 33-5 to take the lead and eventually win the first of four championships. His catch kicked off a stretch that may never be equaled in Classic history. He led the most important tournament in the sport for five consecutive rounds — the second and final rounds of the 1976 Classic followed by all three rounds of the '77 event — as he became the first angler to go back-to-back. (Kevin VanDam did it in 2010-11.)

And before you discount Clunn's record as simply the product of a 10-bass limit, know that he caught four of those bass in a five-minute flurry of activity at his very first stop of the day. Those four weighed 24-14 (more than a 6-pound average), and rather than add to his total by continuing to fish the spot (a small hump covered in milfoil), he saved it for the final round. Had he continued to work it, he might have posted a much bigger number — 40 pounds ... 50?

But this story isn't about "what if." It's about knowing the records and giving them some perspective.

The number is ... 5 ... for now

Much of the confusion results from the fact that the Bassmaster Classic hasn't always had a five bass daily creel limit. In fact, it hasn't even always been called the "Bassmaster Classic." (That's a story for another day.)

The creel limit has been five, six, seven, eight and 10 bass per day ... depending on which Classic you're talking about. It wasn't until 1994 that the five bass limit actually "stuck," though it was five in 1980 and a few times in between. Before that, it had mostly been seven or 10.

Kevin VanDam holds the mark for heaviest total catch in a Classic with a five-bass limit (69-11 in 2011), but Rick Clunn still has the overall mark with 75-9 (1984).

Five makes sense for a lot of reasons, but it's no magic number (all "Schoolhouse Rock" fans know that three is a magic number). For one thing, five is a good number for conservation reasons. For another, it's a manageable number for livewells — especially on extremely productive fisheries. And it's usually well within state creel regulations, so you don't have to change the tournament limit from venue to venue.

But the lower you drop the creel limit for tournaments, the more luck is involved. The same is true for tournament rounds or competition days. (More competition days = less luck.) Think about it this way: It's more challenging to catch 50 bass than 10 bass, and it's tougher to catch 10 bass than it is to catch five. Make it four ... or three ... or two and you've essentially turned it into a big fish contest. Make it one and the entire competition boils down to a single cast.

How often has a less talented, less experienced angler in your boat caught the biggest bass of the day?

So let's have some respect for the records. Let's put them in perspective. And let's realize that the sport (and the Classic) didn't always have a five-bass limit, didn't start with a five-bass limit, and it may not always have a five-bass limit moving forward. The same forces that brought us here, may one day take us somewhere else. Our sport is always evolving. The same is true for baseball, basketball and (especially) football.

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